Help your Organization Avert Risk with Succession Planning

Goodbyes can be bittersweet, especially when having to bid farewell to exceptional workers. If the departure is unexpected- well, that is even worse and often creating operational confusion, especially when that person was identified as someone with "high potential."

Back in 2015, United Continental Airlines announced that its newly hired CEO had a heart attack and would be unable to fulfill his CEO duties for the foreseeable future. While he thankfully made a full recovery, the initial news sent the company board scrambling and rattled investors. However, it also served as a high-profile example of how important it is for businesses to prepare for the future and develop a pipeline of future leaders not just for the C-Suite, but all across the company.

Organizations should have a succession plan in place so day-to-day operations will remain streamlined, even in the case of an unexpected event. Succession plans help keep a company working like a well-oiled machine, filling the void left if someone departs for another opportunity or after sudden organizational or operational changes. For some, it may seem like a tedious process, but that does not have to be the case. By placing an emphasis on talent development, you can take a proactive approach to secure a successful transition in leadership.

Empower your team for long-term success

One way to incorporate succession readiness is to create a roadmap outlining how you will address a changing workforce. Consider factors that will inevitably affect operations, such as retiring personnel, an influx of college graduates, or a leader who leaves before a replacement is identified and trained. Then, proactively identify strong employees, train them for the next level and give them the necessary tools to take the lead. Leaders within each department are only as strong as their team members; therefore, it becomes essential to continuously develop and train workers to ensure they are successful in their current roles. More importantly, it helps to prepare them for new leadership positions they may take on in the future.

Invest in career planning

It is worth the cost to invest in resources to strengthen your talent, including leadership coaching, mentoring and career counseling. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of employees have considered leaving their employer due to lack of training and development opportunities, according to a study by the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence. By providing employees with role models to look up to and resources to learn new skills, you will help make them even better at their jobs. In addition, continuously engaging your workforce will show your commitment to their success, contributing to their overall satisfaction within the workplace.

Training and development is not just an essential component of onboarding talent - it should be woven into your employees' journey throughout their tenure. Incorporating education will diversify and improve abilities across departments and at every level. Continuing education has many benefits beyond improving work-related skills - it can result in happier, higher-performing teams, allowing you to promote from within.

At Aflac, we have implemented and executed several different talent development programs to ensure we are ready for changes at the leadership and departmental levels. One resource is our Career Success Center, which provides employees with resources like resume consultation, career coaching, interview skills, and career awareness. Aflac has also established the TEACH mentoring program, which connects less-experienced workers with more seasoned professionals to measure their success, meet their goals and hone their skills.

Many might think these types of efforts can be cost-prohibitive, but with careful planning, they can yield favorable long-term results for the organization that outweigh any minimal costs incurred upfront.

Prepare for what is next

By developing a strong workforce, you will position your company to better adapt when workers bid you farewell. Taking a proactive approach to employee development and implementing succession planning can empower your workforce to step up to the plate and become leaders, thus protecting you from any lapse during a transition in leadership.    

About the Author

Chad Melvin has more than 18 years of experience in the human resources/learning and development industry and is vice president of Leadership, Learning, and Development at Aflac. He is responsible for the strategic development and implementation of Aflac's learning and development program as well as Aflac's talent acquisition efforts.