Updated June 2, 2021
So, you’re thinking about what life will be like at your company when you’re gone. Congratulations! Really. It’s a sign of maturity when a leader has the courage to imagine being out of the picture, and the foresight to care before it’s forced to happen.
Having worked with dozens of second stage business leaders, what recommendations do I have for you about succession? A few thoughts come to mind immediately when thinking about my clients.
Succession Planning Recommendations
First, this may be the biggest challenge of your career.
Those of you who are strong leaders… we love you, and it’s amazing what you have accomplished and do accomplish. The strength that you have in your role means that your shoes are going to be hard to fill. And, strong personalities have a hard time handing things off, so it’s never going to feel like the right time, and your successor is probably going to seem far from ready when you start the transition.
Second, having a healthy company is important to managing a succession.
You want a healthy company to attract and retain the best talent. And, successions take resources, because transitions always put a burden on an organization. Think about how many coaches have a “transition year” when they start even if they’re good and have good players. You want your company to be in the best shape possible before making the change.
Third, start as early as you can.
Succession is best managed not as one big event (“OK, here’s the company…don’t screw it up”), but as a series of small hand-offs. Most of my consulting work in succession planning is on choreographing the series of small hand-offs based on
the departing CEO’s capabilities
the incoming CEO’s capabilities
the needs of the business
the needs of the transition process itself
Fourth, don’t look for another you.
He or she is going to be next to impossible to find. Use this as a chance to build up your company’s strength in a new area. You have a whole eco-system around you that complements and supplements your strengths. You may no longer notice it because it’s designed around you. But, no CEO can be everything – and the search for another you is based on flawed thinking that one person can lead your company exactly the same way you do.
You’ll need to do some strategic planning to think about what area(s) need to be strengthened. I had one client hire an experienced sales and marketing exec because they realized they were weak there. I had another hire someone strong in operations because they were going to need to tighten up that area if they were going to be able to grow. Was the new exec everything that they needed in a CEO? No. But neither are you! That’s why a company is spearheaded by the CEO, and supported by a strong leadership team.
The good news is that, if you use a succession planning process, all of these succession issues are manageable.