What Happens When the Leader’s Gone?

Posted: April 20, 2010 in On Target
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Here are some key questions that business owners and principals must be able to answer in order to ensure that there is continuity of leadership if the worst should happen.

What?
What jobs in the business are key and must be carried out no matter what? What processes and procedures must be maintained in the absence of the business’ principals and are essential to operations? As pointed out above, this could be as mundane as having alternate signing authority for company cheques and banking deposits. It could also include knowledge of insurance policies, important administrative and financial contacts, supplier lists, client lists, etc.

Who? Who can best fill each position in the absence of the incumbent? It is important to distinguish succession planning from relief planning. The former involves the selection and development of individuals to take over the key positions in a business at some point in the future. Relief planning however is distinct and aims to ensure that there is someone who can take over key positions in an emergency or crisis, especially in the event of an unplanned absence. The skills and qualities are not necessarily the same in both cases. For instance, a small business owner might wish his daughter to take over the business in the next five years and is grooming her with that objective in mind, but that doesn’t mean she would necessarily be ready to take over the business at a moment’s notice should something happen to the owner. That would be compounded by the familial relationship. She might be in no condition to manage a business if she is in distress or grieving. A long-time partner or associate may be more appropriate in those circumstances, at least until the daughter can take over.

How? How do we contact the replacements? What contingency plans do we have in place to activate the emergency recall plan? How do essential tasks and processes get carried out, and who does them? Are there important deliveries and projects that must be completed or continued in the absence of the key people? How should these be implemented?

As you can see, there is potentially a lot to think about. But there are also many benefits for the business. By getting information out in the open and keeping employees in the loop, they can be empowered to perform better and use their initiative, not just in an emergency or crisis situation, but also in normal circumstances. It is also a good way to reassure clients and suppliers, as well as an excellent means of identifying potential successors or future managers as part of a long-term succession or management development plan.

© 2010 Richard Martin

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