Is there a leader among you?
Michael Stern, Financial Post
Experts warn that businesses of all sizes in Canada face a succession crisis in the next few years as Baby Boomers plot their exit strategies. Most business leaders know this. But knowing it is one thing, taking action is something quite different: Sadly, it's still on the "to-do" list at many firms.
As Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, might say, "the urgent is getting in the way of the important." The many challenges of running a business preclude spending quality time preparing for succession. But the biggest rewards will accrue to the leaders who set aside day-to-day work to take steps to strengthen their business. It means taking a hard look at where it is going and what sort of skills the next generation of management will need.
If key executives are even beginning to think about leaving the company, now is the time to start managing that transition. It's a golden opportunity to determine where the company ought to be in five or 10 years and execute a plan. Most companies, rarely look more than a year ahead. But without long-term, committed effort, they are likely to be caught flat-footed when key employees decide to leave.
To focus your company on the future, first admit it's hard to do inhouse. You can't plan a major renovation when you're fighting fires. It's best to hire outside consultants or coaches who understand strategic planning and will take time to get to know your company. They not only bring expertise to bear, but also keep
you focused on the planning process despite the daily crises that pop up to distract you. With this help, start exploring the most crucial questions: How is its market changing? What will it look like in 10 years? What are the key long-term factors affecting the business? What are its principal strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
Then look at leadership: Focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the next level of leaders. This disconnect becomes most obvious when companies look ahead to life without the current leader and begin to recognize the gap between the needs of the business and the skills of potential successors. There may be no one internally who is leadership material. A chief executive should be a visionary, a motivator, not a "doer." Many skilled business people -- finance experts, sales directors, operations executives -- have trouble moving from managing functional teams to overseeing an entire company.
In my experience, promoting from within eliminates some of the unknowns that come with hiring externally, so companies should investigate all potential candidates. Many multi-talented people bloom slowly, like rare orchids. And those who seem to lack certain skills or experience might blossom under mentoring or coaching.