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Restore Honor to Your Organization:
Succession Planning…the Ninja Way

By Jim Hartigan
October 2010

Imagine, for a moment, that your neighbor has let his yard slip into an embarrassing state of disrepair.  Algae have overtaken his koi pond.  His bamboo shoots have begun to creep over the fence onto your property.  He has clearly dishonored you, your family, and your landscaping skills.  Naturally, you resolve to dedicate your life to the ways of the ninja and exact revenge on your foe, thus reclaiming your honor, as well as that of your family and yard.  However, you don’t know the first thing about the process of becoming a ninja ... you simply listen to your intuition.  You’re undoubtedly of above-average intelligence, and likely skilled with a throwing star, katana blade, and bow staff; however, sometimes intuition alone isn’t enough.
So frequently, do we jump to solutions and bypass the process.  But, as a Shaolin monk probably said sometime, “one must become intimately familiar with the process if one desires success.”  And that’s part of what today’s blog is about.  We’re going to review a topic that is often viewed in a vacuum wherein the process is overlooked: succession planning.
What is succession planning?  To the non-ninja businessperson, succession planning is all about the sustainability of an organization.  And no, I’m not referring to its carbon footprint.  I mean that the goal of a succession plan is to ensure that the key positions within an organization are always filled with the most qualified candidates.  The objective of succession planning is to ensure that the organization continues to operate effectively when individuals occupying critical positions leave.  And, just as there is a process for mastering ninjutsu, there is a process for mastering the succession plan.  The details of the process may change slightly depending on a variety of factors, including the size of the organization, the industry, etc.  However, the goal of succession planning is universal: Insuring the continued success of the business.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at a four-step succession planning process!

Step One: Identify Key Positions
There are positions within every organization which are vital to its success.  They may be management/leadership positions, roles which require specific, hard-to-replace skill sets, or positions which experience a high turnover rate.  During this step of the succession planning process, the goal is to evaluate the impact each position has on your organization’s ability to carry out its mission and identify those that should be classified as critical.  The leader of your shinobi clan is an obvious example of a key position.  But consider how hard it is to come by a ninja who specializes in both arson and espionage.  This is not necessarily a leadership position, but one that exemplifies a hard-to-replace skill; therefore, it should be considered a key position as well.  Additionally, we all know that your typical sabotage/infiltration specialist is at a high risk for capture, thusly placing them in the key position category due to the high turnover rate.  
Step Two: Perform Position Analysis
During the second step of the succession planning process, the goal is to dig deeper into each of the key positions and determine why they are categorized as such.  Determine what skills and competencies are vital to success in each position.  Another objective of step two is to determine your bench strength for each key position.  That is, determine how prepared the organization currently is for immediately filling a vacant key position.  Note any gaps for use in the following step.  For example, imagine that three highly-skilled senior assassins within your clan fail a mission.  Obviously, they’re going to commit seppuku in an effort to restore their honor.  Whoops!  Looks like you have an immediate opening for three highly-skilled assassins in your clan.  Are you prepared to fill that void with your current staff?  Do you know what skill sets and competencies are required for this position?  A proper position analysis will help you answer these questions.
Step Three: Create Succession Plan
A succession plan is created by pulling together the data gathered in steps one and two into a single formalized document.  The gaps and opportunities for improvement have been identified and should be listed in the succession plan, along with strategies for overcoming them.  The succession plan should list target completion dates and required resources.  Although frowned upon by many HR departments, your organization may elect to have the responsible parties indicate their willingness and ability to carry out their assigned tasks with a blood oath—totally up to you though. 
Step Four: Monitor, Evaluate, and Revise
Continuous process improvement is vital to any process.  Reviewing your succession planning process annually (or even more frequently) will ensure that your organization stays on track with respect to its goal of perpetual success of the organization.  We haven’t even addressed the annual performance review process, dialogue with potential candidates, continuous education, and a number of other elements that are driven out of the succession planning process.  Those are subjects of another day.  Oh, and in the unlikely event that your organization is overrun by a rival clan, follow standard ninja document protection protocol and see to it that all succession plans are slashed and burned.

About the Author:
Jim Hartigan, Chief Business Development Officer and Partner joined OrgWide Services, a Training/e-Learning, Communications, Surveys and Consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide. Jim’s last position was that of Senior Vice President – Global Brand Services where he provided strategic leadership and business development and support to the $22B enterprise of 10 brands and more than 3,400 hotels in 80 countries around the world. His team was responsible for ensuring excellence in system product quality, customer satisfaction, market research, brand management, media planning, and sustainability.


Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586

Recent Articles:

Measure to Manage – The importance of KPIs ... and vampires / Jim Hartigan / September 2010
For Everything There is a Season - Including Budgets / Jim Hartigan / August 2010
Say What? Listen, Learn, and Act–Why Guess, When You Can Know Redux / Jim Hartigan / August 2010
Why Guess When You Can Know - Maximizing the Effectiveness of Your Workplace Surveys / Jim Hartigan / August 2010
Team Member Segmentation in the Workplace…or “If everyone brought potato salad to the picnic – it wouldn’t be much of a picnic!” / Jim Hartigan / July 2010
The Power of Effective Communication in the Workplace (and our Founding Fathers’ unrivaled Tweeting abilities) / Jim Hartigan / July 2010


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