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What Tom Brady Taught Me About Succession Planning

So I was watching the NFL opening weekend and annoying my wife by not taking it off of football coverage the entire day. It was a terrible weekend for sports in case you were wondering. First of all, my alma mater Washington State University suffered the most humiliating defeat ever (66–3). Then the Seahawks lost to the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo? And lastly, we saw one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game go down after playing for all of eight minutes this season. Tom Brady is done for the season and his mobility could be hampered for the rest of his playing career.

Now the first thing an HR person like me thinks about is “Hey, I wonder if they have a great succession plan in place?” Of course, I end up tweeting about it and asking Kris Dunn over at the HR Capitalist when he is going to do a post because he is a sick, sports obsessed HR person like myself (Update: He delivered). Anybody else think of it like that though?

Anybody?

Bueller?

The thing is, you did think it. You thought it as you wondered: “Who is going to replace Brady?” “Is this guy going to perform?” “What’s going to happen to the team?”

I know it is sick to think about this sort of stuff when you are watching the NFL but I just kept thinking that the thoughts that were going through the minds of Brady’s teammates and fans were the exact same thoughts that go through a team whenever they have to deal with a top performer taken away suddenly. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

This doesn’t just happen to New England Patriot fans, this happened to Seattle Seahawks fans when we learned that we now have our four best wide receivers out with various injuries. And it isn’t uncommon league wide. I heard a stat coming home from work today that cited a 16% injury rate in the league (missing one game or more). When you factor in retirements and trades, that’s a lot of upheaval an organization will have to face. And every single change makes you wonder about what it will do to team chemistry, planning and who will step up to the new challenges that the team will face.

Now as a career backup quarterback takes over the reigns of last year’s most potent offense, every single Patriots fan (and a lot of fans outside of New England like me) are all asking the same question: What’s going to happen?

So what’s going to happen when your:

  • Top salesperson leaves for the competition
  • Your accountant’s mother is in the hospital
  • An Engineer is going through a divorce
  • CEO retires and hands the reigns over to a career VP

Everybody in your organization is going to be observing and watching the moves you make more closely than you can imagine during these critical times. That is, unless you have a solid succession plan. Where do you start:

  1. Make a plan — Start hiring for your top salesperson today, while she is still here. If your salesperson is gone tomorrow, you have to know exactly who is going into the game to handle your key accounts.
  2. Constantly update your plan — Keep your succession plan up to date. People change, they ebb and flow. Your job is to make sure that you aren’t promoting someone off of a five year old plan.
  3. Make your plan known — This is the key hurdle that most people never cross. Make your plan known, at least to the people involved. Even better, make it known to others in your organization so that if something does happen, there is an immediate response and relief.

Obviously succession planning is much more complicated than those three steps. The problem I see is that we make it complicated enough so that we never get started on the planning stage. Even if the plan is basic or it covers only a handful of people, start it today. When the inevitable happens, crisis mode will hit and instead of hitting the panic button, you can pull up the simple document you made and analyze your next steps.

And believe me, nothing feels better than hitting your employees fear back with a well timed and executed succession plan.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Patriots succession plan works. Do you have that luxury with your employees?

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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