Succession Planning Part 2: Developing Your Successor Into a Future Success Story


In Succession Planning Part 1: How to Choose Your Business Successor, we covered the importance of choosing a protege by balancing your business needs and your ideal candidate. Today, we’re talking about developing your successor by equipping you with tips to capitalize on the time between designating your successor and exiting your business.

Get Into the Mentoring Mindset

Before you start developing your successor, you must be prepared to take up the mentorship mantle for the chosen person to fill your shoes. It’s your opportunity to mold them into the kind of leader who will continue and honor your business legacy while giving them the hands-on experience they need to take on your responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed.

Remember that the goal is not to turn your successor into you. You want to nurture their strengths– which may or may not match your own– and encourage them to take ownership of your enterprise’s future with their own ideas and inspirations. 

A few traits of the best mentors include:

  • Being an active listener. Pay attention to what your mentee says and what they don’t say, as both can give you insights into their mindsets. 
  • Empathy. Remember what it was like as a brand new business leader, and provide compassionate guidance that helps forge strong relationships. 
  • Patience. Your mentee is learning, and that takes time. 
  • Having a growth mindset. No matter who you choose as your successor, they will inevitably face stumbling blocks and pitfalls. Rather than focusing on what they’ve done wrong, kindle their confidence by reminding them how far they’ve come. 
  • Selflessness. Being a mentor means putting your ego aside and doing what’s best for your mentee. 
  • Practicing self-reflection. Like your mentee, you, too, have a lot to learn from developing your successor. Meditate on what is going well and what you can do better to be more responsive to your successor’s needs. 

Build a Custom Learning Path

Learners will always respond better to information when delivered in a way that naturally aligns with their learning style.

Before you start putting meat on the bones of your training plan for developing your successor, discuss how they see their training going and how they learn best. They’ll appreciate your consideration and likely feel more confident in their progress than if they’re fighting against their natural learning style. 

If you need some help kicking off that conversation, here’s a quick overview of the four VARK professional learning styles:

Visual learners prefer images, diagrams, charts, checklists, etc. because they understand and remember information better when you present it visually. They’d much rather read the map themselves rather than ask for directions. 

  • Create visually appealing presentations that heavily rely on diagrams and charts rather than text-heavy slides. 
  • Summarize complex data with infographics.
  • Encourage them to visualize processes and outcomes with mind maps.
  • Use flowcharts to explain procedures and organizational structure.

Auditory learners learn best through listening. They’ll prefer verbal instructions and space to “talk things through” with you. Open yourself up to discussions and encourage them to ask questions. 

  • Hold regular discussion sessions and brainstorming meetings.
  • Use storytelling to convey business values and history.
  • Record audio notes or lectures for them to listen to.
  • Invite them to Q&A sessions to reinforce their learning. 

Reading & writing learners are your diligent notetakers and instruction manual readers. These professionals appreciate time to reflect on and process the written word.

  • Provide a comprehensive resource library of written manuals and guides.
  • Encourage note-taking during meetings.
  • Use emails and memos for communication.
  • Assign articles and books relevant to your business and industry.

Kinesthetic learners need to get their hands dirty to really understand the process. While it does consist of a lot of trial and error, they’ll typically be the most eager to take over responsibilities as you phase out. 

  • Engage them in hands-on tasks.
  • Participate with them in skill-building workshops and interactive sessions.
  • Use role-playing to practice decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Bring them to other departments for introductions and instruction rather than staying in your office all day.

Recognize When to Release the Reins (and When to Take Them Back)

One of the most complex parts of training a successor is knowing when to let go of the reins. The easiest way to go about this is through a gradual transition of power, in which you give them plenty of room to grow while not overwhelming them with too many responsibilities at once. 

This process takes time, and there will be some setbacks along the way. There will be situations when you feel frustrated or anxious, and your mentee feels overwhelmed by all of the new information they’re trying to process. You might even wonder if you’ve made the right choice because they’re not a “natural.” Remind yourself that leadership is a learnable skill and that, like any skill, it takes time to develop. 

Don’t let that stall the progress you’re making. Stay agile and work through the issues so they feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns they might have.

Start with small leadership opportunities, then increase the scope as they become progressively more self-assured in their abilities. Let them make mistakes, then cater your constructive feedback to address those setbacks. Get them involved in decision-making while you’re still around to help them align those decisions with the long-term business goals. 

Create a Living Document of Your Processes and Policies

Once you step away from your role as a business owner, your successor will need a resource that helps them navigate the first few months without you. One of the best tools you can give them is a shared processes and policies document that you, your leadership team, and your mentee compile during the transition. 

You can use your existing processes and policies manual as a starting point, but there’s no better time than during the transition between leaders to review and update it. There will likely be some changes that your mentee wants to make, and having the benefit of your expertise is invaluable. 

For example, they may question why you have a particular resource allocation practice in place, but you know that the decision was based on historical financial data that demanded the policy exist. By working through the processes and policies document together, your mentee can save themselves the hassle of making an unnecessary and costly change they believe will benefit the company.

The same goes for legal compliance, employee benefits, philanthropic commitments, etc. Your mentee should know why these practices are in place and the possible consequences of changing them so they can make well-informed decisions for the future of the business. 

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to plan for developing your successor alone. In fact, getting an outside, objective perspective can be far more beneficial. Your exit planner doesn’t have a stake in the game– apart from helping you navigate this difficult transition successfully– so you know that they’re coming from a place of experience and honesty rather than one of personal gain. 

Whether new to owning/leading a business or approaching retirement, now is the time to contact Lori Moen at Catalyst Group ECR

As a member of the International Coaching Federation, a Certified Exit Planning advisor, and a Certified Value Builder Advisor, she is an invaluable succession planning resource and can help you plan for the next phase of life post-business ownership. 

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