Succession Planning

By Bob Larrivee posted 05-07-2010 10:39


This week I was faced with one of the harsh realities of life, death. My uncle unexpectedly passed away and I, along with my wife, accompanied my mother to the services. All in all it was a very fitting tribute to his life which included a career in the military highlighted by the Honors presented as part of the Memorial services. As I watched and talked with family I came to a realization that had not occurred to me before. In life, just as in business, we need to plan for the unexpected. We need to have in place a way that those who follow us can pick up where we leave off and do what is needed to keep things moving forward.

What if the unexpected happens in business, is there a plan and are there people trained to step in and do what is needed? I looked at the Honor Guard presiding over this service and saw a level of precision that can only be achieved through careful planning and practice. Should someone be unavailable, there are others ready to stand in on a moment’s notice. There is a plan in place and people trained to take over when the need arises. As I reflected upon this it became clear to me that in business, many organizations are not ready for the unexpected. There is not enough consistent structure for their information, little to no documented process in place, and few who are cross trained to perform multiple functions. Many organizations tend to operate with the view that something unexpected and devastating could not happen to them.

In life, we need to share our information and knowledge with our spouse and family to ensure when our time comes, those we love and leave behind will be able to pick up and continue on. In our businesses, we should take the same approach and establish strong consistent policies and processes to manage the information and activities within the organization. We should encourage cross training so that should something happen, there is at least a back up capable of performing those functions and keeping things moving forward. As another example of this look at Broadway and how performers are trained as understudies to fill in if the star is unable to perform. This is succession planning, perhaps not described to a finite detail but nevertheless, it is a plan.

In my view we should take time to look ahead and think about the future and address the what-if scenario. While as in death, we can never be fully prepared for the unexpected time it will come, in business we need to prepare for the unexpected time to strike. Floods, fire, the death of an employee are all situations that could find us looking for ways to recover. Succession planning is one way to prepare and hopefully overcome the situation quickly and successfully. The establishment of strong content and records policies, documented processes and continuous improvement practices along with regular and consistent training across the organization is and should be a starting point for your succession plan. Do you have the right policies and processed in place? Do the employees know what they are and are they trained to follow and adhere to these policies and processes. If someone should become unavailable, is there another person who could fill in and take over those responsibilities with minimal impact to the business and organization?

What say you? Do you have a succession plan in place? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Email: Bob Larrivee – AIIM

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