With the arrival of September comes the start of the National Football League season, which for many sports fans makes the end of summer tolerable. As is the case every year, some NFL teams will begin the season without the services of a player who factored heavily into their plans. I won't turn this into a diatribe about the physical dangers of playing football; I'll just say that each team in the league adopts a modus operandi of "next man up." That means that any member of the roster may be called on at any time to step in and replace a first-stringer. That "next man up" needs to be ready at a moment's notice. And it's everybody's responsibility, including each individual player, the coaching staff, and the personnel decision-makers, to ensure that person is equipped to do the job when called.
As this year's NFL preseason was in its final stages in August, I learned about a company in the telecom industry that could have benefited from adopting a "next person up" M.O. This technical training organization was reeling from the unexpected death of its chief executive. In less than six months since the executive's passing, the company's revenues dropped significantly and the business was in shambles. They called their former business-operations manager out of retirement on a contract basis to try to straighten out as much as possible, but it wasn't a pretty picture.
When this operations manager retired about three years earlier, the position was not filled and his duties were absorbed by others in the organization. Most of the duties were abosrbed by the chief executive. That was a calculated risk the company made, probably with an eye toward the economic advantages it offered. But the unplanned happened, and there was no "next person up" to take over, even on an interim basis while a more-permanent solution was sought. Now the company faces an uphill climb to get back to where it was less than a year ago.
This happens to be a small business with a pretty lean staff. So not having a "next person up" made a noticeable and profitable bottom-line difference for about three years. And now, it's having a noticeable and painful bottom-line difference for who-knows-how-long. The concept applies to organizations of all sizes. I've heard succession planning referred to as the "speeding bus theory." If the key performer in your organization stepped off a curb and was hit by a speeding bus, could the business survive? How deep is your bench?