“Succession” is the name of a superbly dark TV series on HBO, that caricatures a powerful business family’s failure to empower to the next generation. Here in Africa we know all about that. The most prolonged and troublesome successions occur in family enterprises. Families here are large, so their issues are complex. And in most cases the patriarch says he wants to let go but just can’t bring himself to do it. Perhaps when we have more matriarchal leaders, we’ll do better.
Timely succession planning can ensure the smooth transition of power and continued success of any organisation. But the biggest challenge today is time.
Traditionally, developing a succession plan seemed a distant concern for a CEO. There was time in hand. Time to assess competitor threats and future market trends. Time to take soundings at Board level. Time to develop candidates. Or time to procrastinate – to put succession into the ‘too difficult for now’ pile.
Then, in the 3rd Industrial Revolution, business cycles began to speed up. Electronics and IT began to automate business processes. Innovation surges made companies vulnerable to obsolescence. Succession requirements became immediate. When Steve Jobs first left Apple, the business nearly went bust. The company was the manifestation of its leader and unplanned change threatened catastrophe.
In the 4th Industrial Revolution, we’re now seeing a collision of even shorter timescales with an employee base whose attitude towards job tenure is equally short term. In other words, succession may be needed tomorrow, but when you look inside the business, fewer people have been around for long enough to qualify. Clearly, we need to evolve a more agile approach.
The Forbes Coaching Council says that the key to creating an agile company is to incentivise senior executives to mentor and develop their direct reports. The word incentivise is important; too many companies rely on executives doing what they should do, and end up being disappointed. This mentoring should happen in every division or department, and the CEO should be aware of the breath of resource being developed. Even better, he should champion the programme and play an enabling role by creating new positions, collaborative opportunities and challenging projects to grow leadership candidates. In this way, succession planning becomes part of the culture.
Today, neither the HR Department or the Talent Committee has the luxury of developing a five- or ten-year succession plan. Talented individuals are acutely aware of the demand for their skills and, when workplace conditions or the associated rewards become unattractive, they will simply move to a more progressive organisation.
Succession planning should start on the CEO’s first day in post.