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Create an employee succession plan for disaster recovery

Creating an employee succession plan that addresses disaster recovery is not the same as a typical succession plan, as Paul Kirvan explains in this tip.

One of the most important questions to ask when developing a business continuity and/or disaster recovery plan...

is, "Who takes over if you're not available?"

Organizations of all sizes and types usually have one or more key employees whose loss could make it difficult or impossible for the organization to recover and resume business operations after a disaster. It is essential to not only identify these key individuals, but also to identify and prepare others to step in and assume all or most of their duties following a disaster.

Creating an employee succession plan with disaster recovery in mind is slightly different from a typical succession plan, which aspires to identify and groom employees who can be promoted into positions of greater responsibility upon the departure of senior managers. This article provides tips and a matrix for developing a succession plan for key employees other than executive management.

Organizing an employee succession plan

When launching a succession plan initiative, be sure to secure approval from your manager and then establish a partnership with your human resources department. HR should be able to help you organize your succession plan and may have relevant employee data that can identify existing skill sets and expertise. If HR doesn't have such data, it may be necessary to interview internal and external candidates for the succession plan. Once again, coordinate these activities with HR.

A business impact analysis (BIA) is an excellent way to identify key employees, because among the BIA's goals is to identify mission-critical business processes. When performing this activity, it's ideal to identify the employees who are currently performing those activities. Once you have identified the critical processes and employees who are responsible for performing them, coordinate with HR to identify other employees who possess the same or similar skills and perform comparable activities.

If no such employees are in the organization, it may be desirable to 1) hire new staff with the necessary skills, 2) train existing employees in the proper skills and/or 3) identify outside firms that can perform the tasks when needed.

Succession planning is often performed at executive levels in an organization, as replacing these executives may be a critical strategy to ensure the organization can sustain itself following a disaster. A key strategy of business continuity, therefore, is the creation of an employee succession plan.

The challenge is to take the succession planning process and perform it at non-executive levels in the organization. It's not uncommon to have mission-critical employees at almost all levels in an organization, not just at the top. A BIA can help identify these key players and their roles in the overall success and continuity of the organization.

Creating the skills matrix

If only one person performs a critical business process, this indicates a gap that needs to be addressed. If more than one person performs that process, it is desirable to identify and document all employees who perform the process. If only one person performs that process, work with human resources to identify one or more alternates who can back up the primary employee. Table 1 provides a sample skills matrix for identifying the necessary skills for a specific process and suitable candidates to perform it.

Begin by defining the mission-critical activity as identified in the BIA. Next, identify specific processes, tasks and/or activities that are needed to fulfill the requirements of the mission-critical activity. Identify suitable candidates who can perform the necessary processes to fulfill the mission-critical activity. In this example, Employee 1 is the person currently performing the key activity. An analysis of other candidates shows that Employee 2 has the highest number of required skills. Employees 3, 4 and 5 have some of the skills necessary.

Enter Name of Mission-Critical Activity Name of Employee 1 Name of Employee 2 Name of Employee 3 Name of Employee 4 Name of Employee 5
Enter Critical Process 1 Yes Yes No Yes No
Enter Critical Process 2 Yes Yes Yes No No
Enter Critical Process 3 Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Enter Critical Process 4 Yes Yes No No No

Table 1

Based on this assessment, you could say Employee 2 is the most likely candidate to back up Employee 1. It may be necessary to train Employee 2 with the skills to make that person potentially capable of replacing Employee 1 in an emergency. If the critical activity is sufficiently important to the organization, it may be necessary to train 1 or 2 additional employees to back up Employee 1 and 2. Once the employees have been trained, conduct exercises to ensure the alternate employees can perform the critical processes.

In addition, if it's possible, document all steps of the critical process in detail so it will be easy for alternate employees to follow the steps in performing the process in the absence of the primary employee.

As part of a succession plan, consider the value of cross-training employees. This means training employees in activities that are not their primary responsibility, but may be closely enough aligned with critical functions so that in an emergency, these employees can step in and assume the duties with minimal difficulty and time.

Pandemic planning and the employee succession plan

Infectious diseases, such as influenza, can affect people's lives and keep them out of work. Loss of staff due to illness caused by an outbreak of an infectious disease is a key business continuity concern. The loss of key employees due to an illness may be an even more serious threat to the business than the loss of systems or technology.

An employee succession plan is an important tool for keeping an organization up and running when employees are not healthy enough to perform their duties. It should not be limited to senior executives.

About the author:
Paul Kirvan, CISA, FBCI, works as an independent business continuity consultant and auditor, and is secretary of the U.S. chapter of the Business Continuity Institute and member of the BCI Global Membership Council. He can be reached at pkirvan@msn.com.

Next Steps

Make sure your DR plan includes employees

Succession planning: A case study

This was last published in September 2014

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