Succession Planning – Part 18: Education of the Successor

Education of the Successor

Training or educating the successor in the firm is a delicate process. Many times a parent finds it difficult to train a child to be successor. If so, an alternative trainer may be found within the firm. A successful trainer will be logical, committed to the task, credible and action oriented. These attributes, when tied into a program that is mission aligned, results oriented, reality-driven, learner centered and risk sensitive, will produce a well-trained beneficiary. All of this, of course, is easier stated than accomplished. Education of the successor should be a priority for it will determine the future success of the business.

 A training variant of the management by objectives (MBO) concept is the training by objectives (TBO) concept. This concept can be an effective method for providing both the training for and the evaluation of successors. In the TBO process, both the trainer (you or a non-family manager) and the trainee (potential successor) work together to define what the trainee will do, the time period for action and the evaluation process to be used. This system allows the successor to be placed in a useful, responsible position with well-delineated objectives. It also provides for steps of increased responsibility as goals are met and new, more rigorous goals are established. It is important that the successor enter the firm in a well-defined position. Instead of entering the company as “assistant to the president,” which requires that he or she follow the president around all day, the successor (or any other child) should enter with a specific job description. In a small business this is very difficult because everyone is usually responsible for all tasks. Nevertheless, the successor cannot be evaluated effectively if he or she is not given responsibility and authority for certain tasks.

 Your business will enable you to determine which criteria are necessary for good training. Usually, an owner wants to assess a successor in the following areas:

  • Decision-making process.
  • Leadership abilities.
  •  Risk orientation.
  •  Interpersonal skills.
  • Temperament under stress.

 An excellent way to assess these skills is to let the successor give his or her insight on a current problem or situation. This is not a test and should not be confrontational. Instead, solicit advice and try to determine the thinking process that is generating your successor’s suggestions. For example, you may be faced with a pricing decision. Give the successor all the information needed to determine whether or not to raise prices, then sit back and listen. Ask questions when appropriate–these should be “Why?” and “What if?” After the successor is finished, say “I was considering . . ..” This way each of you can learn how the other thinks and makes decisions.

 It is possible that your leadership style differs from that of your successor. Your employees are used to your style. If your successor’s style is very autocratic and uncaring, your company is going to experience problems.

 Potential successors should be introduced into your outside network (e.g., customers, bankers and business associates), something many managers neglect. This will give everyone time to get to know your successor and allow the successor to work with business associates and bankers, and to get acquainted with customers.

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