To begin, I must confess that I really hate the term “succession planning”, but in a title or headline, it is important to use words that are familiar to most people, otherwise they will likely miss your whole point.
I must also confess that the term “laundry room” was only used in the header here because it was a way to make my idea a bit catchier. The “real” title of this blog would more correctly be something like “How Succession Planning is Like Doing the Laundry”, but that doesn’t feel as sexy.
So how is succession planning like doing the laundry? I am glad you asked, but first, I told you that I detest the expression “succession planning”? Can we please just call it “Continuity Planning” instead?
Continuity planning is like “life insurance”, insofar as the insurance industry realized many years ago that selling “death insurance” (which is what it really is, after all) was not an easy thing to do, because people don’t want to talk about their ultimate demise.
So, without further ado (I think we have had enough “ado”, don’t you?), just how is Continuity Planning similar to doing the laundry? Let us count the ways.
To some people, and here I am picturing my Dad, as well as most fathers of his generation, the laundry room of our house was just a place that he passed through on the way into the garage. His job was to make sure that if the washer or dryer ever broke down, he was to pay to have them repaired or replaced.
The “doing the laundry” was never in the realm of the things that he worried about. As someone who was the beneficiary of having the laundry taken care of by my Mom and my grandmother who lived with us for many years, I am going to go out on a limb and guess that he never fully appreciated everything that went into the effort.
As someone who know lives in a house with my wife and two teens, and where we separate the household tasks more equally (give or take…) I can tell you that laundry is more than throwing the clothes in the washing machine and pressing “start”.
Nobody “wants” to do the laundry, but if the person who takes care of it is absent, it doesn’t take more than a few days before you start to notice that something is amiss. As people start to run out of clean clothes and the hampers are overflowing, someone eventually decides it is time to do something. And how hard can it be, right?
Put the clothes in the washer (what, you are supposed to separate them by colour first?), add some detergent, and press the button. OK, great, I’m glad that’s done. Oh, the washer is done. I guess now we move the wet stuff over to the dryer, right?
Now the dryer beeped, so we are finished. Oh, some of the stuff is still a bit damp, so I guess we press Start again. Alright, everything is dry now, but it is all mixed up, inside out, crumpled. This is a lot more work than I thought.
For people who are so busy taking care of business, there is a great potential to underestimate what goes into preparing the next generation of leaders and owners of their business.
Getting your accountant to do an “estate freeze” is putting the clothes in the washer and starting the machine.
The real work takes place before, and especially after. And it takes a long time, there are lots of steps, and it never seems to end.
The clothes need to be folded and hung up, and you need to make sure that the right clothes go back into the right rooms, the right closets, and the right drawers. Throwing the clothes in the machine and pressing the button was the easy part.
Maybe you should get going, before you run out of clean underwear.