Issue:June 2014

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT – Successful Succession Planning

In a recent discussion I had with our Executive Director of this publication, Dan Marino, he suggested an article on succession planning. Why would anyone want to do succession planning? Why would you want to develop a person or persons below you in the company organizational chart who could take your job? What, are you crazy? Well, not so fast.

First, I believe every company should have succession planning as part of its management philosophy. This must be ensured and led from the most senior level. Unfortunately, my guess is that 75% or more of the companies in the United States do not have any succession planning.

From a management perspective, whether you have a formalized succession planning activity or not, it is still your obligation to develop the “bench strength” your company requires, not just below you, but throughout the organization if you are at a senior enough level. But if you only have one direct report, you should be grooming that person to be your successor.

So let’s begin with my most basic management philosophy. That is, “to make the people with whom I work, successful.” Part of that philosophy is to make certain people who I work with achieve their career goals and are prepared in their current positions to achieve the next step. There are many avenues to take when it comes to succession planning.

Some managers, and the Japanese are famous for this, like to move people around laterally to increase their exposure to others parts of the company and for their personal exposure to others within the company. I’m not a big fan of this because it can create its own problems for the employee as well as others. I believe there are more effective ways to increase a person’s exposure.

You can assign this person to special projects in which they will be working with others they do not normally work with. You can make them a team leader on a project and let them lead a diverse group of people. You can also send them to outside education to broaden their working knowledge.

One of the benefits you will quickly notice from the aforementioned succession planning strategy is that really outstanding employees will have high morale and will want to stay with the company because they realize and appreciate the time and attention you are investing in them. That also builds loyalty from that person directly to you.

Here’s the other thing you should think about when it comes to succession planning. I have seen it several times when a person who is in a critical position with his/her company is being considered for a promotion. As managements’ discussion continues, inevitably the question will come up as to who will replace the person being considered for the promotion.

When the answer comes back that there is no one internally that can replace the person being considered for the promotion, management has the option of going outside on a search or just hold off on the promotion for the time being. More times than not, management just temporarily tables the promotion. You don’t want that to happen to you!

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John A. Bermingham is currently the Executive Vice President & COO of 1st Light Energy & Conservation Lighting, Inc. He was previously Co-President and COO of AgraTech, a biotech enterprise. Previous to that, he was President & CEO of Cord Crafts, LLC, a leading manufacturer and marketer of permanent botanicals. More previously, he was President & CEO of Alco Consumer Products, Inc., Lang Holdings, Inc., and President, Chairman, and CEO of Ampad, all of which he turned around and successfully sold. With more than 20 years of turnaround experience, he also held the positions of Chairman, President, and CEO of Centis, Inc., Smith Corona, Corporation, and Rolodex Corporation as well as turning around several business units of AT&T Consumer Products Group and served as the EVP of the Electronics Group, and President of the Magnetic Products Group, Sony Corporation of America. Mr. Bermingham served 3 years in the US Army Signal Corps with responsibility for Top Secret Cryptographic Codes and Top Secret Nuclear Release Codes, earned his BA in Business Administration from Saint Leo University, and graduated from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Advanced Management Program.