Today’s blogger is David Wheatley, principal and co-founder of Humanergy.

I work with many leaders who get stressed about the idea of a succession plan. Too often they invest large amounts of time to come up with an extensive plan that never gets implemented.

So I have a quick and dirty – and effective – succession planning process I call the two-names exercise.

Ask each of your direct reports for two names:

  1. If they were incapacitated (hit by a bus, attacked by ninjas, etc) in the short to medium term (up to six months), who could they hand the keys for their department to?  In other words, who could keep things afloat while they were gone? They don’t have to be capable of taking over full time, just able to keep things moving forward.
  2. If they win the lottery and head out for an around-the-world adventure, who could take over their role on a permanent basis? For this second question there are three options:
    1. A name of someone who is ready. If so, the leader needs to figure out what is being done to keep this person engaged, to broaden their scope and keep them interested.
    2. A name of someone who is nearly ready. The leader’s job in this situation is to define the development needs and create a plan to fill any gaps.
    3. No name. If there is no potential successor, create a plan to recruit someone.

In many cases two of your direct reports may give you the same name. These are your high potentials and key people. If you don’t have many names, it’s time to get serious about developing those with some potential and possibly recruiting from outside.

Once your direct reports complete this exercise, ask them to do the same thing with their direct reports. This cascades a process throughout the organization to develop a picture of the organizational bench strength.

Have a quick way to do succession planning? Or a cautionary tale? Comment below or message us.


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