Expert Advice

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2005

Q. When one of my most indispensable employees told me she will be retiring in a couple of months, I was really thrown. I want to be better prepared in the future. What's the best way to go about planning for succession for key employees?

Business consultant Mary Mercurio, principal owner of Lifeworks Consulting, answers: Being unprepared for the departure of a key employee signals the need for a simple but effective succession plan. A two-pronged approach will focus on internal needs and people resources as well as the external job market.

First, clearly define the behavioral competencies that are required for the job. Look ahead and reflect on where your company is going and what competencies you will need in the future in the context of the overall business strategy. Take a skill inventory of your people and identify the top talent with high potential. Don't just plan for top-tier personnel. There may be lower-level positions critical to business success. Groom high potentials by giving them challenging assignments that foster learning and development. Be general in your communication and develop a cadre of potential. Say, "We are developing people with the capabilities and interest in taking on leadership roles in the future," rather than "You're going to be president when I retire."

Make current leaders accountable for developing new leaders. Institute coaching and mentoring for high potentials. If you find that your company is suffering from a "lack of talent" internally, then implement a rigorous selection process to get the best person/job fit. Incorporate practices such as personality assessment, behavioral interviewing and job shadowing. Know the average salaries in your area for key positions. Whether you groom present employees or recruit outside, ideally, a new hire should be coached by the incumbent (departing) employee. Remember that you need to facilitate knowledge transfer before that knowledge walks out the door.

Mary Mercurio can be reached at 377-8007 or [email protected].

Q. I know the standard business mantra is "the customer is always right." But what if the customer is really wrong? How can I ask my staff to handle him or her in a service-oriented way?

Management consultant Greg Jordan of Peak Performance Solutions, Inc., weighs in: Whether they are right or wrong, a missed expectation by a customer is a moment of truth when they judge your company solely on how their problem gets handled. The potential is that customers could take their business elsewhere and, worse, tell others about their bad experience.

High-performance organizations prepare employees for these issues through employee selection, training and coaching, and instilling the right attitudes.

It starts with setting a high customer satisfaction bar, and then aligning all company activities with this goal. Employees must be rewarded for, and held accountable to give what all customers want: fairness, caring, respect and understanding. Choose customer contacts carefully; not everyone will have the talent.

Next, design effective customer service practices and improve them with each incident. Communicate these practices clearly and coach employees to handle different behavioral styles and situations.

Outstanding customer service is a lot about attitude. Leadership must adopt the unconventional attitude that they are completely responsible for their customers being wrong. This encourages people to understand and fix root causes of people, products and services that don't meet expectations. It builds a capability to convert potential lost customers to loyal customers, even if they were wrong.

Greg Jordan, a management consultant for Peak Performance Solutions, helps clients build High Performance Organizations. He can be reached at (941) 360-0005 or

Q. It's a new year, and I'm feeling particularly ambitious. How can I channel all that energy into positive results for my company?

James Rollo, president of Competitive Advantage Consultants, weighs in: A wealth of research indicates that a common characteristic of successful people is that they set goals for themselves. This holds true for companies and work groups. Goals are measurable performance targets used to set direction and evaluate progress. Goal setting is a powerful process for tapping the energy and commitment of individuals and work groups. Goals typically are set in terms of the quality, cost and delivery of a company's products or services, i.e. increase sales by 20 percent or reduce costs by 10 percent.

The goal-setting process is as important as the actual goals. Some tips on effective goal setting are:

- Involve your employees in setting goals that are meaningful to their work and their customers' needs.

- Monitor goals by displaying them in the work area and discussing progress weekly.

- Celebrate and provide recognition for goal achievement.

- Update goals at least quarterly to assure that they are still relevant and realistic.

James Rollo can be reached at (941) 346-1098.

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