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When It Comes to Succession Planning, You Can Learn from Others’ Mistakes

December 13, 2018 3 Min Read Succession
Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA Director-in-Charge, Transaction Advisory & Business Valuation

9 reasons companies fail to commit to succession planningIn the past, we’ve discussed the benefits of and how to properly plan for leadership succession. While we all know that we can learn from our own mistakes, I’ve found it better (and less painful) to learn from someone else’s mistakes. Below are four common mistakes made by organizations that fail to properly plan for succession:

  1. Skill sets are not aligned. As an individual progresses through his or her career, they may be successful in their current position. However, being good at your current role does not necessarily translate into succeeding at the next level. In some cases, a potential successor may be a very good doer, but this does not necessarily mean that they will be an effective leader. When evaluating your next generation of leaders, give them a taste of their future responsibilities from time to time. This will allow you to test the waters and evaluate whether they have the right skill sets for the job.
  2. The incumbent is not the right fit, and the situation is not addressed proactively. In the event that you realize you have the wrong person lined up to take a future management position, it is best to make alternate arrangements and not allow the problem to manifest. In many mid-sized companies, these individuals can be a blocker along the succession path, and it will become increasingly challenging to get around them the longer the problem remains unaddressed. It is critical to stay in front of these situations for the good of the organization and the individuals involved. It is very possible that the incumbent believes they will eventually obtain the promotion and then leave when they have been passed over, which may result in having to fill their position at an unideal time.
  3. They haven’t communicated properly with a successor, and the successor leaves. On the other hand, you might have the right person lined up for the future leadership role, but have you been candid with them and given them the proper motivation to hang around and wait? If they are indeed a high potential individual, then they may be looking for another opportunity sooner rather than later. Therefore, it is best to have regular conversations with them regarding their future opportunities and the associated path. In addition, special compensation packages may also be necessary to incentivize them to wait and align them with the future goals of the organization.
  4. They see succession as solely an HR responsibility. Skilled Human Resources professionals are certainly necessary to assist with and guide the succession process, but proper succession planning also needs to be discussed at the strategic planning level. Senior management needs to be involved, and this topic should be discussed right along with new products/services, marketing initiatives, systems, and other strategic goals.

While some of these scenarios may seem obvious, it can be very easy to find yourself in one of these situations if you are not being mindful of the succession process. It is best to formally address succession planning on an annual basis (at a minimum) to avoid getting caught in a succession predicament.

Brian J. Sharkey is a Director with Kreischer Miller and a specialist for the Center for Private Company Excellence. Contact him at Email.  


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Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA

Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA

Director-in-Charge, Transaction Advisory & Business Valuation

Manufacturing & Distribution Specialist, M&A/ Transaction Advisory Services Specialist, ESOPs Specialist, Business Valuation Specialist, Owner Operated Private Companies Specialist, Private Equity-Backed Companies Specialist

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