Chairman’s Letter: Planning for Succession

Why successful succession assures the posterity of the business (or your function).

People (my mother included) say I’m a very lucky man – because I’m able, at my stage in life, to spend most of my time doing those things I love doing – at work (consulting, coaching, training, strategizing); and personally (spending time with family, traveling, reading). Whenever I hear that statement, I challenge it. “Luck had very little to do with it,” I respond. “I’m where I’m at because I planned to be where I’m at. Being here is simply part of the plan.”

At the other end of the planning spectrum, I served on an advisory board of an organization led by a person in his 70’s who had no clear succession strategy. After several fruitless conversations, I remember saying to him bluntly in frustration, “You, like everyone else on the planet, are going to die at some point. If you want the business to survive you, you need to have a plan for its future.” He didn’t want to give up control. His lack of a succession plan yielded results that he would not have wished.

Most organizations’ succession strategies fall someplace between the two outlined above. What should you do about succession in your organization?

First, as Stephen Covey long ago suggested, “Begin with the end in mind.” This means you should address several questions before beginning the process. What do you want the business to look like in the future? How will it need to change? If you’re the owner (or even approaching this from the perspective as the leader of a function and grooming someone to replace yourself), where do you want to be through the various stages of the plan and what would you like to be doing?

In my case, I knew ADVISA’s business was transitioning in technological ways that I didn’t completely understand and needed a person with that technical vision. I also knew that in order to grow, it would require someone who enjoyed and was successful at leading / managing people. Ours is a people business and we needed a future leader who was better than me at engaging and leading our team.

I wanted to carve out a space for myself where I could be involved in but not lead internal strategy; I wanted to continue consulting and training while having more personal free time. I also knew I wanted to transition away from full-time management of people.

At ADVISA, we took all of this into account in the creation of our Strategic Plan that included the need for a Succession Plan.

Whether you engage in a Strategic Planning Process, create a “Succession Strategy Paper” or simply know where you’re going isn’t as important as having a clear sense of your own ultimate destination – for the business and for yourself.

Figure out what results you want from succession before starting the journey. Begin with the end in mind.

Once you know where you want yourself and the business to be, you’ll want to figure out the kind of person best suited to taking you there. What are the specific competencies you want the person to have or develop? The same question applies to skills and technical capabilities. What kinds of PI® profiles make sense given the future direction of the business and the role (if any) you intend to play? Spend some time thinking about what the ideal person looks like; and, if you believe they’re currently in the business or will have to be brought in from the outside.

When we went through the process at ADVISA 8 years ago, we had a number of people who possessed the PI profile we desired and many of the skills and talents of the ideal candidate. Heather Haas, our current president, clicked off all the talent boxes we desired in my successor. In her early 30’s, she lacked some of the experiences that would have formed the ideal candidate. To rectify that, she was positioned to take on more and more responsibilities over time, demonstrating through action, her skills at leading and managing our staff. And, given the opportunities, she excelled in those areas for which she was tested. There were times, through the process, that we were both challenged in transitioning. As time went on, we both learned and grew, and Heather proved herself more than capable of acceding into my role.

Once you know what you want in a successor, determine if there are skills, talents or competencies that need development and craft a plan for the person to acquire them. Through the process, do your best to have mechanisms to measure their accomplishment. For the tangible assets, KPIs do well at determining progress. For the soft skills, an EQi or EQi 360 can give you a good picture of their soft skill growth. If you have a long runway (3-5+ years) you can have more than one candidate that you’re assessing for their relative readiness for ascension. Successful succession assures the posterity of the business (or your function). Take the time to make sure you’re doing it well.

Do you have a succession plan in place for yourself and the key positions in your business? If not, it’s probably a good idea to get started. ADVISA can help. Give us a call.

Thanks for reading.

One thought on “Chairman’s Letter: Planning for Succession

  1. Bob, thank you for the great reminders. I have had way to many conversations with senior people who know they need a succession plan, but struggle with giving up control. I normally leave them with, “So, what does it look like in ____ time if you do nothing?”

    I also appreciated you making the distinction that it wasn’t luck that got you where you are, it was planning. Continue to enjoy the fruits of your planning.


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