6 Tips for Hiring Your Successor

Jaimy Ford by Jaimy Ford on May 6, 2014
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You know you’ve succeeded as a small-business owner when you can finally hire someone else to run your company’s day-to-day operations. Handing over the reins can give you a chance to grow, try something new, or simply relax for a while.

But letting a new or existing employee — even a trusted senior manager — assume your responsibilities can be a scary proposition. After all, you’ve invested a lot of yourself, including your time and money, in building your business from the ground up.

To help assuage your fears, here are six tips for finding the right person to step into your shoes.

1. Define your ideal successor. Consider everything it takes to do your job, and identify the key personal traits required to perform those tasks well. Ask your top clients what qualities they look for in the people they do business with. Get your employees to weigh in, too: What kind of boss do they want to work for? What skills and characteristics are most important for their next leader to possess?

Create a checklist of traits that you can quite literally tick off as you consider employees for a promotion or interview external candidates to replace you. Doing so will ensure that you, your staff, and your customers end up happy with your choice.

2. Set your emotions aside. Perhaps you’d like your successor to be a family member, a close friend, or a favorite employee. Don’t base your decision solely on what your heart tells you. If your sentimental pick doesn’t possess most of the qualities you seek (see #1), he or she isn’t the best person to take over the business. Find someone who meets your key professional criteria instead.

3. Consider only candidates who demonstrate initiative. You’re putting someone else in charge of your business. Even if you plan to maintain some control over his or her directives, you need to hire someone who will quickly step up and make sound decisions.

When you interview potential candidates, ask questions such as: If you learn of a problem at work, what is the first thing you do? If you found out two employees were at odds with one another, what would you do? The best candidates will talk about learning as much as they can about the situation and then working quickly to address it.

4. Don’t hire your “clone.” Granted, your attitude and skills have gotten you this far, so you certainly want to find someone who adheres to the same basic principles as you do. That said, you can take your company to the next level if you hire someone who possesses skills that differ from — and complement — yours. For example, if you don’t know Twitter from Instagram consider hiring someone with strong social media skills.

5. Look for hands-on experience. An Ivy League education and all the credentials in the world rarely make up for real-world job experience. Look for candidates who have run a business, or at the very least, a busy department. They’ll know what to expect – the potential for a crisis, the budget restrictions, the employee drama and so on – and will likely have workable solutions for resolving issues without needing to involve you.

6. Find evidence of passion for what you do. Whoever you hire must truly believe in your products or services and find joy in selling them. A history of success within your industry is a good indicator of someone’s passion. During interviews, ask external candidates to talk about the types of products or services you sell and your industry. Everything from their body language to their intonation should indicate excitement about the business and its potential.

Jaimy Ford

Jaimy Ford is a business writer and editor. She writes subscription newsletters, training tools and blogs that focus on professional development, leadership, productivity and more. Her goal in everything she writes is to provide actionable advice that you can put to use immediately.

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