Creating Successor Plans And Career Paths In Your Store

Originally printed in the September 2020 issue of Produce Business.

During times of uncertainty, is a good idea to review your overall operation and make sure that all aspects are in good working condition and have a plan for the future. The innovative produce retailer takes a closer look at all the operational and leadership responsibilities within his organization to be sure they are prepared for the challenges and situations that may arise.

Upper management often looks at these types of reviews as a waste of time — time that could be better spent in monitoring execution and follow-through on strategic targets. Any manager who takes the time to evaluate his operation and determine its readiness for future challenges is ensuring the continuing success of his operation. Given upper management’s less-than-positive reaction to such efforts only goes to prove that “they just don’t get it!”

The first key aspects of making a complete review of your operations is to examine your successor planning program. This analysis requires several steps to ensure that you are looking at the best possible progression and that you are identifying the potential of your employees. The first step involves the program itself. Do you have a successful plan in place? Does it cover all aspects of your operation? Does it provide a clear progression from one level to the next to ensure orderly succession? Does it allow you to locate potential talent throughout your organization? These are just some of the major questions that must be asked when reviewing your successor program.

This type of program and review will allow you to have a solid strategy for how to move the overall operation forward and place the best qualified individuals into various responsibilities as they become open. In a time when there are many new people coming into the industry, an innovative and productive successor plan will allow these newcomers to be quickly acclimated to the operation and directed to carry on the best practices you established.

In the framework of your plan, be sure to include enough flexibility to move various individuals from their comfortable present positions to challenging new ones even if that requires moving them from one part of your operation to another. This type of cross exposure can be valuable in terms of overall knowledge for the individual of the organization as well as evaluation of the flexibility and adaptability of the candidate.

Any manager who takes the time to evaluate his operation and determine its readiness for future challenges is ensuring the continuing success of his operation.

The second aspect of the successor planning process is the identification of talent. This requires the searching through all the personnel at all levels and in all areas of your operation for those individuals that show potential to take positions of responsibility and leadership within your organization. Once these individuals are identified, further examination will determine their strengths and weaknesses and will provide the necessary information on how to best develop their talent by addressing their weaknesses and improving their strengths.

A good way to do this is to have these individuals perform challenging tasks outside of their “comfort zone” and see what the results are. These assignments should be challenging and should provide the necessary indications of the capability and adaptability of the individual. Their performance in the special duties will provide you with information on their readiness to move forward and insights into where within the organization they would offer the most value. This action will often take the longest time to be incorporated into a successor plan but is by far the most important in terms of identifying and helping to direct the talent within your organization. It will also indicate if there are needs or flaws in your organization that need to be addressed or new personnel recruited.

The third major part of this process is to educate your employees on the successor plan. It should be completely explained in terms of the dynamics of development, the improvement of skills and taking on additional responsibility that will be required. Each employee should be fully aware of the program and how they fit into the strategy. Therefore, an innovative produce retailer prepares a potential career path for each employee as a part of the evaluation of talent to determine the best use of the individual’s skills.

This proposed “career path” should be presented to the individual during an evaluation session where ideas can be exchanged and the employee can have input into the process by suggesting areas of interest that also would fit their capabilities. This exchange allows the employee to assist in his own path and allows for additional knowledge on the part of management as to the interests and desires of the employee.

This entire process is of vital importance in the new state of the produce industry. With so many new people with varying interests and backgrounds entering the industry, the evaluation and placement of talent throughout your organization will be key to the continued success of your operation. To align and promote talented individuals in the proper position to help maintain the momentum and growth of the organization will pay substantial benefits to the operation.

Don Harris
Don Harris

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to