Finding a successor

Posted on Oct 6, 2017

“The career smart person who drives their own career will always consider who their successor could be, no matter what level role they are operating at,”

Handing over the reins

Whether it is setting up your own business, a move to a different employer or an internal move to another role, most people will at some point in their career jump ship.

Tempting as it is to pack up your desk and head for the hills, working with your successor to ensure a smooth handover is likely to make your move much easier on those around you. Aiding the transition is one thing, but should you be eyeing up potential successors long before you make a move?

Yes, say career experts, especially if you want to push your own career forward.

“The career smart person who drives their own career will always consider who their successor could be, no matter what level role they are operating at,” said career coach Jane Downes, founder of Clearview Coaching Group and author of The Career Book.

It’s a win-win situation, she said, both for the successor and the incumbent.

“We need people around us who are better than us because this will ultimately free us up to move upwards or onwards, and avoid us getting trapped because it suits an organisation to keep you in the space in which you are operating so effectively,” Downes said.

For companies too, it’s crucial to think about management succession planning in advance, to ensure a pipeline of talent in the years to come.

However, many companies face challenges in this regard. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, only 14 per cent of companies described themselves as “strong” at succession planning.

Deloitte believes that companies need to explore new approaches to leadership development, and should aim to identify potential leaders earlier and fast-track them into leadership positions.

Picking their own successor requires people to take a good, hard look at their own strengths and weaknesses, what they bring to their role and what other skills might be required.

It’s important to remember that choosing the right successor does not mean choosing a carbon-copy of yourself.

“The person can bring different approaches and skills to the table. Embrace this and be comfortable with it,” Downes suggested. “It is hard for an effective role holder not to believe that their strategic thinking is the right strategic thinking, or how they do their job is the only way to do it. As you proceed in the succession process, you are going to have to let go.”

Giving your chosen successor a helping hand can be a great motivator, and can renew their focus on their work.

When it comes to showing them the ropes, try not to be too territorial. “If we over guard our territory it just serves to keep us there, stuck,” Downes said. “It is an expired and old way of viewing how we protect our role.”

And, when it comes to choosing a successor, spare a thought for family businesses.

A 2016 family business survey by professional services firm PwC found that over half of Irish family firms have no succession plan in place. And only 14 per cent said they had a “robust, documented, communicated” succession plan in place.

Emotions can run high when family and business collide, according to Dr Eric Clinton, director of the Dublin City University (DCU) Centre for Family Business. “You’re dealing with emotion, passion, history, legacy, tradition,” he said.

An expectation that a child will take on the family business can cause tension, but communication at an early stage is crucial. “We see it a lot that the next generation take on the business to please a parent. And sometimes it is not what they want. Open and honest communication about your career aspirations are so important,” said Clinton.

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