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Succession planning keeps the business wheels turning

doctor-lightbulb_opt-FMJ-Jan2014The news that union leader Bob Crow has died leaves his movement, for the moment at least, bereft of leadership. Questions have already been raised about the RMT’s ability to maintain a similar public profile in his absence. With this in mind how do facilities professionals prevent their operations becoming overly dependent on one individual, to the point where their absence threatens the entire team’s ability to get the job done?


Guy-Stallard-FMJ-Jan2014THE END-USER’S VIEW

The sudden death of any individual is extremely sad but it can also be a time of risk for an organisation. The level of risk is determined by the type and level of service provided.

All organisations should have succession plans in place so that in the event that a chief operating officer or chief executive does depart, their business is not destabilised. You need to ask what are the risks to your operation in such an occurrence? Is your management team strong enough to be able to deal with this effectively?

This planning should also go much further than the boardroom, covering all outsourcing. Do all of your suppliers have a cast-iron contingency plan for times of crisis? It is also important that an organisation does not become completely reliant on one supplier, BA and Gate Gourmet in 2005, being a good example of the pitfalls this presents.

Having an empowered leadership team which has strong relationships with clients and a firm handle on project management is essential to succession planning. It means that in times of crisis, that team is fully able to deal with all issues arising and the client can be assured of continued service.

Occurrences such as death, resignation or retirement can be harder to cover when the leader is high profile or the ‘public face’ of an organisation. Relationships with clients and suppliers can become strengthened but can also become tense during periods of change. Consultancy-based businesses, selling an individual’s talents, are at considerable risk. That’s why it’s important to have a deputy who is empowered, can speak authoritatively to internal and external stakeholders and has awareness of what is going on within and outside of their establishment.

Personal experience, where I took charge of facilities at KPMG in 2006, has shown me what succession planning can do to ease leadership transition. In this particular situation it was a case of sudden illness but by planning for all eventualities, organisations should be able to continue providing consistent service and stability.


Dave Wilson


Succession planning simply brings into stark relief one of the eternal dilemmas of senior managers: if you do something uniquely useful, how can you prevent your absence becoming a critical threat? And are you confident enough to face the idea that your absence might actually be tolerable rather than disastrous?

Modern communications have, of course, exacerbated this problem, since there used to be regular spells of two or so weeks every year when teams had to cope without their esteemed leaders. But it seems that holiday is no longer synonymous with uncontactable, and the temptation for both leaders and their teams to refer to each other for updates seems impossible to resist.

Fairly obviously, organisational resilience is needed even where death of the team leader isn’t expected. While providing for senior leadership absence may require quite complex planning, because of the importance of their role, I think that for any managerial position the same process of checking through roles and creating continuity options is still necessary (I stress options in case the first designated replacement is also absent).

However, the underlying principle for all this rests on one feature: a culture of effective delegation. Without that culture then anyone who has to take over will not only not know how to do the job, but also won’t know the current status of anything that is going on. So all the attributes of good delegators will support organisational resilience: openness, good and regular communication, the fostering of acceptance of collective and individual responsibility, a no-blame ethos, and mutual support throughout the team all add up to a firm grounding for the absence of key individuals.

It has always been my view that routine activity should not be reliant on the presence of the manager, there are other more useful things a manager can be doing than boosting their ego by feeling essential, and in any case I don’t like single points of failure in any system. so the key question for managers is: can you bear the thought of not being irreplaceable?

About Sarah OBeirne


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