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You Must Preserve the "Success" in Succession

May 26, 2011

Posted by

Joe Klock, Sr.

Joe Klock, Sr., CRB, CRS, engaged in real estate sales, management and training since 1949, is the retired Dean of Coldwell Banker University. He presently produces educational material, bot Read more


In the earliest management course I can recall, one of the major benefits cited regarding corporations was that they existed in perpetuity, as opposed to sole proprietorships and partnerships, which come to an end with the death or incapacity of a principal participant.

That being so, it is surprising to note how often the loss of a “key person” in corporate structures has just as crippling an effect on the organization as the sudden departure of either the “M” or the “P” in a local Mom and Pop operation.  The truth is that a smooth transfer of the leadership torch should rank high among the objectives of anyone at the helm of a business enterprise, regardless of its size or design.

Thus, unless a specific individual is known and already within the existing ranks to replace the “head honcho,” a competent substitute should be identified and groomed as soon as possible.  Any leader without a ready surrogate is playing a form of Russian Roulette with the people who look to him or her for guidance.

“Trickle Down” Theory

That same obligation trickles down through the chain of command, making it incumbent upon all hands in an organization to ensure that their functions have a longer life expectancy than do they, themselves.

Team members at every level should make certain that their physical absence, whether temporary or permanent, is “covered” by someone ready, willing and able to plug up the gap.

Those involved in recruiting should think “higher” as well as “hire,” seeking out new people who are capable of growing beyond the parameters of their initial jobs.  If the recruiter is you, or if you are in need of a backup person, it may require looking for someone capable of taking your own job, should you be unable to continue doing it, or should an opportunity arise for you to “move up.”  Absence of an available substitute might well be a “brass ceiling” between you and breaking into the hierarchy!

If the organization is to both survive and flourish, people at all levels should have the potential for upward mobility, and this mind-set should be woven into the hiring process.

Obstacles Do Exist

Obstacles to this objective could include social preferences, personal prejudices and paranoia -- that last problem being a tendency to protect one’s turf by taking on recruits who do not pose a future threat to one’s own status.

Equally unhealthy is a system which relies heavily -- sometimes solely -- on seniority as a criterion for succession.  One need look no farther than Congress to see the flaws in that system.

Closer to home and reality, though, are the “corporate lackeys” who clog up the paths to promotion by merely “hanging in and waiting for their shot.”  New hires, as well as loyal veterans, must clearly see that the upward conduit is clear of competitors whose major qualifications is simply personal longevity.

Before butterflies are free, they must be able to escape the cocoon.  More sensitive, but no less critical, is the matter of nepotism.  While preferential treatment of “one’s own” is understandable, it is only defensible when all other factors are reasonably in balance, especially management skills.  Examples of nepotism-damage abound in the business world.

It is a happy coincidence that the word “success” is built into “succession,” although their meanings are quite different.  Inappropriate handling of succession can be the death knell of organizational success, leading as it often does to forcing square pegs of ability into round holes of need.

Regardless of how that happens, the ultimate result is placement of people in positions of responsibility which demand different skills than they are in a position to supply -- this to the detriment of company health.  The best cure for this malady, of course, is prevention, which means heading off the problem before it even comes up.  And since, in so many cases, the time of “comeuppance” can’t be predicted, the time for planning is no later than right now.

While you’re thinking about it, look around your organization, your place in it, your stake in it, and the impact of either your absence from the firing line or that of any other key figure.

Then, think of success and succession -- or the cost of failing to pair them up.

And, yes, the time is now!