Succession Planning: Be Intentional

Engaging members of the college retail industry daily, the team at Nebraska Book Company is increasingly hearing the news of store directors and text managers who are close to retirement. And while we congratulate those who are about to reach that well-deserving milestone, we begin to ask, “who is next in line to fill your big shoes?” More often than not, we hear, “I am not sure.” Succession plans are imperative in any industry, but most recently have been growing attention in campus retail.

Steve Pribyl, a well-respected member of the community, recently noted at NBC’s Spectrum Conference the #1 reason stores go lease is an integral member of the store’s team is retiring. Also, Michael von Glahn sited in the March/April 2017 NACS The College Store Magazine noted, “an institution may put out a request [lease] if its store is underperforming, or if a director or manager is going to retire, especially if a successor hasn’t been identified.”

Succession planning allows you to ensure the right people and the right plan is in place to protect your legacy and the independence of your store.

At its core, a succession plan is simply “an intentional and systematic effort to ensure leadership continuity in key positions. When done effectively a succession plan ensures retention of institutional knowledge while cultivating organization and individual advancement and growth.” We will delve into the primary components, we believe, make up a successful succession plan.

  1. Identify Key Positions
  2. Analyze your Team for Performances versus Potential
  3. Hire with your Succession Plan in Mind
  4. Open & Honest Dialogue with Staff and Administration

When you identify key positions that are critical to the operation of your business, you want to consider skill, seniority and experience. Ask yourself, what is the risk or harm to the business if the position is left vacant? Once you have your key positions, you will need to introduce people to the equation. This is the trickiest part because you must differentiate between performance and potential. High performers deliver outstanding results, exceed their metrics, build great relationships, and are likely your right hand person. High Potentials are different. The key and critical difference between the high performer and high potential is the aspiration AND ability to eventually serve in a leadership role. High potentials aspire to more and they are engaged in the mission of the organization, constantly looking for ways to improve the business, their team and themselves. An effective tool to wrap your mind around assessing performance versus potential is using a 9 box grid (see below).

Not everyone will be lucky enough to have high potential individuals on your existing staff. This is where having your succession plan in mind as you hire for the future. Every new hire becomes an opportunity to infuse talent. While experience and industry knowledge are certainly valuable attributes when searching for a high potential, it is important to not overlook or undervalue raw talent.

A successful succession plan cannot be created without engaging your staff. While you can assess your team based upon your experience and understanding of their work, only through open and intentional communication can you uncover someone’s true aspirations. Consider some of the following starter questions:

  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Where would you like to be in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
  • Have you ever thought about your next step?
  • What part of your job do you like the most?
  • What would you like to spend more time working on?

While you work through your staffing assessment, you can begin to think through what is most important in your environment to ensure your successors understand and can perform. Based upon conversations from the field, we uncovered the following topics as very important:

Course Materials Store Director
•       Rentals •       Accounts Receivable
•       Custom Wholesale Buyback Process •       Engagement with Auxiliary
•       Sourcing & Timing •       Reporting
•       Customer Service
•       Training Programs for engaging young talent

For the succession planner there are a few items to keep in mind.

Be flexible and allow the plan to grow as your team evolves.

Identify a goal, whether that is 3, 5 or 10 years out. Keep in mind your financial, staffing and culture goals through the entire process.

Be a mentor and coach the critical skills they will need to be successful.

Engage your administration. Share your goals and planning not only with your staff and those affected, but with your administration. Make sure they know that you are planning for the future and the investment they have in you, is an investment into the future success of the store itself.

Avoid looking at succession planning as a replacement of you. Succession planning is an extension of you, not a replacement. We often hear directors holding off making decisions because they do not want to tie their new team’s hands. We encourage you to think about it from a different perspective. You are not tying their hands, but passing along a well-planned and well-run organization. Assuming your role, will be a challenge for anyone (succession planning or not), so leaving them with an organization and a team that doesn’t need significant work or big decisions off the bat will insure a smoother transition.

Protect and ensure your legacy for years to come. Happy Succession Planning!

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