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Succession Planning: The King is dead, long live the King!


“The most useful piece of business advice I have been given is to start planning for my successor on day 1”. These are not my words but those of a CEO interviewed on BBC Radio 4.

Succession planning can be difficult but it is a vital issue for any business. Royal families across the world adopted a simple policy that the first-born son would succeed to the throne. Many family companies still follow a similar policy (Fiat, News Corp etc). This is a nice clear-cut system that everyone understands. Of course, I am not saying that this is necessarily the best system.

Sometimes in a company there is no “heir apparent”. Queen Elizabeth I “the virgin Queen” had no heir and chose not to nominate one for fear that it would diminish her power. The problem is that if no succession planning is apparent people get worried. Remember the falls in Apple’s share price whenever questions were raised about Steve Jobs health?

Elizabeth I of England

Succession planning is not just a case of addressing our own mortality or the chance that we might have an accident; it is true for everyday projects. Management Consultants are often criticized for advising a company for a couple of weeks on a change, making a change and then leaving. Unfortunately, if the right measures are not in place, the changes are less likely to “stick”.

One of the lessons that I, and the team learned in Kenya was to start planning our departure and transmission of roles from day 1. We had left our planning too late and so, on leaving, our Kenyan team were unsure of their roles. Despite our best endeavours our local team was only 90% sure of the procedures and roles that they had to fulfill. Had we started planning from day 1, that 10% confusion might have been avoided.

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