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The ins and outs of Succession Planning

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

Succession planning – i.e. paving the way to pass on a leadership role, or find the right replacements for critical positions – is an ongoing journey of recruitment, strategising and development, with the potential for huge rewards.


In this post, Charlie Rigby, Firebird associate, discusses the ins and outs of the process for leaders looking ahead.

Very few areas of the business world require a leader to make themselves redundant – succession planning is one of them. The aim? To achieve what I call “jacuzzi management”; the point at which an owner or CEO can sit back and know that their successors have been well-primed to take the reins to the greatest extent possible. Done right, succession planning will create a highly loyal, proud cohort of workers, who will one day feel empowered to buy out their leader…


Over the years, I’ve come to view succession planning as a simple process, roughly divisible into three core areas:

  • Delegation

  • Motivation

  • Appreciation

Let’s take a look at each one.

"What would you like your organisation to look like when you aren't there?"

Delegation


The key mistake most people make with delegation is to believe it involves simply handing workloads to others. In fact, the trick lies not in what you give, but in how you give it – and, of course, who you give it to. Before you delegate, take time to consider your overarching goals: who do you want to stretch, and why? What would you like your organisation to look like when you aren’t there? How might delegation facilitate this?


As a general guide, I’d recommend planning 5 minutes of handover contact for each hour you are expecting somebody to work, investing enough time in their own investment of effort. It is essential they understand what you want them to do, since delegating wrongly is invariably worse than not delegating at all.


The boundaries and incentives which surround delegation must be clear, and agreed, and enforced. Inadequate or incompetent delegation is usually disastrous.


Consider the type of team you’re building. Are you passing the right work to the right person? How could your delegation help them grow?


Good communication is key, as in all things: ensure your team is working together, and that each member has the means to articulate what they’re doing, and feed back. Ultimately you want to reduce your job to stepping in when something goes wrong, and only then. All information should be shared universally, except that which is confidential. People need to know what others are doing too.

"It costs roughly three times salary to replace somebody if they choose to leave, so be sure their remuneration has all the bells and whistles you can afford"

Motivation


If you want someone on your team to take over your role down the line, ask yourself: what’s in it for them? Most people do not expect a lot, and aren’t greedy for shares, etc. More often than not they want to be recognised, to feel they are part of something greater, and to be valued.


Consider what you can offer in terms of shares, cash, equity and salary, all commensurate with a sense of your team’s value. It costs roughly three times salary to replace somebody if they choose to leave, so be sure their remuneration has all the bells and whistles you can afford, thus incentivising them to stay.


Set up bonuses that depend on personal performance, and which also hinge on the performance of the company – encouraging extra effort and a sense of team unity. On occasions when the organisation does better than expected, reward the people who have helped it happen.


Extras like health insurance and a good pension can also go a long way.

"Your workers should always feel appreciated, over and above their company role"

Appreciation


The least well-known component of succession planning is, in my view, the one that is most important: your successors should always feel appreciated, over and above their working role. I have made the mistake of not doing this too many times, and have always come to regret it.


As far as bonuses, pensions and shares can take you, the truth is one cannot buy loyalty. It is the extra moments of personal attention that make all the difference. Show your team empathy and understanding. Be the first one in, and the last one out; demonstrating that you aren’t above cleaning the coffee mugs, for instance(!) You should care about their lives, and they should know this.


In the world of succession planning, tyrants rarely prosper. Instead it takes real leadership – a leadership that inspires the people around you – to spark brilliance. After all, being professional by no means requires being soulless.

"These points of focus will set you on the path to cultivating a team that is keen, motivated and eager to step into your shoes"

Taken together, these three points of focus will set you on the path to cultivating a team that is keen, motivated and eager to step into your shoes when the time is right. Once they realise they no longer need you to sustain a well-run business, and would much rather buy you out, your work is done. Your next position, full-time in the jacuzzi, will be waiting…


For detailed, bespoke support with succession planning, the Firebird Partnership is on hand, bringing decades of experience at the highest levels of management. Visit www.firebirdpartnership.com to find out more, and get in touch with the team to discuss your goals.




Charlie Rigby’s career in travel and leisure began with the foundation of World Challenge in 1989, which sold at a 15 times earning multiple in 2008. He has since worked in the public sector and government in an advisory capacity (DfE, DCMS) to design and deliver the enhanced youth offer.

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