Everyone reacts differently to change. Some people thrive on it, while others are utterly terrified by it.

But whichever way you lean, one thing is for certain: the best way to cope with change is to PLAN for it.

And few changes can be more impactful than the departure of a capable and trusted member of your team.

But it always surprises me to see so many organizations that continue to move forward without even the simplest of succession plans in place.

There’s no exact formula as to what comprises an effective succession plan, and the components vary along with your institutional culture and needs. But there ARE some things you can do to mitigate what can otherwise turn into a very challenging management event.

Keep those job descriptions handy, and up to date.  When one of your long-term employees decides to retire, the most embarrassing question anyone can ask is “what did they DO?” But it happens.

If you have formalized job descriptions written up for every position on your organizational chart—(and if you don’t, you need to!)—keep them up to date, especially for folks who have been in their job for a number of years.

And don’t forget to separate the individual from the job duties—even though good old Bob didn’t always get around to doing those quarterly sales reports, they still need to get done. The new Bob needs to know that!

Know your hiring market. Once you’ve reviewed an updated job description, think about your market. Are there individuals out there capable of handling these tasks? Where do you need to concentrate your hiring efforts?

Are there professional resources designed to reach the type of individual you need? Can you access them? Keep those emails and websites handy, to get the word out quickly once the need arises.

And if you don’t have a file of folks who have expressed an interest in coming to work for you, start one! Keep them sorted by position, as potential candidates. At this point you’re not evaluating their qualifications, but building a labor pool—if they’re not right for one job, they may be right for another.

Groom those internal candidates! Your succession plan should be a living document, which evolves as new internal prospects emerge and express interest in a particular position. Keep an eye on these folks, and if they show promise, make sure they have access to the training and development resources they need to get where they want to go.

There should never be any guarantees implied that an assistant will automatically move up once his or her supervisor moves on. Although that frequently happens, and often is the best-case scenario, it shouldn’t be considered a done deal. Things change, and you want to make the best choice possible based on the CURRENT needs of the position, and that may or may not be the person perceived to be “next in line.”

Go into these replacement situations with a good game plan, and your eyes open, and you’ll be on your way to implementing a “Succession Plan” that becomes a “Success Plan!”

Because it’s a necessary part of growth, and you know what we say…