Succession Planning in Consulting

I recently read an article about how United Airlines developed strong succession planning for the changing of their CEOs. I remember the days when I could focus on succession planning! It was one of my KPIs as a traditional employee and it was quite rewarding.It gave me the opportunity to mentor someone (or someone’s) to be ready to step into my role (or some other leadership role) when needed. There were entire training programs in place to support efforts to succession planning within the organization. Having shifted to being a freelance consultant, I’m finding that succession planning is no longer possible, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. The tools and expectations aren’t there, though I think they should be.

Photo by SOULSANA on Unsplash

Of course, some people may question why someone like me – a one-person LLC who isn’t selling a specific product or cloud-hosted widget – even needs to consider this. Isn’t it up to my clients to figure out how they’ll handle my replacement when the time comes? Why should I be responsible for their business planning?
It’s pretty simple, actually. I want my clients to be successful. If they are successful, then my reputation improves as well. That said, though, different clients have different needs and situations. What I do for one client will not work with another. 

Three forms of succession planning:

Train the employees on the techniques I use to accomplish the organization’s goals.

Maybe it’s just helping someone learn more about Google templates for meeting notes. Or getting them on a 15-minute Zoom session to help them learn how to use some of the more esoteric features of the platform. Or working with a new working group chair on the process to kick off new work. Any of these can be opportunities for some awesome teaching moments where the employee can pick up a new skill that will advance them in career.

Document everything.

To be completely honest, documenting my own processes isn’t just about helping my client. It’s also about helping me be consistent! But this documentations supports a succession for someone you might never work with directly. Solid karma.

Write the job description.

Unless something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, the person that knows your role best is you. So when it’s time to move on to other contracts, assuming the client still needs to backfill that role, you can offer more input on exactly what’s required – from skills to personality traits – than anyone else.

Ideally, I would add a fourth bullet there: mentoring another freelancer. While I do look for opportunities to mentor others , I haven’t been able to connect with people ready, willing, and able to jump on this crazy career wagon of freelancing in a world of volunteer-driven collaborations. But I’ll keep looking!
I’m always open to hearing suggestions for other ways to help my clients with succession planning—even when they don’t know they need it. If you have thoughts or ideas, please feel free to drop in a comment here or on your favorite social media channel!

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