Indispensable Employees… Succession Planning in The Workplace

In working with many businesses common phrases heard are:
  • I can’t go on holiday
  • If I leave all the work will stop
  • I can never switch off my phone as the office needs me
… and the list goes on. In short we hear many staff, managers and even owners who feel that, without their presence or input, the company cannot operate properly. This is obviously not fair on the staff member and it is not right since they cannot get their mental rest from the office. The shocking reality here, however, is that the staff members speaking like this are frequently right.
There are many reasons for things developing this way in an organisation, some by design and some incidental yet, regardless of the reason, this situation presents three great risks to the organisation:
  1. Strained staff – the complete dependence on one individual results in the individual feeling strained under the load and potentially risking burnout;
  2. Staff not feeling that they can grow – the fact that an individual is depended upon for some tasks means that other staff tend to feel that they cannot grow or learn that area since it is purely the domain of the key individual;
  3. Staff who feel they can hold the company at ransom – such indispensable employees could feel so valuable that they could make demands, however unreasonable, and have high bargaining power in having their demands met.
The result of these three risks is that the organisation is not in a strong position to look ahead and ensure its smooth continuity and longevity. Experience shows that in such situations there are two characteristics in the organisation. Firstly the organisational structure is typically not clearly defined and secondly a succession planning culture is not present in the organisation.
A company’s organisation structure is a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of each role in the organisation and, in defining these, there is a clear picture of how an individual can grow within the structure to take on more responsibilities, different roles different positions etc… This clarity is very important for an individual to feel part of something bigger, to feel useful and to feel that they have a future in the organisation.
In looking at the organisation structure, it immediately becomes apparent that each node in the structure is a unique role occupied by a person and that if that node drops then there will be a gap in the skills required to get the job done. Succession planning is the practice of ensuring that for each role there are backup people or skills to be able to carry out that role in the absence of the current person. Succession planning is not just about contingency for the organisation but it is about empowering staff, giving them opportunities to grow and unfolding a future for them in the organisation.
Different levels in the organisation and different roles need to have succession plannning tackled differently. For example a low-level adminsistrative staff member might have succession planning tackled by having a similar employee in another department who is asked to give a hand on some tasks once a week in order to keep current on the job.
Succession planning for roles that are higher up in the organogram tend to be more delicate and complex. Each manager at each level going up to the Managing Director or CEO, should seek to identify a number 2 who has the skills and aptitude to take their place and who is being built to take their place. This involves even delegating part of the manager’s work to the identified successor while still retaining the responsibility for that work. It involves giving the successors more reponsibility than they currently have while showing them that they have space and direction to grow within the company. It involves a personal challenge on the side of the manager to actually let go some tasks and share their own job with an identified successor. This could easily make a manager uncomfortable and insecure since they could feel that the successor is taking their place. This insecurity and discomfort is not the ideal quality you would look for in a manager and it is important to be overcome since it typically indicates that the manager might not be up the job in the first place.
In working with different levels of management to institute succession planning, CMG Consulta support the individuals within the framework of the organisational structure and seek to achieve a situation where, if any of the key resources are missing for a period of time, the organisation can still operate smoothly into the future. This creates a workplace culture of sharing and collaboration where staff genuinely experience career growth and start to exhibit more initiative on the job. In the end this gives the organisation more stability and a better quality of life to its members. It is truly rewarding to see how the organisation’s output changes so dramatically through the process of structuring and succession planning.