Several of our recruiters recently took some time to enjoy the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival‘s production of King Lear. The 400 year-old play presents many relevant themes for us all. As recruiters we observed that it is the perfect example of how not to implement a succession plan, a subject that remains a hot topic as many of Canada’s remaining baby-boomers approach retirement. In the play, King Lear divides his kingdom between two of his daughters but ignores the third. Five acts later most of the cast are dead and Lear’s succession plan lies in tatters. In recognition of this important lesson, we have outlined four points to remember when it comes to developing your own succession plans:

1) Think beyond the boomers

The last ten years have seen a changing-of-the-guard when it comes to business management as swathes of baby-boomers opted for retirement. Still, it is not only potential retirees that a business should consider when formulating its succession plan. The term ‘succession plan’ may be something of a misnomer. Perhaps “succession insurance” better describes why a business needs to think about succession. Long-term sickness, maternity leave, dismissals and managers leaving to pursue other opportunities are common reasons why leadership vacuums appear in businesses, but only when an infrastructure is not in place to offset such events. Insurance gives us peace of mind in life for things that we cannot predict—and this is exactly why you need a succession plan.

2) Top-up morale from top-to-bottom

A succession plan should be broad in scope. Managers can be cross-trained to understand one another’s respective responsibilities. Senior managers should be willing to delegate greater responsibilities and more difficult tasks to junior managers, so that the up-and-coming employees can gradually acclimatize themselves to senior duties. Likewise, general managers can expand the responsibility of their team leaders; controllers can empower accountants; and accountants can empower payroll administrators. Creating a culture of cross-training and positive delegation shows that a business values all of its employees and trusts them to exceed expectations.

Nobody needs to be overloaded with more than they can handle but a workforce that is comprehensively trained is essentially a succession plan in itself. No matter how influential a departing manager is, an in-depth succession plan will ensure that your existing staff can be relied upon to handle the departure without stumbling.

3) Encourage openness

The tragedy of King Lear originated in the aging monarch’s misunderstanding of his favourite daughter’s motives. Again, human nature has changed little since Shakespeare’s day and the implementation of a succession plan should be handled with grace and honesty. Some managers, especially those who do not want to retire, might feel threatened that the company has decided to cross-train a relative newcomer on the duties that they have performed for years. This is why it is essential that everyone knows that a succession plan is not a threat, it is a tool to safeguard the wellbeing of the company and its staff. Listen to the concerns of anyone who feels anxious about succession planning and remind them that it is about the smooth running of the company, not restructuring.

4) Nothing can come of nothing

One thing that Lear got right was his assertion that “nothing can come of nothing.” Any business that stands idly by, trusting that the success of its management team will be evergreen, is planning for a succession disaster. Remember, your managers will change but the importance of a prudent, well-judged and comprehensive succession will not.