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Succession

Few companies do succession planning right. They lack the vision to do it well. Here’s what to look for.

Sometimes, a TV show can help us see our business clearly. If only we were receptive to the cues we got.

I started watching the TV series Succession a while ago. 

Then, I gave it up for a few months. And I continued last week when I was awake at night because of jet lag.

The series is about a wealthy billionaire with four kids aiming to succeed their father.

The series starts when the elderly billionaire suffers from a stroke, and nobody is prepared to succeed him immediately. 

Nothing has been agreed.

And, of course, the infighting begins. All the children believe they’re capable and entitled to succeed their father as CEO of this billionaire media company, Waystar Royco.

One of the sons believes he can run for president of the United States, so why not lead Waystar Royco?

The other son, the brightest of the bunch, has mental illness and drug addiction. He’s intellectually capable but needs his ego cherished all the time.

The third son is a dufus. He’s not the brightest and has no genuine interest in business, but this is easy money, so why not? 

The last one, the only daughter, is a politician. No factual background in business, but politically shrewd and female.

Who should it become? 

That’s the question for four seasons! I’m in season three now, and until this season, it’s still unclear and entertaining.

The father survives the brain stroke, witnesses his family fighting over his nearly occupied grave, and doesn’t have a clue who to pick.

Emotions more often lead him than factual criteria.

Sounds familiar?

I bet it does.

Many companies operate the same way. 

Few companies do succession planning right. 

You need a CEO who believes in succession planning (not just succession).

You need a process that’s clear to everyone and that gets planned, discussed, and delivered consistently.

You need a People & Culture leader who can design and execute the plan, who has the credibility with the CEO to get their attention, and who is willing to schedule time to discuss talent.

You need a culture where people are being grown and developed by their leaders, not afraid to take a risk on people instead of going external.

You need leaders within the organization who understand the process, believe in good intentions towards objectivity, own growing their people, and know they’re also subject to succession planning when they do a good job developing people. 

You need to show objectivity and communicate succession decisions well so people can see why decisions are being made and understand what’s required of them to become candidates.

You need goodwill, risk-taking, generosity, patience, time to discuss, feedback, and proper communication.

And, for every critical role, you need to have an emergency candidate lined up in case something happens to the incumbent and the preferred candidate is not ready yet.

That’s what Waystar Royco should have done. 

But as usual, a People and Culture person was not to be seen for the entire 40 hours of entertainment.

That’s why it’s called entertainment. Just like at those companies without a process. 

When done well, it’s boringly effective — but delivers brilliant results.

I know someone close to me who is the product of good succession planning.

Your turn: Entertainment or Boring? Frustration or Gratitude? Costly or Effective?

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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