Strengthen Your Team With an All-Levels Succession Plan

Many organizations have succession plans for their chief executive. But when staff members wear many hats, an all-levels plan can improve organizational knowledge retention and transfer and prevent important tasks from falling through the cracks when the unexpected happens.

By Rebecca Hawk

Succession planning is one of those tasks that you may be inclined to put off for as long as possible, but a good succession plan can save you when a key staff member leaves your organization unexpectedly. And creating a succession plan for all levels of your team — not just the CEO — means that you’ll strengthen your on-boarding and off-boarding processes, not to mention ease staffing transitions and ensure that important organizational knowledge is retained.

Here’s how to build an all-levels succession plan for your team.

Create an Organizational Chart

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on day-to-day tasks and lose sight of the big picture. Creating a succession plan requires you to be more intentional about long-term staffing strategy, and it starts with how you build your team.

Even if your team is small, an organizational chart can help you and any new team members parse out roles and responsibilities. Once you’ve built out a basic organizational chart, you can use it to illuminate each employee’s workload and identify potential imbalances among your team members.

If you want to take your organizational chart a step further, make a detailed version that shows each team member’s primary focus areas and any projects or initiatives they own.

Assess Skill Sets and Gaps

With the help of your organizational chart, think about the scope and responsibilities of each role, as well as the “other duties as assigned” each staff member has inherited or adopted. Then weigh these against your team’s mission and goals. If data-driven marketing is a focus area but no one on your team has strong skills in marketing analytics, that’s a gap.

Thinking about skills gaps will make it easier to be strategic about your recruitment. If a staff member departs or takes an unexpected leave of absence, who would fill her shoes? Would you fill her position as is or take the opportunity to develop a new role to fill the gaps in your remaining team?

Building an all-levels succession plan also provides a catalyst for you to think about your individual team members’ career paths and professional development. In your performance reviews and ongoing discussions with your employees, talk with them about the skills you’d like to develop within your team.

Create Standard Operating Procedures

A more tactical component of all-levels succession planning is developing a thorough set of standard operating procedures. For some people, standard operating procedures (SOPs) might constitute the most dreaded piece of succession planning — but they’ll prove to be game changers.

If you’re on-boarding a new employee, SOPs can act as an informal training manual. Especially if the former employee left with little notice, a detailed set of SOPs will help your new hire succeed with his tasks in his first few days of work.

Good SOPs use clear language, giving definitions and context to any internal jargon, and refer to organizational charts where needed. They walk the employee through a process or procedure step by step and include information about the systems and staff involved. You can enlist your team members to draft SOPs for their areas of expertise, then work as a team to review them.

While creating helpful SOPs will require an initial time investment and periodic maintenance, they’ll give you peace of mind knowing that you’ve taken the necessary steps to minimize downtime in the event of disruption.

Cross-train Employees

At many associations, employees inherit or take on tasks that aren’t directly related to their role. Those are the tasks that tend to slip through the cracks when an employee is gone, so cross-training your staff is critical to ensure retention of institutional knowledge and operational continuity.

Cross-training doesn’t have to be difficult. You can let employees walk through the SOPs created by their peers or have team members lead trainings on different areas. Some organizations allow employees shadow each other so that they get a sense of all the activities involved in a project.

All-levels succession planning takes time and energy. But the effort will make your on-boarding and out-boarding much easier, strengthen your staff team, and increase your organization’s resiliency and capacity to successfully execute on its mission.