Clarity Break™ Thoughts for Entrepreneurial Leaders

Don’t Overlook the Importance of Succession Planning

As many readers of this regular message may know, in 2005 Gino Wickman decided to take a big risk and leverage the operating system and tools he’d created and which we all now know as EOS. Once he made that decision, he set out to find his “ideal Integrator,” finding Don Tinney after a careful, thorough search. The two then worked their tails off to build EOS Worldwide from the ground up – planning well, building a talented Leadership Team, solving issues, and executing every day with passion, courage and determination.

What I find unusual and interesting about their journey is the amount of time and energy the two spent in the very early days on succession planning. In many entrepreneurial companies, planning for one or more key leaders to leave the business is something to focus on after you’ve already built a successful business, and are starting to slow down and contemplate an exit. 

With Gino and Don, however, thinking about their own succession was always an important part of the Vision for this company, even in its earliest days. From the start, in fact,  they’ve been crystal clear and deeply thoughtful about when and how they would exit the day-to-day leadership of the business they built from scratch and care deeply about. That was followed by seven years of careful work selecting, preparing, and on-boarding successors. That’s important enough that it’s a great topic for my first “Clarity Break.”

You see, the fact that I’m writing this Clarity Break today is evidence of Gino’s carefully crafted and painstakingly executed succession plan. It is a great honor (and still a little scary) to have transitioned into EOS Worldwide’s Visionary seat back in January of 2015. And I know that my “ideal Integrator” Kelly Knight feels the same way about succeeding Don. Thankfully, both Gino and Don are fully engaged and active in our community as EOS Implementers, and they remain owners of the business. However as of January 1st of this year, which we called “Independence Day,” they are comfortably and happily out of the day-to-day operations of our business. My hope is that their thorough planning and careful execution can be a lesson for us all.

I believe succession planning is even more important in entrepreneurial companies than it is for large corporations. There are fewer leaders and managers in a small, privately-held business, and those few that do exist often take on the vast majority of the heavy lifting. This is particularly true of founders/owners whose companies have only just begun to assemble leadership teams, hire and properly train mid-managers, and begin “delegating and elevating” important decisions, relationships and projects to others. 

That said, far more large corporations view succession planning as a key strategic priority than their entrepreneurial counterparts. I’d like to help change that by igniting some understanding, appreciation, passion and enthusiasm for a well-crafted, proactive succession plan in the minds of the entrepreneurs tuned into this message. And for those of you who aren’t a founder, owner, Visionary or Integrator – remember that all great leaders plan and prepare for their inevitable succession. So, for all of you, a few thoughts:

  1. You are not invincible. The more important your history, expertise, vision, passion and decision-making ability are to your business, the more necessary it is for you to answer this question: “What would happen to this business if I permanently left this role (for whatever reason) tomorrow?” If the question terrifies you, or you have no answer – please get to work.
  2. The value of your business is inversely proportional to the number of things that can’t be done without you. Even if you have no intention of taking a sabbatical, retiring, or something much worse, a business that runs itself is worth far more than a business with one strong leader and a thousand followers. If you could let go of EVERYTHING and still see the business thrive – why wouldn’t you do that?
  3. There is no such thing as a REACTIVE succession plan. One either plans for succession (by defining what a great successor looks like, carefully selecting the right candidate, helping prepare for a transition and then fully supporting their on-boarding as they take over) or is facing a crisis that just might kill the business.
  4. You must replace yourself with a Right Person in the Right Seat. If you founded and/or own your company, and you’re the Visionary or the Integrator – replacing yourself is the most important business decision you’re ever going to make. Obviously, you must find someone who exemplifies your Core Values and will perpetuate your culture. You must also think carefully about what your organization will truly need from the leader who replaces you. It may not be the exact same things the business gets from you – because the next five to 20 years are certain to be different than the last five to 20 years. So, define the seat of the future, and then go find someone whose passions, skills and experiences make them a perfect fit for what your business will need in the future, from its new leader.
  5. You cannot possibly over-prepare. Perhaps the most valuable gift Gino and Don provided to me, Kelly and to our organization was driven by their passion for preparation. As I mentioned above, Gino had been thinking about and planning for his exit from the Visionary seat since the day he and Don founded the company. He identified the transition date nearly 5 years before it happened, then spent almost two years identifying the right successor. We spent more than a year discussing the opportunity, with Gino being very careful to ensure I knew what was expected and was prepared to excel in the role and enjoy doing so. He made sure I was planning to create the right time and space in my life for this new challenge. He worked with me to develop the right training and on-boarding plan and made sure to set aside ample time to share his wisdom, experience and insights with me – before, during and since the transition date. And then Don followed the same careful, thorough process to help us find, hire and successfully on-board his talented successor.
  6. Let go of the vine. If you plan well and are fortunate to live through your succession out of a key leadership seat in your organization – you’ll have to let the person transitioning in take the wheel. Remember, they can’t learn to drive the car well if you’re grabbing the wheel or jamming on the auxiliary break at every sign of danger. Once your new leader has successfully completed a rigorous on-boarding program and is clearly a “right person in the right seat,” be prepared to transition from driver to navigator. Be there to provide insight, advice and even opinions – just make sure your replacement knows that, in the end, you’ll support whatever decision he or she makes. 

Transitioning into this role more than three years ago has been an amazing gift, and I know that Kelly feels the same way about replacing Don as our Integrator. The journey itself has been amazing – thanks to the support we’ve gotten every step of the way from our founders and owners, our leadership team, and our professional EOS Implementer community. And now that Kelly and I have built a healthy partnership as a Visionary/Integrator duo – the journey ahead is as exciting as it’s ever been.

Which is precisely the right time to make sure OUR succession plans are as clear, well-planned, and thorough as those of Gino and Don. Here’s hoping this message motivated some of you to do the same.

One last thought… we are midway through 2018, and right now would be a great time to verify you’re on track to have a great year. Consider taking an Organizational Checkup to ensure you’re firing on all cylinders.

Stay focused,
Mike Paton

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