Succession Strategies: Who Will Fill Your Shoes?

If you’re like many managers, you may think nobody can take your place. In fact, in a recent TCG survey of advertising and marketing executives, nearly four out of 10 (39 percent) felt uncertain that someone in their company could fill their shoes if they had to suddenly leave their positions.

But the truth is, you are replaceable. More importantly, it’s your responsibility to train someone to fill in for you—whether you’re leaving for the short- or long-term. And a formal succession-planning program has benefits that extend beyond crisis management: Companies that create structured succession programs and provide leadership training help their employees grow professionally, which can boost loyalty and productivity. Following are some tips for developing an effective succession strategy:

Start early. It can take time to identify and groom a promising candidate for a leadership role, so begin the process early. Even if you doubt you’ll need a replacement anytime soon, preparing someone to assume your duties creates a safety net should you have to leave your post, either short-term or indefinitely.

Keep an open mind. While the obvious successor may be the "second in command," don’t overlook other promising employees. Identify the skills necessary to excel in the role, and consider candidates who show the greatest potential for acquiring them. For example, if you’re a creative director and the individual working directly beneath you is a talented designer but not a strong leader, it’s important to consider more than one candidate to succeed you. You may want to have a candid conversation with the designer and let the person know you want to develop their leadership abilities. In addition, look for others in your department who could, with some training, fill your role.

Provide both training and development opportunities. Along with identifying leaders, managers should help high-potential creatives determine their training and development needs. Although these terms are often used in tandem, training addresses immediate needs—for instance, a future senior web writer might need to attend a marketing writing seminar to continue to hone his or her skills.

Development, on the other hand, generally refers to specific experiences an individual might need to move to the next level. For example, someone in line for a top management position might be given additional opportunities to spearhead high-profile projects as a means of gaining visibility and enhancing leadership skills.

Promote interaction between senior managers and promising employees. Training and development play a crucial role in grooming future leaders, but high-achieving employees also need opportunities to interact with senior managers in a variety of settings.

Many companies also bring emerging and senior leaders together for planning and strategy sessions. These interactions allow promising professionals to get a feel for the thought processes, discussions and judgments that come into play at higher levels.

Make it ongoing. Provide regular feedback to proteges so they can continue to progress and meet expectations. Offering perks or promotions also is important in keeping top employees engaged and committed to their career paths within the company.

Take a trial run. Your vacation is a perfect time to have a potential successor assume your responsibilities. The employee will gain experience while you learn how prepared the person is to take on a greater role.

Besides helping your company prepare for its future leadership needs, succession planning bolsters employee motivation and retention. When creatives understand they have a future with their firm and their employer is committed to helping them gain the experience needed to advance, they’re less inclined to pursue other opportunities. Another advantage: In training a successor, you may actually relax the next time you go on vacation!

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.