Striving for a Succession Non-Event

This week’s blog is inspired by a quote that I came across on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It was tweeted out by the Business Families Foundation, but ironically it does not come from someone in a family business.

It comes from Anne Mulcahy, the former head of Xerox, who Chief Executive magazine named CEO of the year in 2008. Without further ado, here is what she said:

“One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens”.

There is so much that I love about this quote, so let’s get started and see if I can share all the reasons that I love it. To simplify the task, I will break it up into four parts.

One of the things we often miss in succession planning

–      There are MANY things that get missed in succession planning;

–      Things are OFTEN missed;

–      Succession planning happens in ALL businesses, not just family businesses.

 is that it should be gradual and thoughtful,

–      GRADUAL is preferred, versus all at once;

–      Before doing it, lots of THOUGHT should go into how it will be done.

with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective

–      LOTS of sharing is better than just a little bit;

–      Sharing of INFORMATION is important, but it is not the only thing;

–      KNOWLEDGE must also be shared, and that is NOT the same as information (i.e. not just WHAT, but WHY and HOW);

–      PERSPECTIVE sharing is also important, and this implies listening to the points of view of,

and getting input from, MANY parties.

so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.

–      What do we hope the result will be? Almost a NON-EVENT. Nobody should really notice when it happens.

Allow me to digress to make a key point here. As a kid I remember seeing a “Under New Administration” sign at a local business, likely a restaurant, and I asked my Dad why they would put up such a sign.

I don’t recall his exact explanation, but it’s not important, because everyone reading this understands what those signs are meant to convey.

But when you are planning for the succession of your family business, I daresay that you would prefer NOT to emphasize that there is someone new in charge of the place.

It is still the same family running the place and it is just as good as it has always been, maybe even better.

I had lunch recently with a friend who also grew up working for his father, and we talked about how his Dad still used to come in to the office every day for many years after handing over control to his sons.

I mentioned that he was lucky that his father was the type who could let go and let the next generation run things, as this is not always the case. In fact, when I first started dealing with their company, I am pretty sure the father was still nominally in charge of things.

But I can honestly say that I am not sure when my friend “officially” succeeded his father. It eventually became clear that the younger generation was in charge, but I still saw Dad there almost every time I visited.

They seem to have created the Non-Event Succession, and good for them. Some people are more naturally inclined to be good delegators, good teachers, good parents.

Gradual, thoughtful sharing of information, knowledge and perspective. You do not have to have read Mulcahy’s quote to do it well, far from it.

But if you know people who are struggling with their succession issues and you can only give them one quote to help guide them, you can start with Mulcahy’s.

But why limit yourself to just the quote? Please feel free to share this blog post with them too!