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.