Have You Thought About Your Successor?

Have you thought about who will take your job? Before I go any further, I need to point out it's not "your" job. Chances are that someone had it before you and someone will have it after you have stewarded the role for some period of time. As a responsible steward, you should look to the future, understand how the role might evolve and ensure that someone else will be ready to take it on when your time is up. Facilitating a seamless transition for your eventual replacement is important for all involved - your employer, your successor and yourself.

I recently announced my decision to step down as head of Human Resources and Corporate Citizenship for State Street, the company I've been fortunate to be a part of for 15 years. While I love this job and have tremendous respect for the people I work with and great confidence in our company's future, I've decided it's time to write a new chapter of my career and life. My decision to leave was difficult, but it would have been a much tougher call if a strong and capable successor wasn't ready to step into my role.

Over the years, as I've worked to develop my team, I've made it a practice to consider potential successors for my role and provide development opportunities to help prepare them for that possibility. A succession plan is a roadmap for future leadership, including development paths for internal talent. Paying attention to succession planning is not only the right thing to do for your people and your organization, it's also a smart way to position yourself to step into a new role. After all, you're much more likely to be considered for a promotion if your boss is confident that someone is ready and able to assume your responsibilities.

"Without a well-groomed candidate waiting in the wings, a change in leadership can have an adverse effect on a business, especially if the departure is sudden," notes Brenda Bouw in The Secret to Succession Planning. Consider the possibility that, starting today, your role stands empty. How ready is your organization to fill it? What can you do to make sure the succession is as seamless as possible?

Here are six steps to consider when developing an effective succession plan:

  • Start early to identify potential successors and groom them to step into your role. Involve your colleagues and, your boss and, in brainstorming about the critical skills, core competencies, essential knowledge and relevant experience your successor will need, keeping in mind that these criteria may be different than what you brought to the role.
  • Look ahead to the day you'll move on from your current position. Rate yourself on how well you're doing at passing along to your staff the skills and knowledge that have been most important to you.
  • Identify key challenges you've faced in your role - and what approaches worked well to resolve them. What advice and training did you receive during your tenure that served you well? What development opportunities will help prepare potential successors to acquire the skills and experience required to lead?
  • Imagine a conversation with your successor. What questions would you expect her to ask, and what would you want to tell her? If you had to choose one thing you'd do differently, what would it be?
  • Think back to when you assumed your current role. Can you recall those first days, weeks or months when you were getting settled in your new position? What do you wish your predecessor had done to prepare for your arrival?
  • Think about the legacy you want to leave behind. Take time to assess the contributions you've made and successes you've achieved in your current role - and think about what more you want to accomplish. What will you bequeath to your successor?

With millions of baby boomers retiring every year, organizations will continue to struggle to find qualified candidates to fill the void. Demonstrating accountability for succession planning for your role is a great way to distinguish yourself as a forward-thinking, action-oriented leader. And remember, you don't "own" your job, but you do "own" your career.