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We all have them, a go-to-person in our organization. You know the one. They have “been there” and “done that.” They know all the ins and outs and worked on the big projects, as well as the extraneous little ones and they know all the personalities involved and more importantly how to get things done!

We call on them when no one else can (get ‘r done) and when we need it done yesterday. And…we do this often!

What happens when your go-to is gone? He or she decides to retire or move to greener pastures?

This is the real nightmare companies are beginning to face, whether due to a down economy and subsequent layoffs or through baby boomer retirements. Either way, it is happening and companies are left wondering whom they are going to “go-to” now?

What’s worse, a 2005 report from Towers Perrin (frequent contributors of workforce research and findings) indicates less than 45 percent of companies have any succession planning systems in place.  Regardless of the state of the economy or massive turnover, we cannot leave our customers wanting.

Ryan’s HR experience with turnover and succession planning

Ryan McShane
President of HR Evolution LLC

In 2004, I served as the HR Officer for an agency of 220 employees in the public sector. Sitting at the executive table for my first meeting with the agency, I quickly noticed I did not “look” like the other executives sitting around the table. In other words, I was from a different generation than all others on the executive team. This realization was followed by curiosity about the generational makeup of the organization.

As the HR Officer, I had all the demographic data at my disposal and after running a few reports, my suspicions were confirmed. We were facing a whole lot of turnover because of retirement and we had no plan in place to address the massive loss of institutional knowledge inevitable as those employees with 10, 20 and in some cases 30 years’ experience. 

To say we were facing “a lot of turnover” may be an understatement. My suspicion was validated and my concern turned to a slight panic when thinking about the turnover due to retirement and all the recruiting that would need to be done. In an organization of 220, there were 76 who were eligible to retire within 5-10 years. Of the 76, 80 percent were in management and upper-level management positions. Retirement alone was going to decimate the agency’s talent!

After several deep breaths, I presented my findings along with a plan to mitigate the impact of impending turnover, establishing systems to retain the institutional knowledge of each person before retirement.

We had to re-examine everything, including our recruiting and retention plan, career and personal development systems, and policies and procedures. Could our current systems support the impending need now upon us?

We knew the answer and it was an emphatic, NO! We weren’t equipped. But, it wasn’t long before we were. You see, this was the golden opportunity and we were fortunate enough to recognize it as such.

How you can start succession planning today

As much as we would like to keep “go-to employees” from going, we have to face reality. They are going to go, so it’s just a matter of time. The question is, “Do we have the systems in place to maximize employee potential, grow our bottom line, and capture institutional knowledge before talent turns over?” As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail; talent management and succession planning aren’t exceptions, so take a few minutes today to begin crafting a plan for your business.

1. Document your current system for retaining and transferring knowledge.

Working with your human resources team, review any documentation you have relative to the training and knowledge required to replace your “go-to” employee. How do you handle training of new employees? What do you offer in terms of professional development programs for current employees? Written and video documentation of the most critical functions of your business will go along way when your “go-to” employee leaves.

2. Leverage the experience of your “go-to” employee as well as your most experienced employees.

Kaizen principles can be applied to all business functions, including HR. Bring your new employees and your “go-to” employees together to form a continuous learning committee. New employees can provide feedback on training programs while experienced employees can provide recommendations to improve knowledge transfer.

3. Explore adding a cross-training program to improve knowledge transfer efforts.

Cross-training could possibly be your best offensive approach to retaining and transferring knowledge. Cross-training can double as professional development for other employees while also reducing dependence on a single person as a “go-to” employee.  Feedback and recommendations from your continuous learning committee will be a good starting point for structuring a cross-training program.

Claudia Pennington
Co-Founder & CEO of DIY Marketing

If you’re committed to a sustainable and lasting contribution in the marketplace, talent management, and succession planning must be viewed as critical a function as budgeting, because ultimately staff payroll costs are typically your biggest expense. Begin preparing now and you’ll be ready months or years from when your “go-to” employee is gone.

Claudia Pennington is co-founder & CEO of DIY Marketing. She is a digital marketer working with manufacturers, machine shopsand distributors, helping businesses generate more leads and sales with digital marketing and SEO. 

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