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When Succession Works

Last month I made a presentation on the human side of business continuity planning. Following my talk, the president of a midsize company stopped me in the hallway and said, “Over the past couple of years, three of my key staff members have retired. The Director of Administration was one of them.” Two Board members were standing nearby, overheard his statement, interrupted our chat and in unison asked, “When did that happen?” The president beamed with well-deserved pride. His planning had paid off.

Gambling on Succession

Unlike the successful story above, many Boards and leadership teams appear to be rolling the dices on their succession plans, and most are losing their wagers. In 2012, The Harvard Business School of Leadership conducted a study of organizations with revenues over $500 million. They reported that 50% of these businesses did not have a formal CEO and key staff succession plan, and that only 20% of the organizations that did were satisfied with their plan.

So it is no wonder that we continue to read big headlines of large organizations that never seem to get it right. If the Fortune magazine’s top listed organizations, who have more financial resources, savvy business leaders and smart consultants that 90% of the organization in the world can’t get organized and figure it out- How does a mid-size or small organization beat the odds and make succession work?

Assessing Your Risk

Take this quiz to get a gut-check on whether your organization may be in jeopardy. List the names of the key staffers who have left your organization over the past 3- 5 years. Next to their names, indicate which of these two hallway questions you heard after their departure: 1- a gladly surprised, “When did that happen?” or 2- a gravely concerned, “How did this happen?”

Setting Structure and Culture

In my presentation, I shared 10 steps an organization can take to be prepared for a key leader transition, be it planned or unplanned. Implementing these steps will set in place an effective succession structure, but at the end of the day, it will be the level of trust established in the culture that decides if a succession plan or any other initiative will be a winner or a loser. When trust is high almost everything works. When trust is low almost nothing works.

Journal Entry: How did you do on the risk quiz? If you had all 1’s congratulations, keep doing what you’re doing. If you had a few 2’s, what needs to happen so you can have more healthy transitions in the leadership and life of your organization?

“Plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
– Solomon, King in his book of Proverbs 21:5 (NIV)

“Good design can’t fix broken business models.”  – Jeffery Veen, designer of beautiful things (Adobe® products)

“When people see that what you are trying to do for them comes from a sincere heart, they’ll believe you, they’ll do what you ask them to do, they’ll keep on doing it as long as you ask.”  – James Casey, author

“Organizing is something you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A.A. Milne, Winnie-The- Pooh

“Truth builds trust.” – Marilyn Suttle, customer service expert

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