Succession Planning: 3 Tips to Ensure the Success
Updated: Apr 20
I recently started watching a despicable television series on HBO called Succession. I hate it! I loathe the characters. The acting feels wooden. The domineering patriarch founder Logan Roy (probably based on the business empire of Rupert Murdoch) is obnoxious and brash, and his sniveling, squabbling children, the successors to his empire, are beyond repugnant to me. I decided to give it a few more episodes, hoping I will learn something about the rules of succession. And, so while I am disturbed by the characters in this TV series, it reinforces some lessons to share with others.
First, a change in leadership impacts your entire organization, so involve the whole company as you prepare your successor. Don’t hold on to your power too tightly or for too long like the media magnates Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone.
Handing your business off to a successor is a process that can take years. You need to select the person who’ll take over for you and groom them and the rest of your company to be able to work together to continue your legacy. It’s a process that includes mentorship and exploration.
How can you ensure your successor is prepared to lead the business when you step away? Here are three tips to help position your successor to succeed
1. Passing on what you know
The person you select as your successor should share your passion for the company. They may already be an employee. They may have the knowledge and operational understanding to take over the company. But you may have to mentor them to go beyond that foundation to take the company to the next level.
If you were an effective leader, then teach them everything you know about leadership and encourage them to take their learning about leadership to another level. Self-confidence is most often a learned behavior. So, too, is arrogance. Research attests to the perils of hubristic leadership in politics, the military, and business organizations as researchers have shown that hubris often corresponds with personality disorders. So, don’t patronize them and don’t make assumptions about what they already know or think. Help them learn what they don’t know. Help them to see their blind spots. Your successor has much to gain from your experience. Offer it subtly.
If you were not an effective leader, then encourage them to find mentors and hire a leadership coach so they can learn from those who know. Remember, what got you here may not get them there. Find someone who can get them where they want to go provided it supports you in your transition.
Prepare a job description of what you do as the leader. Go beyond what you would post on a job board. Define and document important processes that your successor can use as a playbook. Share with them your observations of what happened during your tenure as the leader in the position they will be taking over. It’s more than what they need to know, but it will help them in their role.
Involve others in your organization in your successor’s education. You rely on their participation and cooperation, and so will the next leader. Help launch these close-working relationships during the hand-off phase. It’ll help you identify and plug any knowledge gaps, and your management team will appreciate the opportunity to collaborate and gain insight into the style and character of their new boss. Ensure the success of your successor by being open and transparent with your employees and management staff. Help these people see what their future of the company will look like under the new regime.
Communicating the succession plan with your management team is crucial. It helps to dispel rumors and misunderstandings, and it creates a firm foundation for your successor. Rumors seldom stay confined within an organization, and you don’t want to lose customers or clients because they’re concerned about the future stability of your company. (Unsure about the impact of rumors on your business? Watch episode 2, of season 1, of the television series Succession on HBO to get a feel for why containing rumors is so important).
2. Envisioning the change
Many businesses share their identity with the owner or leader. Steve Jobs is forever attached to Apple, for example. Many did not believe the company would continue to thrive without his leadership, but Jobs played the long game. He was searching for a successor who shared his passion for simplicity and elegance, but who would add a layer of operational maturity and help usher the company to its next level of success.
He found that in Tim Cook. In many ways, Cook was the opposite of his predecessor. He’s an expert in operations, which allows him to ensure that the legendary values of Apple are instilled in each new product. Apple was already one of the biggest companies in the world when Tim Cook succeeded Steve Jobs in 2011, and its market value is twice as much today.
As you prepare to move on, look at what your company needs next and choose a successor who can step into that role, both internally and externally.
Also, take an objective look at your customer base. Is the business based on their relationship with you? If so, your succession plan must also include establishing a strong connection between your clients and the person who will assume leadership when you depart.
This is more than a transfer of goodwill. Work with your financial and legal advisors to ensure that vendors and strategic partners recognize and are willing to support your successor.
3. It’s your successor, not your clone
In his book Developing the Leaders Around You, leadership expert John C. Maxwell advises, “A leader who produces other leaders multiplies his influence — true success comes only when every generation continues to develop the next generation.”
Leaders, Maxwell explains, acknowledge that their role is temporary.
Take a page from the playbook of Steve Jobs: Companies need different types of leaders throughout their business lifecycles. You may have spent your time as leader building and shaping it. What’s the next step?
If the company is still in a growth stage, your successor may continue with your objectives as their own. Or, it might be time for a new phase, where your successor may need to shift priorities. One of the most effective things you can do to ensure the success of your successor is to manage the expectations or your people. They need to see that you don’t expect your successor to approach things exactly as you did.
When it’s time for the next chapter, it won’t be business as usual. We can help you make sure your business continues to grow and succeed under your successor with expert coaching and planning advice. Book a free strategy session to talk about how you can build a better succession plan.