Should you have a replacement plan?

Should you have a replacement plan?

Yes. In fact, you should have BOTH a replacement plan and a succession plan in place. Here's why.

A replacement plan is different than a succession plan; it does not and should never substitute for a proper succession plan. A replacement plan identifies 1 or 2 individuals who are ready/able to replace someone (typically a leader) on short notice, sometimes in an emergency. Typically, this replacement is temporary. As such, a replacement plan is tactical and should be seen as a stop gap measure, not a long term solution.

Succession planning looks beyond the immediate situation and is more strategic. A succession plan identifies and grooms high performing/high potential employees to assume increasing responsibility in key areas of the organization. Through a process of ongoing development, you build up pools of employees who are at varying stages of readiness for promotion or new assignments. When a need arises to either replace someone in a key role or staff a new position, you can recruit from your existing talent pools.

Many organizations and their leaders make the mistake of creating a replacement plan, and thinking it can serve as a succession plan. The reality is that it can't. Having only a replacement plan leaves your organization vulnerable and less able to quickly and effectively respond to change, both in personnel and the industry or market. It also can negatively impact employee engagement and retention — especially of your high-potentials and high-performers.

Short and long term replacement

Your replacement plan needs to consider both short term and longer term needs.

Short term replacement planning identifies one or two individuals who temporarily step into the shoes of a decision maker when they are absent because of illness, vacation, business travel, short term leave, emergency, etc. A short term replacement is essentially a delegate or back-up; they make decision on behalf of the person they are replacing. Typically, they assume these responsibilities in addition to their current role, and return to their own role once the person they are replacing returns.

Longer term replacement planning identifies one or two individuals who could replace a decision maker in the event of an unforeseen, sudden and more permanent loss (e.g., death, severe illness, sudden resignation, etc.). A longer term replacement "acts" in the role until a formal replacement candidate is identified and onboarded. Because of the longer duration of this replacement, they may be relieved of the duties of their current role while in this acting role. The person may or may not be a candidate for assuming the role on a permanent basis.

You should have replacement candidates for all managers and leaders, but also for other key roles in the organization.

Creating a replacement plan

You'll want to consult with managers across the organization in creating your replacement plan. To create a replacement plan:

  1. Start by identifying all the management and leadership roles in the organization as well as any other key or strategic roles where an absence of more than a few days would cause disruption to work.
  2. Identify the incumbent in each of these roles.
  3. For each of these roles, identify 1 or 2 (maximum 3) candidates who could fill in for a few days or weeks (short term replacements), and 1 or 2 (maximum 3) candidates who could temporarily assume the role for a longer period of time. In some cases, the candidates may be from outside the organization (e.g. retired employee, external consultant, contractor, temp worker, etc.)

    When identifying replacements, consider the knowledge/skills/ experience required for each role, and each replacement candidate's level of proficiency with these. Each replacement candidate should already possess the knowledge/skills/ experience required, or be able to develop them within 1 year.
  4. Rate and rank each replacement candidate in terms of their readiness/fitness (ready now, ready within 6 months, ready within 1 year).
  5. For each candidate who is ready now, write an explanation or justification for their readiness.

    For each candidate who could be ready in 6 months to 1 year, identify what development or experiences they require to make them ready. Put plans in place to address their development needs.
  6. Regularly revisit your plan to keep it up to date.

Ensuring smooth operations

With this plan in place, your organization is now ready to address short and longer term replacement needs, and ensure smooth operations.

When you do need to appoint a replacement for someone, make sure you provide the replacement candidate with the coaching and support they need to succeed. You should also follow up with an assessment of their performance, and provide any development needed to support their ongoing performance and development.

And remember, your replacement plan functions as a companion to your succession plan, not as a substitute. To secure your organization's ongoing strategic success, make sure you also have a comprehensive succession plan in place.

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