In his classic book Winning, Jack Welch talks about a top executive leaving, and then having his replacement selected and announced all before the end of the day. Think about your company–if a star player told you today that she was leaving, how long would it take you before you were comfortable that you had found a suitable replacement and that everything was back to “business as usual?”

Your succession planning for key positions is a CRITICAL element for the success of any change efforts because let’s face it–some people don’t like change. Some people don’t want to change. Sure, this is often the attitude of your worst players. But even they are shouldering some workload, so if you’re afraid of losing them because you have nobody to take their place, then your change efforts will be stifled.

If you’re afraid of losing any of your people because you’re holding on by your fingernails and the loss of any of them would be a crippling blow, then you’re making the game of business orders of magnitude harder than it would otherwise be.

Here’s a thought experiment we run with some clients.

Let’s imagine that you’re a brilliant leader with a clear vision of where you want your company to go… (That should be easy for you! 🙂 )

Next, imagine that you have been stripped of your power to fire anybody–you can cajole them, you can try to get them to see your vision, you can plead with them, but you absolutely can’t fire them. No matter what!

How long do you think it would be before you have uncooperative, toxic people in the organization that bring down the entirety of your corporate culture?

Do you think you could eventually have a world-class, healthy, thriving organization if you absolutely couldn’t get rid of people who apparently couldn’t care less about your vision?

Now, imagine the opposite.

You are the same brilliant leader with the clear vision, but this time you are prohibited from telling your employees anything about that vision, your corporate values, or how you want them to work. In fact, the only mechanism that you have to correct behavior is to fire people at your discretion, and you have long lines of qualified candidates for every position in the company.

In this case, do you think that you could eventually have a world-class, healthy, thriving organization?

Let’s be clear–neither of these scenarios is good. They both remove critical elements of a leader’s toolkit.

But if you’re like most of our clients, who have seen the negative consequences of having a toxic person in a role that they couldn’t be removed from (due to internal politics, legislation, lack of bench strength, fear, etc.), then you’ll pick the second scenario 10 times out of 10.

No matter how personable, charming, and persuasive you are as a leader, you’d still rather be in the second scenario than the first.

Of course, the real magic lies within a third option. You’ve got great bench strength and a succession plan for each of the key roles of the company, and you’ve got a fantastic culture of people aligned with your mission and goals.

Your Challenge For This Week: Jot down the names of every key player on your team, and ask yourself if you’ve got a valid plan in the place for their departure. If not, what needs to happen to build a strong succession plan? We can help.

On the other side of the paper, do the unfortunate work of put down anyone who might be toxic and damaging to your efforts, or to others within your company. Now ask the tough but basic question, “If we were to have this person leave today, could we announce their replacement by the end of the day and move on with a happier tomorrow?”

As Jack might agree, that’s a winning plan!