2 succession planning rules for unique roles
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Single points of failure can instantly disrupt any business. Institutional knowledge is great unless it is locked inside one head.
Having a team member that can rock multiple roles is awesome, unless the role becomes a purple unicorn that can never be replaced. Just as rock star employees can elevate the team, the productivity and acceleration they provide a business is tenuous if they cannot be replicated.
Follow these two rules to create a succession plan for even the most unique role.
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To limit single points of failure, we must determine if the distinguishing traits of that special employee are measurable, teachable and/or personal. However, before we can do this, we must define what she brings to the table that distinguishes her.
Start by outlining the context within which the role resides and listing out ways she excels.
In other words, are there others in the role and she is just better? Why? Is she the only one in the role and simply the best performer in company history? How so?
With those answers in mind, we can begin to determine which of those characteristics are measurable, teachable or personal. To really build out the list, talk to the employee and those around and above her about what is special about her approach.
Consider external factors, like degrees, courses or other experiences obtained outside the organization. Then, add any special circumstances to that.
For example: was she part of a product launch? Was she there when the company started? Has she been doing this for decades? Look at the list and note whether the skills are teachable, measurable and/or personality traits.
For the skills that can be learned, figure out if the learning is practically replicable. In other words, does it require a degree from Harvard or could the employee teach a co-worker with the right amount of time?
Use this information to determine the most realistic way — if any — to get those skills from someone else.
If a trait is personal, then admit it and do not expect every potential successor to have that quality. Further, do not rely only on that quality to screen candidates.
Personal characteristics can be critical but unless they are clearly defined and somehow measurable, they will be difficult to quantify and therefore difficult to try to replicate successfully.
Finally, realize that if you have created a purple unicorn, then you should probably kill it. In other words, do not try to find another one.
Recognize the unique characteristics this special employee brings to the table, then find a way to break those skills out into multiple roles. Creating an organization structure around roles that are not sustainable does not work in the long run.
The bottom line is, Steve Jobs was a unique individual. He accomplished amazing things and his combination of drive, skills and personality may not be replaceable.
However, his uniqueness is not the issue; the problem is the attempt to try to replace him. Acknowledge rock star employees for their amazing contributions, but find a way, sooner rather than later, to codify those contributions. Whether it means admitting that employee is a purple unicorn or simply sending someone to additional training courses, use that knowledge to establish a sustainable way to plan for their succession.
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