Mentoring Solutions for Succession Planning Problems

January 14, 2014
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Mentoring for Succession Planning

With an aging workforce, planning for the inevitability of your leaders exiting your organization is becoming more and more necessary by the day. Succession planning isn’t just a buzzword: it’s a developmental strategy that’s extremely relevant to how we plan to run our businesses in 2014 and beyond.

You may have previously put it off due to some common problems that may include a) identification, development, and retention of possible successors, and b) budget constraints. While you may consider mentoring as a solution for these issues in your organization, before you go any further, you must first discard the idea of succession planning as “replacement” planning. That's why you should consider mentoring for succession planning.

Why “Replacement” Planning Isn’t Enough

Your organization may have a plan for what happens if and when a top level employee leaves – but chances are it’s more of a crisis/contingency plan.

Let me ask you this: is the planned replacement ready to take on that new role? Are they able to do it while transitioning from their current role and handing off their responsibilities? If they had to do it in the next two weeks, could they do it? If the answer is “no,” it’s probably because no one’s invested in their development and transition into that new role.

Successors Are Not Replacements

The critical difference between the concepts of replacement planning and succession planning is the development invested in the intended successor. Bear in mind that no one likes to be a replacement: the word “replacement” itself connotes “second rate/second best/I’m not ecstatic with the current state but it’ll have to do”.

Alternatively, take this more proper definition: “a person or thing that takes the place of another” (Oxford English Dictionary). But as we all know, when we’re talking about human beings and the complex ranges of their skills, capabilities, personalities, and methodologies, you can never simply substitute person A, entire, for person B, and assume that business will run as it always has.

Business will not run as it always has; and no, that’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as you accept it and plan for it. Change is inevitable. Ignore it at the risk of having a replacement that everyone sees as second best – as a best case scenario. When things go wrong in leadership, after all, they tend to really go wrong for the whole business.

But when you give someone the tools and development and investment to advance beyond “second rate/second best”, know the territory they’re inheriting, and perform well within it, they’re able to become a true successor.

And that person is ready to take on their new role.

Mentoring for Succession Planning – and Development

Like I said before, if you’ve been hesitant before about implementing a succession plan in the past, here’s how mentoring can be a solution:

  1. Make the most of a limited budget. Your mentors (the people who currently hold the leadership role) and mentees (their successors) come from within your organization, which means two things for you: 1) You don’t incur coaching or training costs otherwise associated with developing employees, and 2) you optimize transfer of practical, cultural, and institutional knowledge.
  2. Identify. You may find that your mentors are uniquely suited to help you do identify potential successors.
  3. Develop. The structure of a formal mentoring program is inherently developmental because it a) is mentee-driven b) offers practical experience to mentees, c) offers mentee’s first-hand knowledge pertaining to their roles and/or future roles.
  4. Retain. Formal mentoring programs also help retain identified successors by investing in not only their development, but their integration with the culture and their new territory.

Mentoring and the “Success” in Succession Planning

One final note: ultimately when you’re looking at mentoring for succession planning, you aren’t just looking at developing individual leaders – you’re looking at developing the entire company.

And that’s really the key to formal mentoring programs. Each mentor/mentee pair’s goals and objectives must be their own and tailored to the mentee’s developmental needs, yes – but at the same time, they must tie back to organizational objectives; and formal mentoring programs, if structured and administered correctly, allow for exactly this.

When it comes to your succession plan in 2014, don’t just line up replacements. Don’t even stop at developing individual successors. Developing successors won’t mean anything if you don’t tie it back to developing your organization’s success.

Learn how mentoring software can help your succession planning program.


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