Why succession planning is needed

By John Blodgett, MacKay & Company

I noticed a group the other day I think is in dire need of succession planning. Its leader seems to take chances that are incredibly reckless, and I have to believe that, ultimately, they are going to kill him. Maybe they already have a plan in place, which is why the leader acts so bold (or stupid).

The group I’m referring to is a flock of Canadian geese who live by our office. My office is three floors up and I look out onto a busy four-lane street. Our building is near a large pond and every so often these geese make the hike from the build- ing across the street to that pond.

The leader of these geese never seems to look both ways when crossing the street. He — I am assuming it is a he based on the reckless nature of this act — bounds across the lanes with his team following him.

I typically don’t know they are crossing the street until I hear cars slamming on their brakes and their horns honking. The leader acts as though he owns the road. But as I know in my travels around this area, not all geese crossings end successfully. I have seen more than a few dead carcasses.

Hence, the need for a good succession plan.

Also, I question, why not fly? I assume when these geese are in Canada they don’t debate whether they should fly or walk to warmer climates. Why doesn’t

this conversation come up when crossing a busy street? If I had the best power of all superpowers, flying, you would never see me walking. If I was on my couch and wanted a beer, no way am I walking to the fridge, I’m flying. Got to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom? No walking and stubbing my toes on furniture, I am flying and hitting walls.

Walking is so human. But, I digress.

Regardless of the nature of the leader of a business (reckless or not), a good succession plan needs to be put in place and communicated.

You can pay your employees well and provide good benefits and a good work environment but, for some, if they have concerns about the future of the business, you may lose them.

For example, say Bob works at ABC Truck Parts. Bob works for and likes Mary — she is a real dynamo in the industry and knows how to grow a business. She also is the owner of the company. What if Mary gets hit by a car and dies walking across the street (following the geese)? Now, Mary’s husband Don is the new owner. Don’s a nice guy but he’s a dentist (and not a real dynamo dentist at that). He doesn’t know anything about the truck parts and service business. Bob may think, “We may get free dental, but will I be able to pay my bills if Don is running this business?”

It’s usually your more senior staff who evaluates this, and it’s a harder hit to your firm if they leave. If they have asked questions about the succession plan and you have not given them a definitive answer, they are likely to consider leaving or be more open to considering options. In this market, they have lots of opportunities.

Here at MacKay & Company we recently completed a five-year succession plan, which only took about 15 years to figure out (hopefully we are a little slower than the average firm). The lesson here is that it takes time, so the sooner you get started the better.

Now, we have to start on our next one …

John Blodgett has worked for MacKay & Company for more than 20 years and is currently vice president of sales and marketing, responsible for client contact for single- and multi-client projects. He can be reached at john.blodgett@mackayco.com.

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