Have you Found Your Replacement Yet?

Posted on December 4, 2013.

Or for that matter, have you developed bench strength for your key employees? Can you imagine any NFL team without a back up quarterback?  Even movie and TV directors have assistants that can step in, if needed.  So why do so many business owners and managers fail to follow the simple logic that it’s dangerous to make someone indispensible, even if that someone is you? Waiting too long or failing to build your bench is a dangerous game.

If you’re a business owner, the danger of not grooming your replacement can lead to the ultimate failure of your business. As Verit pointed out in their The Intangible Value of Leadership, blog, “almost 80% of the 18 million businesses in the US are family owned”, and leadership challenges are the main reason these businesses either fail or need to be sold.  Do you really want to spend your life building something that disappears when you’re gone?

Having John or Jane Jr. come into your business may or may not be the right answer. Most often, your replacement needs to come from your current executive leadership or outside the organization.  And it’s never too soon to start the grooming process. I’ve known of two CEOs that were tragically killed in accidents and in both cases the company had zero succession planning.  Plus, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding the right person to take over. It takes time to see if your replacement not only has the right leadership skills but also will continue to embrace the culture you worked so hard to build. 

As a manager, you face two risks of failing to build a bench. The first problem will be when a key employee decides to leave. While I’m a firm believer that no one is indispensible, it can take months to recoup from this kind of loss. Once you’ve identified these “can’t lose” employees, it’s critical to partner them with someone who could step into their shoes. What you’re trying to salvage is intellectual capital and customer relationships.

And as for your own job as a manager, unless you’re perfectly happy to never see another promotion, finding your own replacement can’t start too soon.  In might be flattering to feel invaluable in your current role, but it also means you’re likely stuck there.  Look within your own team or throughout the organization.  Become a mentor or start delegating more to your potential successor.  You should also start building relationship with your peers in other organizations.  When you’re ready to raise your hand for the next promotion, it goes a long way to tell your boss who can step into your role.

Turning a blind eye to the inevitable will get you nowhere.  Everyone eventually leaves.  Even Warren Buffet can’t run Berkshire forever. So planning ahead cannot only free up for a promotion but can help you retain the legacy you worked so hard to build.