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Succession planning — not as difficult as you think

Dena Cordova-Jack, Building Culture

Leadership succession planning is critical to balance your company’s objectives and future growth. As leadership expectations continue to change, so must our approach to succession planning. Done well, succession planning will help you move away from the “fog the mirror” style of building your team and allow you to invest the time and resources to develop strong leaders. As we continue to deal with the labor shortage in our industry, we’ve often been forced to hire those we may not consider C-level players just to keep our operations running. Giving a less-than-competent person a position at a lower level in the company may be temporarily viable, but placing one in leadership may have disastrous consequences. A workable succession plan can provide your company with a clear advantage in fighting the labor war.

Succession planning is a crucial area that should be a living, breathing part of your annual strategic planning. In my visits with dealers from across the country, I hear one standard view: “I don’t know where to start,” or “It’s too time-consuming, and I can’t focus on it.” It is easy to understand both sentiments, but neither is true.

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Leadership succession planning is simple. Like the houses we build, the practice of leadership succession planning equates to pouring the foundation for your home. While a strong team helps your company build a solid foundation for growth, succession planning is the rebar that reinforces your foundation. Both are viable longterm with the other and should become a standardized practice that’s reevaluated quarterly.

The viability and sustainability of your company revolves around your success recruiting, developing, and promoting leaders. During budgeting planning in the last quarter of 2022, you likely gave thought to workforce development as you looked at an uncertain economy ahead. Although inflation continues, employment numbers in our industry remain at 3.5 – 4%, making hiring a challenge at best. Combine that with a shrinking workforce, with two jobs now available for each unemployed worker, and you have a difficult situation to navigate.

The strength or weakness of your workforce is simply a reflection of the strength of your leadership team. Here are a few effortless steps to begin your succession planning strategy.

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1)   Do a SWOT analysis on members of your critical leadership teams by performing a 360 review and a skills assessment for each. A 360 review will provide a more balanced evaluation, as it gathers anonymous feedback and perspective from critical areas of your operations, and a psychological assessment will help you determine personality dispositions (and will be enlightening to the candidate as well). Utilize an evaluation that incorporates a robust EQ analysis, as doing so provides a far superior tool to evaluate the valid drivers of an employee’s personality and can assist you in assessing performance gaps.

2)    Once armed with that data, review the core competencies of each individual. Contrast their skillsets with the demands of the position. If you currently need candidates that are solid in these positions, look internally at your workforce first. Do you have another individual you can develop to be a strong leader? If not, look externally for options for succession in your key leadership roles.

3)   Succession planning can be something other than a wholesale change. You can start small, focusing on the most critical position first, building a succession plan for it, and then moving to the next in order of operational importance. Taking small, high-value steps today can equal tremendous advancement in a relatively brief time.

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One attribute that clearly defines a leader is his or her ability to identify, develop, and promote individuals into leadership positions. An operational succession plan within your organization will provide comprehensive benefits to your company, regardless of size or location. Move away from a static organizational structure to building a solid bench for your key positions with depth.

Dena Cordova-Jack built her 30+ year career with GP, Boise Cascade, Foxworth-Galbraith, and most recently as VP of Organizational Development for Kodiak Building Partners. She currently serves as Vice President for Misura Group. Reach Dena at

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