The Critical Factor in Succession That No One Thinks About

One leader's journey and adventure - Part 2

Mike Sipple Sr.

For the continued success of your organization, you need to start thinking about a topic most executives don’t want to think about: succession.  It’s a critical factor in survival and sustainability but it also comes with a lot of fear.  Fear of letting go.  Fear of losing your identity. Fear of change.

At age 57 I was challenged to start thinking about a successor.  It has been one of the hardest things I have done professionally.  However, for the sake of the next generation and the continued success of Centennial, I’m thankful for that challenge.  I can now look back now and recognize what a wise decision it was to start my succession plan while still in my 50’s.

4 Benefits of having outside advisors for succession planning

Last week I shared about the invaluable role outside advisors have played in our own succession planning.  I outlined 4 key benefits that advisors can uniquely provide. Room only allowed for me to elaborate on 2 of them.  This week, I’ll continue with the other 2 benefits.

Outside advisors…

  1. Make you think
  2. Offer unbiased and biased feedback
  3. Provide a wealth of knowledge
  4. Mediate between varying expectations

Advisors Provide a Wealth of Knowledge

Many outside advisors have worked through successions before.  They recognize the normal obstacles – and there will be obstacles.  They can also recognize serious problem areas that need to be addressed.

Advisors know what questions to ask.  This allows you and your successor to discuss topics before they become a source of contention.  There are so many variables that need to be looked at and considered.  Advisors have the experience to know what those topics are so they can be worked through systematically.

If the advisors see too much misalignment, they can raise a yellow or red flag.  If the chosen successor is not going to be a good fit, it’s important to discover that early and find a better fit as soon as possible.

Advisors mediate between varying expectations

The incumbent and the successor are two unique individuals.  That’s great, but it also means there are varying expectations.  No matter how close of a relationship you have with your successor, he or she will have many preferences that may not match yours. We are not looking for a clone…we are looking for a leader who can carry on the vision and values of the enterprise, and continue to make the business even more healthy and successful in the future. Outside advisors can be the facilitator that guides the two of you through these areas.

It’s critical that you find out the expectations of both individuals and discuss the reality of them.  It’s not uncommon for each person to know what they want and not even realize the chasm of differences.  A facilitator can help by restating what is being said. “This is what I’m hearing from the incumbent and this is what I’m hearing from the successor.”  Until the outside advisor states this plainly, the misalignment may not even be seen.

I liken succession to a marriage.  When you get married, you bring two sets of ideals together and strive to blend them into one.  Each person needs to give a little to see the marriage succeed.  Again, sometimes outside help is valuable to sort through some of the obstacles.  For the sake of the marriage, or an organization, outside help is well worth it.

Helping other leaders succeed is my passion

I truly love helping other business leaders succeed better in their businesses, careers and personal lives.  I have experienced the richness of having other people speak into my life and I love doing the same thing for others.

Business leaders have so much on their plates and it’s natural to become overwhelmed. Contemplating succession may be one too many things to take on. I understand that.  I love helping leaders shape their future.  I want to provide the guidance I’ve experienced during my decades of leading a business.

The lengthy process of planning for the future

Shaping the future is exciting but it takes time – lots of time.  We were told by The Goering Center to expect the succession process to take 7-10+ years if we really wanted it to go smoothly.  I was dumbfounded at how long that sounded…now, 10 years later, I understand.

That’s the topic of my next, and final, succession article.  Why does the process take so much time and is it really necessary to do so much?

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