Succession planning: A threat or a promise? | by Paul du Toit

Paul du ToitIn the older days of monarchies, when the king died, their immediate heir inevitably took over and ruled. Since the king seldom survived much over 50 years, this was generally a sound plan. The heir apparent would still be young, strong and, one would hope, clear-thinking. But if the king had no obvious heir, a right royal “barney” would break out with the last man standing declaring himself the new leader. Just to simplify matters, the immediate relatives of the old king would be beheaded. That is probably not a viable succession plan in your average corporate.

Today’s “corporate kings” are CEOs, MDs, and their boards of directors. Managers or team leaders are entrusted with motivating and enabling the “troops”. In order for this hierarchy to work effectively, leaders need to prepare for their succession. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. When it’s done properly, things continue normally. When it is not done properly – or not at all – massive damage can be done to a company.

As can be seen by my opening example, in his lifetime the King would have regarded any suggestion of succession other than his son to be treasonous – a threat to his position and his son’s blood right. Unfortunately, some corporate leaders seem to feel the same way about their businesses. This is unsustainable. Any organisation failing to identify its future leaders in time could be caught off guard and pay a costly price – such as appointing the wrong person for the wrong reason to a key position.

Your best young minds need to know they have a future with you
We must remember that today’s CEOs were once young, went to varsity, and waited on tables to get by. The young people in our organisations have aspirations, and they won’t always be young. From early on in their careers, this generation is starting to plan how they can get ahead.

Succession planning (and career paths) gives young people a purpose to align themselves to, and it manages expectations. Staff that feel they have a future in the business are less tempted jump ship in pursuit of advancing their careers.
Organisations would do well to engage these young people early on, and be willing to discuss a career path with them — since there is healthy competition out there for the best minds of the future. What better people to promote into leadership than those that are known and have built up a sound track record of diligence, hard work and taking on responsibility when needed? Plus, they are already learning the ins and outs of your business. This is time and money already invested in your business’s future.

What about head hunting for your leaders? The advantage here is that you introduce new ideas and a fresh leadership approaches, and this can be of tremendous benefit to an organisation. But – I caution – external appointees are an unknown quantity before they’ve settled in. Although they can work out well, invariably the package that was advertised, often bought at substantial cost, is not always what you get.

So mindful succession planning should not be the preserve of one person, but a team that meets regularly — perhaps once a quarter. And this team should be multidisciplinary, bringing together HR officers and executives to talk about the talent they need, the talent they have, and any currently employed productive people with leadership qualities. And then this ought to be carefully communicated to the staff in question – not as a promise of a specific future position, but because when people are given career direction and see internal promotions happening, it can have the effect of galvanising them to raise their hands when called upon to do so.

In essence, mature and open succession planning is really an ongoing exercise in a forward thinking organisation. It never stops.

This is an edited version of a blog by Paul du Toit, the managing director at Congruence Training (Pty) Ltd. Paul is a regular feature writer for Bespoke Procurement Bulletin.
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Posted on February 13, 2019

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