Whether you build a company or form a government, the goal usually is to make it sustainable not just for the time you’re in office, but afterwards. Most leaders focus on what all the strategic components of running a coompany – leadership, strategy, talent management, operations, finance, sales/marketing, etc. Succession planning at all levels – makign sure you have the right people in place with the leadership and technical skills to continue the process – often is often until someoone is ready to leave or is not ready able to continue in the function – and that can undermine the future of the enterprise.
Three different situations drove home this key point.
- Developing democracy in Myanmar has been very difficult. It’s taken decades, including many years when Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of democracy and current civilian leader was under house arrest by the miltiary leaders, for democratic practices to begin to be adopted. Making sure that a new generation of leaders would be available to continue the process should have been a priority. Yet the Wall Street Journal reports that the “graying leadership of the nation’s ruling party lacks new blood to inherit power”. When the 71 year old president resigned, a 66 year old Suu Kyi loyalist was picked to replace him. Two thirds of the ruluing Executive Committee is over the age of 66 – the male life expectancy is Myanmar. The government seems to be “recycling the same top leaders”. The author observes that the National League for Democracy “risks losing its struggle with the (military) institution if it fails to groom a new generation of leaders”. Clearly, encouraging a new generation of democratic leaders in a country still run by the military leaders who took power in 1962 is not easy; but it should be a priority.
- A CEO who made a decision recently to join Vistage, explained that his main reason was a desire to retire in a few years and build a solid management team that can take over the company. An analysis of the senior team revealed that many were there a long time and not very effective and had not considered devleoping people below to help take over should something happen to them. Turns out not all of the team members were as competent as he thought, and left. So now, the CEO has to postpone the effort to expand the business to make it more valuable to the next owners, and focus on identifying who can take over their divisions (from inside and/or outside) and tain them to be effective leaders. Further, there are some capable people within the company that have not been earmarked for future leadership roles and can be fast-tracked, with supervision, to see what they really can do. All this extra work is draining substantial energy. We now have a race to do a lot within the allotted time period.
- Age Brilliantly advocates allowing talented people to continue working in companies as long as they want to do so and continue to be productive – regardless of age – either in their jobs or as SharExers where they “share their expertise and experiences” with others to groom new leaders and help innovate processes and products. Recently, a CEO, who runs a company that uses lots of specialty equipment, mentioned having a few employees over the age of 70 that are quite skilled; they haven’t initiated discussions about “retiring” for their jobs, and neither has he. Periodically, we discuss how they’re doing… and raise the question of who will take over when they want to, or need to, leave. It’s been flagged as an issue because no successor exists in the company and no outside search is being initiated. (“Ostrich, keep your head in the sand.”) Recently, the conversation changed…two are thinking of moving on. So now we’re scurring to find ways to “phase their retirement plans” for the good of the company and these valued employees. Stay tune for how the SharEx model gets adopted by this company!
Everyone benefits when we begin succession planning early on. What are you doing in your company? Share with us your experiences and solutions.