In a small business, even a single unplanned vacancy can disturb normal operations and decrease productivity. A succession plan is therefore vital as part of an owner’s overall exit strategy, as well as for keeping a business running smoothly despite scheduled and unexpected vacancies. Although the goals and time line for exit strategy and job vacancy successions plans are different, the planning process works in much the same way.

Getting Started

Assess and compare your current state to future goals and strategic plans to establish a starting point. As you work through the analysis, identify and prioritize departments and roles most in need of succession planning due to pending retirements, transfers or high turnover rates. A SWOT analysis, covering your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, is a helpful comparison tool. Next, identify key job roles and decide what qualifications or competencies are necessary to succeed in these roles. Although most succession plans focus on management roles and leadership qualifications, you can include key jobs and competencies at any job level.

Establish Selection Procedures

Create procedures for choosing successors that comply with U.S. Equal Opportunity employment laws. For example, create job descriptions in which you set clear expectations and basic qualifications and specify the position is part of a succession plan. Post openings internally at first and then externally if current employees don’t qualify. Include the same selection and hiring procedures in a succession plan as you have for other positions and roles.

Create Training and Development Modules

Although specific training and development options will depend on the successor’s current skill set and previous experience, you can develop broad guidelines for conducting succession training. Conduct a skills gap analysis as a helpful starting point, and then focus training on what the successor needs to fill skills or experience gaps. Formal training, job shadowing, coaching and mentoring combined with increasing responsibility is often effective. Establish performance benchmarks such as productivity or financial goals to monitor progress, but still allow a successor to make and learn from mistakes before taking over a role.

Timelines and Takeover

Set up a timetable and procedures for shifting control. The position and type of succession will determine whether an outgoing and incoming employee will work together for a time or if the successor will immediately assume the role. When both parties work together, even for a short time, clear transition and decision-making procedures are vital to ensure that both parties and anyone who works with either party know who is in charge of what and when.