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Why business continuity demands succession planning of Papal proportions

BUSINESS CONTINUITY AWARENESS WEEK: Let’s explore the recent conclave and the importance of planning the key human resources that are essential to your organization’s ongoing operations


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The Papal conclave is succession planning in its highest form. To clarify, the conclave has been the process for selecting the Pope (CEO of the church) for centuries since the Roman Catholics church was established and led to the appointment of Pope Francis I late last week.

The conclave can be considered the oldest ongoing method for succession planning and is considered a plan to manage the gap that has arisen by the departure of the Pope. Like a business without a president or CEO, the church without Pope and the papal direction provided, unfavorable risks may present themselves which may impact operations.

Wikipedia describes succession planning as the process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business (leadership) positions. This statement has business continuity or backfilling overtones. My past experiences with succession planning, have always been associated with the organization’s top talent, which is usually considered at the VP and CEO level. My current experience has shown me that succession planning needs to be applied to lower management staff that one day will become emerging senior leaders and should be prepared for advancement or promotion into newer challenging roles.

Business Continuity Management (BCM) Planning is the process of highlighting operational risks that can cause damage to the business, and then taking steps to mitigate those risks. Loss of key resources (staff) can have impacts to your business that cannot be overlooked.

Any mature BCM practice will find resource (staff) planning a foundation block to operate the business when crisis strikes. Regardless of your business, your employees both management and operational staff are essential to the existence of your business.

Today’s companies are facing higher resources demands because of globalization, 7×24 operations, reliance on technology and automation, and not to mention demanding customers who want more for less. Burnout of inexperienced staff who are challenged with keeping up, and with the retirement of the ‘Baby Boomers’, the resource gap can widen, and the talent gap can strike your organization quickly leaving your unprepared.

Having appropriate staffing when you are dealing with operational situations that impact the delivery of products and services is key to your customers, who can directly impact the bottom line if you lose them.

Consider key positions and employees with ‘one of a kind’ skill sets when undertaking a business impact or risk assessment. Your essential staff (and replacement strategies if they leave) is an organizational strength, but can also be a weakness if they are not available for whatever reasons to deliver their work.

A good business continuity plan has identified both primary and back-up resources for given positions within the plan required in meeting the work flow to carry out the business deliverable. Succession planning for day to day business or continuity planning can be achieved by four simple steps.

Step 1:  Identify Essential (or critical) or Positions One sure way to determine your critical staffing needs (these are positions for succession planning or need to be available for emergency operations) is to understand those process/functions in which those positions serve. Typically these positions are associated with those process/functions that must be preserved at all cost in meeting customer expectations at all times; even during adverse operating conditions such as power outages, IT/Network failures, influenza/pandemics, labor disruption etc.)

Without staff available for these functions, your organization would be unable to effectively deliver it products and service to customers or meet its business objectives.  In this step it is beneficial to assess current and future needs based in the organization considering three to five-year business plans. It should be noted that critical staffing positions can be found at all levels of the organization from the CEO to the customer call center.

Step 2:  Identify Position Capabilities For any critical staffing positions, an inventory of the required competencies needed to successfully identify alternate staff from either internal or external sources should be developed. No different than a job description. Also the metrics for tracking and measuring performance for the position must be defined.  Having this information in hand when selecting candidates these positions will aid in setting expectations regarding responsibilities and performance required to be successful.

Step 3:  Develop Succession Planning Strategies Once critical staffing positions have been identified using a business impact or risk assessment approach with a staffing component, and with your position capabilities inventoried, the most challenging step in the process is to identify candidates the meet the competencies profile.  To meet this challenge, develop resources identification strategies for selection and recruitment. Resources identification strategies can include networking and social media sites for targeting candidates who are seeking career renewals (job seeking).

Resource planning for business continuity can include a combination of training and developing existing staff within your organization, or use of external resources. In the papal conclave methodology, choosing from all the global Cardinals brings focus to those with the appropriate skill sets to be considered as potential candidates. This approach been pre-planned from for centuries so on demand ‘papal succession’ selections can occur within days so as not to impact ‘church’ business.

Step 4: Employee Succession Action Plan Once the succession planning strategies have been inventoried, the next step is getting organized. It is best to develop position succession action plans for critical staffing needs. This can be a simple plan if the position competencies and candidates are plentiful, or more detailed if the skill sets and experience needed are more complex and fewer in numbers.

Succession action plans can take many forms but a  written plan is best to effectively manage the process with tasks and times lines (including decision points) to meet the desired goal. Considering the business continuity plan, identifying and naming such individual (both primary and alternates (back-up)) is mandatory to the success of operationalizing the plan when needed. Eventually training and exercising (for performance) the continuity plan with assigned individuals (even on loan for emergency situation) is paramount for key two reasons:

  • To operationalize the continuity plan and validate functionality in meeting the required performance levels.
  • Staff training for individuals named  in the continuity Plan

The planned or unexpected loss of employees within critical staffing positions can introduce risks and business impacts both operationally and financially. Developing succession plans as part of a business continuity program can improve the capability of your business to address staff related risks including the collateral risks that occur when key employees leave an organization. Preplanning also allows the organization the needed time to identify key employees and the risk they pose if they were longer available.

Advance resource planning introduces time to develop appropriate strategies so when such events occur, it promotes the safeguarding of organizational business interests by accelerated response and recovery times in meeting internal or external customer service level agreements.

Next step: Evaluate your organization’s preparedness today by trying our free online business continuity and disaster recovery assessment tool

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