4 New Ways to Look at Succession Planning

Last summer, Showtime debuted a new series with a pretty impressive cast. The show was appropriately named “Succession”, a show about a family in the media business with an aging patriarch who started the company. He is deciding if the person he originally tapped to be head of the company, his eldest son, can handle the ever-changing market he is entering. Long story short: he can’t. Throughout the first few episodes it’s shown that the son is not a bad person, he is just a casualty of a bit of nepotism. But above all else, he is a victim of his own inability to adapt to the changing times.

Succession planning, in the modern era, suffers from one thing that seemingly gets faster as time moves on, change. While a person can be more than qualified in a moment to be the next to lead you into a new era of business, outside changes, such as industry demand, competition and changes in the global marketplace, can find that person, and subsequently your company, behind the 8-ball. One’s approach to finding the next leader of their operation should be as professional and calculated as they would approach any other aspect of business. Here are 4 things to think about according to Eben Harrell of Harvard Business Review.

1. Look for candidates from both inside & outside the company

It’s easy to believe someone from your own team will be best to lead it into the future. In the 1980’s only 8-10% of candidates hired for top level positions came from outside of the company. As of 2013, that number has risen as high as 30% (Harvard Business Review). The reasons for wanting to hire from within are simple enough. The person already knows the people and the culture of the company. This person may also share the same vision of the future. But sometimes that means the person is too close and may lack the skills to adapt as a person who came from a different setting.

2. Be willing to throw the old plan out

That person who was hired to take the top leadership position in 2009 may not be the best person to lead you in 2019. Do not let that derail the company. Such moments take swallowing your pride and making the necessary moves. Legality of contracts may become a topic of discussion, but above all, being able to see the writing on the wall is critical. If the strategy attempting to be implemented is outdated or otherwise compromised, plan B should be waiting in the wings.

3. Make sure the person on the way out is ready to go

One of the primary reasons’ succession planning goes awry is having a leader who is reluctant to step down. This can range from the person feeling their time isn’t quite finished, to their uneasiness with whomever has been picked to be their successor, as was the case on the show “Succession.” No matter what the reason is, this can be a huge roadblock for the company. Making sure a leader is comfortable with their transition out of that period of their lives isn’t truly the responsibility of the company. However, for the purposes of respect to the predecessor as well as making sure the company runs smoothly in the short time post exit, it should be a priority.

4. Make sure the candidate has a heathy amount of exposure

In the 21st Century, no word has been more important when discussing business than “versatility.” Being able to not only adapt to multiple platforms and vehicles, but to master them, is critical for a leader’s success. Sometimes that means sending your person to workshops on different products and platforms, or bringing in experts to help round out your candidate’s knowledge on certain skills, even sending them back to some more formal forms of education, such as classes at a local school, can show your confidence in the prospective leader to learn and adapt to changes in the marketplace. The fact of the matter is that all candidates or already tapped future leaders will not be finished products. They will learn and grow on the job, like everyone else. However, if one feels that the person selected is truly special, then investing in them so that they can reach their full potential shouldn’t just make sense, it should be a priority.

Succession planning is not an exact science. Far from it. It can be a method of showing stability and an established direction for the future of the organization. It can also be a substantial sized roadblock in a company’s pathway. Recognizing early what direction your version is going in, is critical to the overall success of the plan. It’s not a science, however, it should be treated like one.

Citation:
Harrell, E. (2016). Succession Planning: What the Research Says. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/12/succession-planning-what-the-research-says [Accessed 20 Jun. 2019].

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