Don't Wait to Start Employee Succession Planning

Succession Plan Ask the Expert Blog August 26, 2019 By: Barbara Mitchell

If you have employees approaching retirement age, it pays to have a succession plan in place. Among the factors to consider are how to capture long-time employees’ institutional knowledge and who might be a qualified successor.

Q: We have several great employees approaching retirement age, and I want to start planning for their successors without losing their knowledge. What’s the best way to approach this?

A: This is a complicated question. There are three initial issues to consider:

First, don’t assume that your older workers are planning to retire at a specific age unless your organization has a fixed retirement age. Today, many people choose to work well past the traditional retirement age. Have an open conversation with your staffers to determine their plans, then base the next phase of this process on their responses to your questions about timing.

Next, whether or not your employees are planning to retire, you should have a plan in place to capture their institutional knowledge, so that you won’t be left scrambling if they leave unexpectedly. Think about how their files are organized and consider what knowledge might be in their head that has never been documented in writing. Spend some time with each of your team members—no matter their age—so that you are up to speed on the finer details of their jobs.

Finally, long before an employee’s retirement date, you should be thinking about a successor. Who is currently qualified to take on the job, or who has the potential to become qualified?

To determine who could be a successor, you need to understand the position’s responsibilities and consider what skills, knowledge, and abilities a person needs to be successful in the role.

To determine who could be a successor, you need to understand the position’s responsibilities and consider what skills, knowledge, and abilities a person needs to be successful in the role. You should be doing this all the time for all the positions you manage, because you never know who might decide to leave your organization at any time.

With this knowledge, you can evaluate your current staff to determine who might be a viable candidate. You will then need to put a plan together to help the candidates develop the necessary skills.

If you don’t think you have qualified people to fill key positions, consider a phased retirement plan where eligible employees gradually decrease their hours (and pay) over time while they help you transition their work to others in the organization.

Don’t wait until you need to fill a position to start succession planning. Do it now and reap the benefits later.

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]