Succession planning for the aging workforce

Succession planning is important to long-term organizational success but isn’t regularly discussed by leadership teams. Over the past few years, the Charles Aris team has all too often seen this vulnerability rear its head in industrial manufacturing. The gap between leadership teams today and the ones which will take over in three or even 10 years is a reality that organizations need to face.

If the majority of your leadership team is nearing retirement – with no succession plan in place – consider the following guidance:

Develop leaders from within

This strategy can take two different paths:

The first option is to identify professionals already in your organization who could step into a leadership role. Depending on how close to retirement your current leaders are, you may have two to three years of runway to really groom those whom you identify for that next step. If you take this route, be sure to confirm that leadership is a path they actually want to take. It would be a waste of your time and theirs to spend a year or two getting them prepared for that role, only for them to turn the opportunity down when you present it.

You also have the option of hiring new talent who might not be ready for immediate leadership but could be in the future. Make your current leadership team part of this hiring decision and ensure they’re keeping an eye out for individuals they can see stepping into their shoes one day. Consider and discuss questions like these: Does this individual have the professional pedigree we’re seeking? Would she enhance our culture? Can she lead others in our organization?

Don’t rule out hires from outside your industry

Take a step back and focus on finding the right talent instead of automatically restricting hires to your industry. If you’re impressed with a candidate’s experience and can see him adding value to the organization as a leader, the industry part of the equation can be taught.

Implement a mentorship program

If you’re going to develop leaders from within – whether veteran team members or recent hires – you can ensure a smooth transition through formalized mentoring. Even if everyone on your leadership team is far from retirement, building these mentor-mentee relationships early will help you avoid the “Oh no, (Colleague Y) is retiring soon, what are we going to do?” question for years to come.

Examine your current leadership team

Is a wave of leaders set to retire around the same time? If so, are you prepared? Is there a yawning gap in your organization as a result?

These are incredibly important questions to consider as you put succession planning top of mind. One leader’s retirement and another a year or two later can be overcome. If you have two or three retiring in the same year, though, things can get chaotic.

If you take away anything from this piece, let it be this: Every organization needs a succession plan, and it’s never too soon to start building yours.