By Dinte
March 20, 2016

When it comes to succession planning, NFL teams do it best. And they have to, right? Teams never know when they might lose a player to injury, free agency, or even retirement.  In business, things are no different, particularly in today’s competitive market. Organizations lose top talent to competition and retirement all the time, which makes succession planning all the more critical. However, succession planning isn’t effective when viewed through a reactive lens; rather, it requires a proactive approach. It wouldn’t make much sense for an NFL team to develop a succession plan only after a player gets hurt, so why would it make sense for your organization to do that? To develop an effective succession plan, follow the process of NFL teams outlined below.

Step 1. Identify.  Well before the NFL draft, members of the front office including scouts, coaches, and general management get together to assess the condition of the team and identify gaps and/or areas of improvement within the roster.  As you begin to develop a succession plan, start by assessing the current state of your organization. Consider the individuals who would have a detrimental impact on the organization should they be gone tomorrow.  Which individuals within the organization, if any, would be ready and willing to step into those empty roles?

Step 2. Time for the Combine. Once your organization has identified gaps and areas of improvement, it’s time to assess potential candidates. In the NFL, this is accomplished through a combine, essentially a week-long job interview in which scouts, coaches, and general managers assess college players based on physical drills, such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, and vertical and broad jump as well as cultural fit and cognitive ability. In business, the interview process acts in the same manner. As your organization develops its own “combine,” consider which tools will be most reliable, consistent, and fair in predicting actual candidate success.

Step 3. Draft Day. After assessing the talent pool, it’s time to draft your player.  In the NFL, teams will typically have a few options in mind as it’s not uncommon for a top player to get snagged by another team. This is no different in business. If your organization is interested in a certain individual, chances are other organizations are as well. Also, when making your decision, consider your team’s needs, as well as how an individual will fit within the organization. Don’t simply draft someone because he or she is the best player available.  

Step 4. Let the Rookie sit. After drafting a player, some teams will choose to sit their player their rookie season, allowing them to observe from the sideline and learn from the veterans. Take for instance Philip Rivers, starting quarterback of the San Diego Chargers. In 2004 and 2005, his rookie and sophomore years, Rivers sat behind then starter Drew Brees and back-up Doug Flutie. After 2 years of observing, he got his first start and has since become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. If done correctly, the candidate you drafted should have the opportunity to learn from the veteran quarterback before being thrown onto the field.  

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