The Critical Factor in Succession That No One Thinks About

One leader's journey and adventure - Part 1

Senior executives pour their lives into the success of their organization.  It’s so much a part of their identity that they can’t imagine life without it. The challenges. The goals. The new pursuits.  However, retirement sounds pretty sweet too.

These 2 streams of thought – 1) pressing forward in business, and 2) retirement – are both strong desires – but can they co-exist?  How can leading your organization to ongoing success seamlessly marry with your desire to retire some day?  Today is the day to consider this.

My First Thought of Succession

Mike Sipple Sr.

I was 57 when I was first asked about my plan for succession.  My blank face gave away my thoughts on the matter.  Succession?  The idea had never crossed my mind.  My retirement was so far in the future that there was no need to dedicate any time to it– or so I thought.

The irony of it all was the fact that I had helped numerous leaders with their succession plan, but I had never, once, considered my own.  Just as I had helped others, I was coached to get outside assistance with my own succession plan. That was ten years ago.

The Priceless Treasure of Outside Advisors

The benefit of having outside advisors walk through the succession process was absolutely invaluable to me.  I can honestly say we would not be in the good standing where we are today if we didn’t enlist the help of trusted outside advisors. They provide at least 4 key benefits.

Outside advisors…

  • Make you think
  • Offer unbiased and biased feedback
  • Provide a wealth of knowledge and experience
  • Facilitate and sometimes mediate between varying expectations

Advisors Make You Think

Before you take a lot of overt action, you need to do a lot of thinking and reflecting.  Advisors can help you think through your vision and expectations so that you can more wisely consider what you need in a successor. This step is often skimmed over.

I recommend setting aside several, uninterrupted hours to think through and write out some key points. thinking through succession Here is an outline I suggest following:

  1. Reflect on the goals you had when you started and how they were fulfilled.  I find this step very rewarding and encouraging.
  2. Write down your vision for the organization.  There may be a formal vision already in place but consider what direction you’d like the organization to go in the future.
    This will help you find a successor that shares much the same vision.Your vision may be several pages or just a few bullet points.  Think of it in 3 categories.  Start, Stop and Continue.  What new things do you want your organization to start, what needs to stop and what should continue?
  3. Consider your legacy.  What do you want to leave behind for the next generation?  Whatever you determine may help add clarity to your vision.
  4. Write down what you don’t want your company to become.  If you have strong feelings about specific areas, make note of it.  Again, you’ll want to communicate these when looking for someone to take over for you.

All of this thinking will take time, maybe more time than you think you can afford.  However, the challenges you set aside to dedicate time for reflection will be there when you’re done.  And in the end your organization will be better because of it.

Advisors are Unbiased

Advisors can provide the amazing benefit of being unbiased.  Succession can be an emotional process…  handing over your “baby” to someone who has different ideas and less experience.  It can be stressful!  An impartial participant brings an invaluable level-headedness.

An advisor is able to look at your situation objectively.  They’re not dazzled by your past accomplishments or overwhelmed by all you want your organization to achieve in the future.  They can listen to your thoughts, look at your plan and point out what you may be missing.

I have said more than once, “I don’t like what I’m hearing, but thank you.  I would have been heading in the wrong direction.”  The right advisors know what they are talking about.  Listen to them.

More benefits of advisors to come

I will save the other two benefits for another day.  Having a source of knowledge to draw from can save you many headaches, and in the end, having a facilitator will help the whole process go smoother – not because you’re such a hothead, but because you are passing off leadership to a unique person who has differing preferences and ideals.

Succession is such a big topic.  I’d love to hear your succession stories.  If nothing else, I hope this raises your awareness of how important succession planning is.  If succession is on the horizon for you, I’d love to talk.

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