Worried About Your Succession Plan? Focus on Your Processes, Not Your Leaders.
Many companies are very concerned about “succession planning” or not having a strong “bench” of talent in the company. They do a number of things, like 9-box talent reviews and leadership training, to try to combat this issue. These things are fine and generally helpful, especially at higher levels in the company. But it’s often more important to have well-defined and documented processes than succession planning.
Having good processes ensures effectiveness and scalability even if a strong leader or other key employee leaves. There are three key ways to give your company great processes:
- Focus on outcomes and signoff tests
- Benchmark your top performers
- Cover all the bases
Related: Passion, People, Process
Most companies don’t do any of these things. But it's a game-changer when they do. And what’s nice about these things is that they make everything very simple and clear. They distill a lot of information, thoughts and feelings into their tangible essence.
In fact, when you see the finished product of your work around this — a proper Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) — you will likely say to yourself, “Wow. That seems so obvious and clear.” And yet it never existed until you did it. You finally put into crystal clear words for everyone to see that which some people (but not everyone) innately understood or felt but could not really articulate.
1. Focus on outcomes and signoff tests
An outcome is a product you produce. It is a noun — a person, place, or thing. But it has to be deeper than that.
What you have to do is incorporate an adjective, adjective phrase or descriptor that describes the noun in terms based on a standard that proves the outcome is correct or successful. That is the real outcome you are looking for. So in the case of a manufacturing company that produces widgets, your real outcome would likely be something like a finished widget or a defect-free widget. In the case of a service business, your outcome might be satisfied customers or resolved disputes. For a doctor, the desired outcome is a cured patient or a healthy person.
In almost all cases, you will need to further define how you judge whether the descriptor has been achieved. I call this a “signoff test.” From the examples above, the questions that lead to the answers are: How do you know when a customer is “satisfied?” How do you know when a dispute is “resolved?” How do you know when a patient is “cured?” How do you justify that a person is “healthy?”
Sometimes it's hard work to think about and define. But consider this. If it’s hard for you to define, how do you think the people in your company know what to do? Often, they don’t. And that’s why performance is so variable and you struggle so much when someone leaves.
2. Benchmark your top performers
This is the “secret sauce” to how your company can succeed. Paul Elliott is the pioneer of it in his book Exemplary Performance. Benchmarking your top performers allows you to intentionally replicate the best performance throughout the organization, which is something you must do to ensure your company is as successful as possible.
Here are the general steps for how to do this:
- Figure out what the desired outcomes are for your entire company.
- Figure out the roles that contribute most to your company’s desired outcomes.
- Figure out who the top performers are in those roles.
- Formally observe and/or interview the top performers.
- Create a Profile of Exemplary Performance (PEP) or Role Excellence Profile (REP) based on the observations of the top performers.
- Create the SOP documentation.
- Implement the new SOPs.
3. Cover all the bases
Covering all the bases means making sure you include all key details in your SOPs. If you don’t, they won’t be as useful, and that will be another problem you will need to deal with.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make with their process documentation is that they only list what people need to do but not how they need to do it or how to know when it’s done.
Proper SOP documentation has eight primary components:
- Specific desired outcome
- Signoff test
- Key stakeholders
- Decision-making flow
- Potential de-railers, consequences and solutions
The SOP is the foundation that creates a common language that can be repurposed throughout the company related to the process or topic, thus creating natural alignment and a shared understanding of what needs to be done and produced.
Proper processes and SOPs are what will truly ensure that you always have great succession planning and bench strength in your company. They will make new leaders and employees productive much more quickly whenever there is turnover.