Succession Planning

Succession Planning

Written by Kevin Martlage

The great Mark Twain once wrote, “Plan for the future because that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life.” This quote embodies what I feel is a key point when you think about the importance of succession planning. Without properly planning for the future from a personnel standpoint you may still be successful, but can you sustain that success when unforeseen, or even planned, circumstances or opportunities arise?

My personal definition of succession planning has been developed over 25+ years of leadership roles in both the for-profit and non-profit setting. While I have worked with some very specific succession planning processes like the one we used at FedEx Office, I have also had to develop my own when the organization I worked for did not have anything specifically outlined. Regardless of the process used or my thoughts behind succession planning, there is one key aspect that makes it one of the most important things you will do as a business owner. That one aspect is sustainability. 

Throughout my career leading 100’s of employees and volunteers both domestically and internationally, I have created a process for succession planning that is based on the intentional development of my team as they continue to advance the strategic direction of the organization. Specifically, that definition is:

“Succession planning is an intentional leadership development process that ensures 

Strategic, operational sustainability and growth for any organization or team.”

So that is my definition of succession planning, but why is succession planning important and something you should consider? If I completed an informal survey of the tree care industry regarding issues impacting the sustainability of each company, I can almost guarantee that employee retention and development would be in the top 3. Additionally, I would argue that other things keeping Tree Care company owners up at night, besides revenue and finances, is what happens if someone calls in sick, decides to leave my company for another job, or that tenured employee decides to finally retire? Who are we going to promote as we introduce our new service offering, or who’s taking over for me when I decide to retire? All valid questions that typically are not addressed until one of those things happens. All those reasons listed are why succession planning is important and should be carefully considered when running your business. 

If you do succession planning research online, you will find numerous definitions and approaches to the process. However, you will quickly notice themes to succession planning, regardless of your approach, that must be in place. Those themes include:

  • A formal process to evaluate your team
  • Understanding the critical positions necessary to sustain operations
  • The ability to identify key skills necessary for each of those position
  • Intentional commitment to aligning individual skills with your strategic direction
  • A process to intentionally and transparently develop your team to ensure critical positions and skills are maintained should someone leave or get promoted
  • An intentional commitment to excellence and to the process 

To start the development of your organizational succession plan, I would recommend you begin with the creation of an organizational chart for your company. If you already have one, great. If you do not have one, you can easily create one using Power Point or simply draw it out on a white board or piece of paper. This visualization will help you in seeing your organization from a holistic viewpoint and will allow you to facilitate the next part of the discussion. 

Next, I recommend you identify a few key aspects of each position you have outlined. To help facilitate this part of the conversation, a best practice is to bring in a third-party consultant or trusted advisor to help ensure confidentiality, transparency, and consistency in the conversation. This will also allow you as the business owner to remain impartial and critical as you discuss the following for each position:

  • Length of time in position
  • Top 3 skills
  • Potential position vacancy in the next 6-12 months
  • Ability and desire or that person to be promoted to the next level

Those last 2 questions may be difficult for you, or your leadership team, to answer and will involve some level of confidentiality and intentional conversations as you assess your team regarding those areas. However, they are critical pieces of the overall process for you to consider as you continue to create your success plan. When evaluating those last 2 areas, I recommend considering the following criteria:

  • Position vacancy in the next 6-12 months
    • Is the employee on performance management or at risk of losing their job?
    • Are they well placed in their current position?
    • Will the position be vacated by the person being promoted internally?
    • Are they ready for and eligible for a promotion within the company?
    • Is there potential for them to leave the company for another position?
  • Ability, opportunity, and desire to be promoted to the next level
    • Do they want to be promoted?
    • Are they ready to be promoted to the next level?
    • Are they well placed in their current position?
    • Do you foresee them filling the next level position within your company?
    • Is there an opportunity for upward advancement within your company?

Once you have identified these areas for each member of your team, you will start to identify some gaps or opportunities for focus to ensure proper succession planning is in place. This process can take some time to go through, but it is critical as you continue to plan for the strategic sustainability of your team. 

As you identify those opportunity areas, the next step would be to plan how you will address and fill those gaps to ensure sustainability. This can be done through strategic hiring of new employees, creating employee development action plans, and having critical conversations with the team. For suggestions on how to develop these follow up pieces of your plan, I would recommend you reference the following Arborisk Articles I have previously written:

  • “Outlining a Career Path for Your Team”  – January 2022
  • “Building Trust with Intentional and Transparent Communication” – May 2022
  • “Reaching New Heights by Planting a Tree” – September 2022

Creating a succession plan and critically assessing your team and company will help to ensure operational sustainability. This will also strategically prepare you for any upcoming scheduled service disruptions regarding personnel, as well as be flexible and prepared for the unforeseen. The items outlined in this article are provided to help you understand the importance of this process, but I would encourage you to also reach out to the Arborisk Team if you would be interested in discussing succession planning further. 

The Arborisk Thrive program provides helpful information regarding effective hiring, recruiting, on-boarding, leadership development, and succession planning.  Please check out the Risk Management Packages located on the Arborisk Insurance website to learn more. 

If you want your company’s leaders (managers, crew leads, etc.) to grow professional and truly become extraordinary, check out ArboRisk’s Thrive Leadership Development Package! Our experts will work with your leaders one-on-one to build their leadership skills, thereby increasing team loyalty, efficiency, and profitability.