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Navigating Succession Planning – Ensuring The Future Of Your Professional Practice, Position Or Business

Ken Keis, Ph.D., is a leading global authority on behavioral (personality) assessment strategies and an expert in leadership, purpose, and wellness. He is the President and CEO of Consulting Resource Group International, Inc. (CRG) which has served thousands of organizations worldwide.

 
Executive Contributor Dr. Ken Keis

Succession planning – it's a term that often conjures images of big corporations and family dynasties passing the torch from one generation to the next. But what about small to medium-sized businesses or professional practices? The truth is, whether you're running a law firm, a medical practice, or a boutique consultancy, succession planning is just as crucial for your long-term success. In this article, we'll dive into the key considerations, best practices, pitfalls to avoid, and insights that can make the succession process smooth and effective.


Shot of a group of businesspeople sitting together in a meeting

First and foremost, let's talk about knowing yourself and your potential successor. Understanding your own leadership style and preferences is paramount. This is where tools like CRG's Personal Style Indicator can be invaluable. By gaining insight into your strengths, weaknesses, communication style, and decision-making tendencies, you can better identify the qualities you seek in a successor.


Likewise, assessing potential successors using tools like the Personal Style Indicator, Values Preference Indicator and Leadership Skills Inventory-Self can provide clarity on whether they possess the right fit for the role. Are their values aligned with the company culture? Do they have the necessary leadership and management skills and vision to lead the organization forward? These are questions that require thoughtful consideration.


Succession planning is not a one-size-fits-all process. It takes time – often several years – to identify, groom, and transition a successor effectively. Rushing the process can lead to disastrous outcomes. Instead, adopt a proactive approach. Start early, ideally years before you anticipate needing a successor. This allows for ample time to mentor and develop potential candidates, gradually transferring knowledge and responsibilities.


I am thinking about a recent example where the succession process failed miserably. A non-profit organization took 6 months to nurture their choice to be the new leader. He was the perfect fit they said. Well, he lasted 90 days and it even resulted in a law suit. How is that possible? I had lunch with the previous leader and he said in hindsight the board did not vet this person at all – they just took the current leader’s word that this person was a potential candidate – they were so wrong. They were in such a rush to fill the soon to be empty leader’s role (retiring) that they paid the price. It remains to be seen if they will survive.


Communication is key throughout the succession journey. Be transparent with key stakeholders – employees, clients, and partners – about your succession plans. This fosters trust and minimizes uncertainty. Involve your potential successor in strategic discussions and decision-making processes to provide them with hands-on experience and insight into the complexities of running the business.


However, succession planning isn't without its challenges and pitfalls. Don't fall into the trap of favoring candidates who resemble your own background or leadership style. Embrace those with new thoughts and perspectives to ensure a well-rounded leadership team that can adapt to an ever-changing business landscape.


Another pitfall is neglecting to formalize the succession plan. While informal discussions and mentoring are valuable, a documented plan provides clarity and accountability. Outline the roles and responsibilities of both the current leader and the successor, as well as the timeline for transition. Regularly revisit and revise the plan as circumstances evolve.


Moreover, don't underestimate the emotional aspect of succession. For many business owners or senior leaders, letting go can be challenging. It's essential to address any fears or concerns openly and seek support from mentors, peers, or professional advisors. Remember, succession planning is not just about securing the future of the organization/business – it's also about ensuring your own peace of mind and well-being.


Succession planning is a critical component of ensuring the long-term viability and success of your professional practice, business or organization. By taking a thoughtful and proactive approach, leveraging tools like CRG's Personal Style Indicator, and prioritizing communication and new ways of thinking you can navigate the succession journey with confidence. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day – and neither is a successful succession plan. Start early, take it step by step, and trust in the process. Your business – and your legacy – will thank you for it.

 

Succession planning checklist do’s and don’ts

 

  1. Start early: Begin succession planning several years in advance to allow for thorough grooming and transition. Be clear about the role, responsibilities and expectations before you look for a successor.

  2. Know yourself: Use tools like CRG's Personal Style Indicator to understand your leadership style and preferences.

  3. Assess potential successors: Evaluate candidates using objective criteria, considering skills, cultural fit, and long-term vision.

  4. Communicate transparently: Keep key stakeholders informed about your succession plans to build trust and minimize uncertainty.

  5. Involve successor: Include the potential successor in strategic discussions and decision-making processes to provide hands-on experience.

  6. Document the plan: Formalize the succession plan with clear roles, responsibilities, and timelines to ensure accountability.

  7. Embrace diversity: Prioritize diversity of thought and perspective in selecting and grooming successors to foster innovation and adaptability.

  8. Seek support: Don't hesitate to seek guidance and support from mentors, peers, or professional advisors throughout the succession journey. It is highly recommended that you have outside consultants, advisors or coaches assist in the process.

  9. Address emotions: Acknowledge and address any fears or concerns about letting go, both for yourself and the successor, to ensure a smooth transition.

  10. Stay flexible: Remain open to revising and adapting the succession plan as circumstances change or new opportunities arise. What happens if the one you have been preparing for the role quits or moves on you need a back up plan.

 

Do not


  1. Rush the process: Avoid rushing the succession process, as it takes time to identify and develop the right successor.

  2. Neglect self-awareness: Don't overlook understanding your own leadership style and preferences before selecting a successor.

  3. Overlook diversity: Avoid favoring candidates who resemble your own background or leadership style; embrace diversity in the selection process.

  4. Keep plans informal: Don't rely solely on informal discussions and mentoring; formalize the succession plan to provide clarity and accountability.

  5. Exclude stakeholders: Avoid keeping stakeholders in the dark about succession plans, as transparency builds trust and alignment.

  6. Micromanage successor: Resist the urge to micromanage the potential successor; provide guidance and support while allowing autonomy.

  7. Ignore emotional impact: Don't ignore the emotional aspect of succession; address fears and concerns openly to ensure a smooth transition.

  8. Forget to revise: Don't set the succession plan in stone; regularly revisit and revise the plan as needed to adapt to changing circumstances.

  9. Isolate yourself: Avoid navigating the succession journey alone; seek support from mentors, peers, and advisors to guide you through the process.

  10. Underestimate the process: Don't underestimate the complexity and importance of succession planning; approach it with the time, attention, and resources it deserves.

 

By following these do's and don'ts, you can navigate the succession planning process with confidence and ensure the long-term success of your role/position, professional practice or business.


 

Dr. Ken Keis, Expert Leadership

Ken Keis, Ph.D., is a leading global authority on behavioral (personality) assessment strategies and an expert in leadership, purpose, and wellness. He is the President and CEO of Consulting Resource Group International, Inc. (CRG) which has served thousands of organizations worldwide. With over 4 million words of content authored, including 4 books and a dozen assessments, Dr. Keis is also a respected author, speaker, coach, mentor and media guest His latest books include: Why Aren't You More Like Me?, Deliberate Leadership, and The Quest For Purpose. An engaging public speaker, Dr. Keis has conducted over 3,000 presentations and 10,000 hours of coaching and consulting.

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