Have You Chosen the Right Successor?

Deciding who will lead your organization after you exit the company is rarely an easy decision, particularly if you’ve spent a lifetime building the business. What is already a tough decision can be made even more difficult when the emotions that often accompany thoughts of retirement or moving on come into play. Sometimes we have our heart set on someone we really WANT to take the reins. But how do you know that they are the right person for the job? Here is a process designed to help make the decision clearer.

Step 1: Identify what the company needs first – independent of any person you might want to consider. Then rank that criteria from most critical to least critical. 

As much as you might want to start by considering the person you have in mind and working backwards, don’t. Start by thinking through what the company needs in the future. This may be a hard question to answer. Often leaders look for someone who is similar to themselves. But this isn’t always what will take an organization into the future. Leaders may need to acknowledge that a different skill set is needed. Don’t be so quick to assume that, since an individual leads and thinks like you do, they are what’s best for your organization. This is really a windshield exercise, not a rear-view mirror exercise. What got the company here may not be what it needs next.  Talk it through with others as well. Another perspective may be just what is called for.

List out the responsibilities, skill sets, and competencies for the position. Think through the relationships impacted by the position. What vendor relationships, client relationships and stakeholder relationships will the successor need to navigate and maintain? Once you’ve identified what’s important, identify what’s critical. Create a list from most to least critical and move on to step 2.

Step 2: Answer the following questions about your candidate.
  • How well does this person work with current leadership, stakeholders, clients and vendors?
  • Does this person embody the company culture?
  • Will this person be supported by others in the role?
  • Is there indication that this person WANTS the role?
  • Is this person willing to expand their skillset to prepare for the role? Can they admit their shortcomings?
  • Are they capable of performing in the role with the right training? 
Step 3: Then rank your potential incumbent on a scale of Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree on each criteria you identified based on how well you expect them to perform against that criterion.

Rank the individual’s abilities against the criteria you’ve established. How did they do? If they have several areas they fall short, that may not be a deal breaker. If culturally they align and they are open to training and leadership development, you’ll need to consider how long of a runway you have. Is there time to get them the information and training they need? If so, you’ll want to develop a plan for development that includes a knowledge transfer plan. 

However, if your candidate is not a good match culturally, is not willing to grow personally and as a leader, is lacking commitment to stepping into the role, or won’t be ready on your timeline, you and your company are likely best served looking at other options. 

If you found this post helpful, sign up to have future articles about ownership transition delivered directly to your inbox. 

Contact Heather Parbst, Director of Transition Planning, for more information about our Level 7 Ownership Transition System. 

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