Getting Succession Planning Right

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Trainee working on machineFew owners and owner-managers of small firms actually plan their own replacement. It’s complex. Not only have you to find someone to manage the business but you’ve to find someone to buy-in too.

Few managers in larger firms plan their replacement either. In this case, it’s perhaps more about lack of succession planning organisation-wide. If no-one’s planning your future, you’re unlikely to be planning anyone else’s.

But if you were to be looking to ease yourself out of your current shoes, how might you go about it? How do you go about getting succession planning right?

Making Career Change

Career change (for everyone) follows a four-step process. First there’s preparation for the future. This might be a simple awakening that change is needed or it might be deliberate training and preparation for a new role.

Then there’s the first encounter with the new job. And what a shock in many cases! Adjustment to the new role follows, at which point the new jobholder starts to perform. And then there’s stabilisation when the new jobholder performs to expectations and starts to set the agenda for the future.

Typically this cycle is repeated throughout a person’s career. Sometimes it’s successful and the old stabilisation becomes the new preparation. And sometimes there’s a hiccup and stabilisation fails as the person is prematurely forced out or unexpectedly quits and starts a new and sudden encounter with a new job. In succession planning, success is managed and the cycle becomes a process.

Managing Success

There’s much to the art of managing succession planning.

It’s like recruitment and selection. First the right person must be selected. Not everyone is made to fit the boss’s shoes. Someone that’s a good follower will not necessarily make a good leader and manager. The personal characteristics needed in the new manager must be set out. These are typically defined by specific intelligence, personality, proactivity and locus of control.

In adults these characteristics are unique and substantially unchanging. Those who haven’t got what’s needed are unlikely to be successful as the new boss. No amount of training and effort can make a leader in a given context.

The locus of control in a person is the degree to which they believe that they are masters of their own destiny. Those leading companies are typically very high in this characteristic. Then there’s the likely education and experience needed that ensure the right competence. There might be quite a gap between boss and second-in-command or leader-in-waiting that will need bridging and that’ll take time and a good deal of effort.

Once selected, the new leader must be socialised into the role, breaking the old routines as one of the gang to become top dog.

Succession Process

Going from candidate to appointee involves a process.

First the candidate must be sponsored by senior management and other key stakeholders like shareholders. They must be recognised as the chosen one. Whether they are accepted is a function of the culture of the stakeholder group and of the firm and that links back to making sure the right person is selected in the first place.

Second the new master must work with the old and with stakeholders in a social exchange activity that establishes trust by doing favours and meeting obligations. Trust takes time to build.

Third, the new boss must let go of the old ways they did things and embrace new activities and methods. This is aided by the services of a mentor. A mentor is someone who has been there and taken over firms before. But a word of warning – coaches are rarely good mentors since few have been there. The mentor works to help the new appointee understand their role and make sense of the new social environment they find themselves in.

So are you thinking of moving over? Do you need to begin the process? Call us for a chat about how long it takes and how you might go about it.

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