Succession: The big Leadership Opportunity

IMG_4437One of the biggest challenges many businesses face is that of succession. Too often it is seen as something negative, stressful or is an unspoken topic. Certainly it is one that can be full of emotion especially in family businesses or it can appear to be simply a problem too big to tackle.

It is considered the realm of Lawyers and Accountants and many seek to engage these professionals to “solve” the problem for them. Without a doubt they need to provide good advice but succession is a leadership issue rather than a technical problem. It is one that requires courage, planning, transparent communication, good ongoing advice from a number of specialists and clear decisions. It is a journey, not an event.

Succession is not just about an ageing business founder/owner. The professional CEO needs to develop other leaders in their team to be able to take over the their role when the time is right & any organisation needs to have some contenders who can take on the top role (whether they do or not will depend upon the needs) and this requires a culture of investing in leaders at every level to step up.

Each week we speak to & work with business leaders who are looking to get out of their business. I have personally supported many who have started and successfully completed the journey.

Ten recommended considerations;

  1. Face into the opportunity. Ignoring succession will not make it go away. A compressed timeline or sudden change due to death or illness significantly reduces the chance of long term success.
  2. Select those who will succeed you carefully. Make sure they fit, buy into the vision, care about the mission and people and build trust. Succession is all about people, decisions and change. Lead well.
  3. Plan for success. Have a plan with key milestones and understand the process and journey. Get all the people involved who need to be and get the issue on the table. Build a plan that will iterate and evolve.
  4. Understand that succession is part of the evolution of any organisation, business and family. Change is constant and people don’t deal with change well. Embrace the journey and don’t treat it like it is “negative” or an “event”. It is a fantastic opportunity to evolve your business and to ensure it thrives (not just survives) in the future.
  5. Get good advice. Have external help in getting the plan and issues on the table. Seek good legal and accountancy advice throughout the journey but don’t leave the “people” plan to a tax specialist or legal advisor. This is about people and change rather than just a structure or contract.
  6. Succession is all about the future so a good vision and strategy will be needed and good leaders who can execute change. Succession is about leadership so include it in all your leader development programs. If you don’t have a leader development program get one in place. Little bits regularly can really make a big impact on the future vitality of an organisation.
  7. Make good clear decisions at every stage and map out the decision points & timeline. Document and communicate things & keep things on track.
  8. Implement and invest in key structures that enhance success. Independent Governance (or a Advisory Board as an initial step), bringing the business under management, coaching and leadership development for key current and future leaders, good independent advisors, implementing legal and financial structures and processes based on future plans are all critical as a business moves into a space whereby the business is not reliant on the founder or owner. Many of these take considerable time to implement and re a real culture shift for the business.
  9. Network with those who have done it. Find those who have made the transition and ask questions. Hear what went well and more importantly learn form the mistakes they made as you look to apply things to your own situation.
  10. Enjoy the journey. For those who successfully navigate change and ensure that their business will ensure into the future providing for the next generation the rewards are great. If a trade sale is involved the satisfaction of seeing the business moving to a new level is exciting whilst at the same time providing a new found freedom.

Just start.

Advisory.Works in Action

Each week we are delivering valuable services as true trusted Advisors throughout New Zealand, Australia and the USA to High Performance Businesses and Executive Leaders looking to Execute, simplify their business and to increase their influence as professional leaders. A snapshot of the team in action.

Leading: The Fine Art of Story Telling

The Army is a culture of history, rituals, traditions and story telling. Soldiers tell stories of hardship, often using humour as a medium. Taking the piss out of one another, laughing when things get tough, keeping it real and connecting with each other. One of the things I loved about being a professional soldier and now as a Battalion Commander in the Army reserve is the camaraderie of being part of an Infantry unit. Like minded people, prepared to serve connected by common purpose, experience and at times hardship, overseas and in harms way.

Angola
South West Africa, 1996

In fact we as humans are genetically hardwired to tell stories. In ancient times in all cultures the art of storytelling was the the “google” of the time. This was how methodology, family history and lessons learnt were passed on to the next generation. It was human connection, the entertainment of the time, education of the time and the essence of tribe.

In the modern world this lives on in movies, youtube, games, the entertainment industry, book etc. In many ways things have not changed even if the methods of delivery might have. As a leadership tool the ability to connect people through stories is a skill that greatly enhances effectiveness. Telling a story is a great way to teach, inspire, influence and connect. The best CEO’s and leaders I know are the best storytellers. I love Tom Peters analogy “Manage by storying about”.

Here is 2 mins on the subject from a recent leadership panel I took part in;

Insanity: Having No Strategic Execution Plan.

I have just spent several days working with a large listed Australian company at an offsite in the Blue Mountains. They were taking their Strategic plan and consciously building their plan to execute the Strategy. Typically you should spend as much time planning the execution as you do making the Strategic plan and yet this is rarely done.

This is core business for Advisory.Works as our clients know & it prevents one of the biggest frustrations in business today: A lack of execution. Nothing happens…..a great plan is never realised, it sits on the shelf and gathers dust. This is total insanity & so often Business Leaders wonder why their fantastic Strategic plan never ever gets executed. How can it?

Here are a few thoughts on Disciplined Execution from a recent CEO Leadership Panel I was part of in Christchurch.

Leadership is not About Making Everyone Happy

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If a leader is action orientated, future focused, consistent, fair, has courageous conversations, coaches, mentors and cares about those they lead…………. a respect and a bond of trust will be established through shared experience. This leads to friendship over time. It does not mean things will always be happy.

I agree with the quote……..sell ice cream if you want to make people happy.

2 Minutes on Strategic Execution

Recently I took part in a leadership panel with three other CEO’s. This is a short clip taken from the wider panel video (the link is attached).

The Leadership panel was held recently in Christchurch for a large group of CEO’s, their leadership teams and business leaders. The other CEO panel members were Shaun Maloney of ARANZ Geo, Lincoln Booth of Cookietime, Keith Jessop of EMDA.

You can link to the longer panel video here.

The Team in Action.

Every day and every week our team of clever leaders are lucky enough to influence and support some iconic brands and high performance leaders. As a premium brand focussed on making a significant impact we work with selected organisations across New Zealand, Australia and the USA. This video outlines some of our recent work and I am proud to lead it.

Leading Leaders: Disciplined Execution is a People Challenge Requiring Courage

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One of the biggest challenges in business today is Executing Strategy which is critical if a business is to succeed in the future. I lead a business which is at the forefront globally of Strategic Execution and our team works with CEO’s and companies around the world each day as they actively seek to evolve and change by executing their strategy in a deliberate and disciplined way. This is a behavioural leadership problem to solve and one which requires a lot of courage. The courage to change, listen, make mistakes, make tough decisions, ask for help, get their people to change and to do what is right to move the company forward.

Business change is constant, fast and ever increasing so the challenge is very much about getting ahead of it because leaders who want their businesses to thrive in the future need to be able to effect change before it is needed. To be proactive instead of reactive. Whilst this sounds logical and achievable the reality is that it needs courageous leaders who are adaptable, emotionally aware and committed to getting better and better at this “behavioural leadership”. As this recent blog (Harvard Business Review) outlines: Strategic execution is a people challenge.

An simple executable plan is needed for sure, but this is the easy bit. Too often there is a great plan in place but the senior team executing it doesn’t buy into it & generally this is because they have not been involved in developing it and don’t understand the “people behaviour” skills needed. I see this play out time and time again. Leaders who are really frustrated at a lack of action but who have no idea why this is so & how they can practically overcome the problem. Here then are some practical ideas;

  • Take time to get to know your team and build trust. Trust is the foundation of any team and its future success. Get to know the personality’s of those you lead, spend time listening to them, get into their environment, understand where they have come from and where they want to go and set about making them as successful as you can. Profile them, share yours, share them as a team. Have fun, tell them about what you are seeing, learning and offer them feedback & guidance.
  • Force reflection. The best leaders constantly learn, evolve and iterate. Soft skills and the ability to self regulate behaviour through awareness is a very valuable skill and one effective leaders focus on mastering. Keep a journal of observations, key decisions and their outcomes, lessons learnt and make your direct reports do the same. Too often I find senior leaders who simply cannot reflect on what they are seeing and make observations or draw conclusions to make things even better.
  • Have a simple and clear framework for leading. Prioritise meetings, get the agenda, frequency and content right. Use key numbers and ensure there is an action log. Seek feedback, let others run them, do more of them if the pace is increasing. Avoid the tendency to cancel you functional and leadership meetings when things get too busy. This makes for more confusion, lack of alignment and inefficiency. Use one on ones, reviews, full team (town hall) meetings, social media, internal comms and stand ups to get messages across many times. Get the mix of weekly/monthly/quarterly and annual reviews mapped out and in the diary a year in advance. Make sure professional development, technical and leadership training are conducted regularly to keep people engaged.
  • Have fun. Too often life and business is all a bit serious. Take every opportunity to hang out, socialise, tell stories & make it something everyone looks forward to. Bank the wins both big and small & recognise those who do the right things.
  • Provide clear expectations. Team rules, meeting rules, constant feedback and observations all make for better clarity. The role of a modern leader is to coach and mentor and guide alongside the traditional “management” role. Clarity and simplicity make for a better and more efficient team environment.
  • Be consistent. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make are they are not consistent. This undermines trust. People want to know where they stand, want familiarity, and to be able to rely on not only colleagues but their leader to be there for them. Consistently confronting issues early, giving frank and honest feedback etc will build high levels of trust.
  • Be deliberate. Too often the important components of teamwork and leadership are left to chance. Be transparent and open in your communications. Ensure the team reviews meetings, decisions, projects, client feedback, financial/sales results. Ask for input and draw lessons learnt. Have the soft conversations about issues, things that went wrong and commit to getting better. The important things in life are easy to do. They are also easy not to do.
  • Be courageous. Have the ongoing tough discussions as they are needed. Don’t wait, dive in and shape thinking and outcomes to keep things on track. If you have a decent sized team then it is important everyone keeps moving in the right direction and stays aligned. This will be constantly needed. Be humble, ask for help, discuss when you got it wrong and lead the way to show others in your team how to get better in this space with their team.
  • Be prepared to fail on this stuff. People are all different. You can’t & won’t get it all right. There will be times you push too hard, not hard enough or simply get it wrong. On the people stuff you have to be 100% accountable for your actions but also understand that how others react will be up to them. Be open and honest and when you get it wrong admit it & share it with your team so you reflect and learn. Don’t beat yourself up but do regroup and recommit to improving.

Too often CEO’s try to outsource many of the important things that drive a high performance culture. These skills are ones which must be developed in order to lead a growing thriving business that can change ahead of competitors in an increasingly complex business environment. This means they must be consciously developed and worked on to stay at the top of the leadership game.

Further reading;

 

Smashing the Norm: Business Advisory

We are passionate about disrupting Business Advisory.

In fact our Company Mission is to totally disrupt Business Advisory by 2020 as we continue to evolve a premium Advisory Brand focussed on Disciplined Execution and High Performance Leadership.

Why?

Lets face it the current status quo really has to change to meet the demands of modern business leaders who seek support in solving complex problems. Problems created by the increasing pace of constant change and disruption.

Too often conservative middle aged men sit in judgement, dispensing advice backed by education and professional development that ended in the 1990’s and talking about solutions that have worked historically.

At its worst traditional Advisers expect to charge a premium for this advice and yet they have never walked in the shoes of those they seek to influence. They have never led a business, never risked all as an entrepreneur and they don’t have the scars, stories and lessons learnt from experiencing failure, success and from practical application. They are not people leaders and yet they seek to advise, develop & influence leaders who are.

Worse still they don’t typically ask their clients for any feedback nor ensure that what they are doing is effective & of value value. They struggle with practical application of theory & struggle to get clients to execute their advice. Often there is constant muttering & frustration as to why this happens.

I personally have worked with many professional services companies who openly state they are client centric and yet they seek no client feedback. Their fees are dropping so they finally forced to react and seek change.

In one case it had been 12 years since a company had completed any feedback survey of their clients. Think about the arrogance of that. They assume they know what it is their clients need but never go beyond individual opinions.

When surveys are finally deployed they discover to their horror that their current reality does not match their assumptions and that they have a huge training, R & D and leadership development gap to close. Too complacent and comfortable to really care about their clients needs.

Many times I have challenged an absurd desire to spend time refocussing on their client relationships prior to measuring client loyalty or engagement because they fear the results.

Amateurs
Wait until you hire an amateur…..makes you realise the value of having a professional on board.

Business Advisors of the future must;

  • Be experienced leaders who lead by example with their own Business practices and actively see themselves as leaders and influencers. Advisors who make things happen, can influence people through real stories of practical application and who can coach, mentor and guide other clever people. They must have people skills (EQ) and empathy.
  • Own the voice of their customer. They must have an up to date (& data based) understanding of what their customers really want and need. In fact the top advisers are pro-active and bring solutions to their customers before they know they need them. They anticipate needs rather than react to immediate situations.
  • Have humility and respect always.
  • Be future focussed and have a passion for lifelong learning. If you are as good as you will ever be it’s just not going to cut it. Academic qualifications are table stakes and the start point not the end game. They must provide clarity and inspire confidence for those they serve by constantly up skilling and learning.
  • Bring researched frameworks & networks of like minded people. The day of the individual guru with all the answers is gone. Business today is simply too complex to know everything. The best Advisors will connect customers to other leaders, professional advisors and collaboratively bring unique solutions to complex problems.
  • Measure and manage & clearly demonstrate massive value. This will not always be financially driven either, rather it will vary from customer to customer.

So thats why we do what we do. These are but some of the reasons we are on a mission to disrupt Business Advisory. Business leaders expect and need more and this is not opinion….. we ask them regularly and have done for many years.

Benchmarking Leads to Mediocrity

Leaders

I hate that word “benchmarking” and all it stands for around industry or competitor norms. Sure it is head and shoulders above the term “best practice” which reeks of theory & academic know how. It is very useful to know what others do, what industry norms are & what the theory is but too often this is what leaders and their businesses settle for. Average. Mediocre. Knowing they are on track because they deliver the same or slightly better than competitors or other leading brands.

I was recently in an interview situation where I was continually asked how this or that could be better benchmarked.

“How could that be better benchmarked?” I was asked many times. In the end I had to say we are just not in the game of better benchmarking. “To be honest we are in the game of excellence and all of our clients are generally performing when they become clients & they are seeking to get even better. We measure their financial performance, their growth, their staff engagement and their client loyalty and we help them build fantastic metrics that predict outcomes & we know their industry norms but we are not a company that develops and focuses on benchmarks, we help them to achieve much more.”

I have previously written about the “Pivot” or consciously changing and executing a strategy to stay ahead of the crowd before they catch up. This is hard to do and takes very strong and focused leaders who actively disrupt the “business as usual thinking” of the business in a positive way to get different and better outcomes.

In professional sport the All Blacks are a living example of this. The culmination of ongoing succession planning, investing in the future (what could be), strong leadership, a culture of humility incremental excellence and disciplined execution on the field has allowed them not only absorb the loss of many experienced players, but to take things to a whole new level. To go beyond past performances and to deliver better outcomes in different ways and in doing so staying ahead of their competitors.

I am lucky enough to work with many high performance Chief Executives and their teams and they all have two things in common;

  1. “Restlessness” : A hunger and passion for continually getting better and better as leaders, at execution, at trying and iterating new ways of doing things, and
  2. “Grit”: The toughness to carry on, to push past the comfort of status quo and to lead change with certainty to lead the way.

None of them have ever been happy to settle and accept that what is being currently done will ensure success in the future. Some actively start from a position that the “status quo” is broken (even when benchmarking shows they currently significantly out perform their competitors and industry) and challenge the senior leaders to lift it another level.

This summary shows what our clients have collectively achieved over the last financial year and whilst does offer several benchmarks, the real success story is in their ability to execute their Strategic plan. To be nimble, disciplined and to stay far ahead of their opposition.