Effective Succession Planning

July 21, 2023

The process of succession planning in organizations is often fraught with challenges, particularly when the founder maintains the desire to retain control. They clash with the appointed successor. These conflicts arise due to differing leadership styles. Founders typically embody entrepreneurial traits, characterized by risk-taking and creativity. Conversely, successors are tasked with consolidating, organizing, and systematizing the company, transitioning it from entrepreneurial to professional leadership. Such clashes in leadership style can introduce dangerous turmoil, endangering the company’s health and growth.

In some instances, founders may reclaim control and dismiss their appointed successor. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem. The founder continues the wish to retire, leading to the recruitment of a new leader who face similar challenges and the above scenario is repeated. This repetitive cycle can result in a lack of prepared successors when the founder eventually departs, causing a significant blow to the company, often leading to its sale.

Another scenario arises when the founder does not have control over the company. If the founder interferes with the successor's efforts to introduce order and systematization, the Board may dismiss the Founder. A prominent example of such a situation is Steve Jobs' departure from Apple and the struggle in Kazakhstan between the former President and the present one.

Interestingly, inspiration for a solution to this complex issue I found in an unlikely source: introducing a new fish to a saltwater aquarium. When a new fish is added to an established aquarium, existing fish may attack, kill, or eat it. To prevent this, the aquarium must be emptied, the environment rearranged, and all the fish reintroduced simultaneously, both new and old in this newly configured tank; No fish has its own established territory to defend, and the new fish is accepted.

Similarly, within an organization, the existing organizational chart and decision-making processes are often tailored to the founder's personality and leadership style. A new leader with a different style may struggle to fit into this structure and its decision-making process. It is advisable to first restructure the company, making it independent of any specific leadership style. The goal is to create a professional organization that can be effectively led by anyone, rather than one that requires a genius to manage it. Once this restructuring is completed, the new leader can be introduced.

This methodology has proven successful by the Adizes Institute in over fifty countries, encompassing organizations of various sizes and industries.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes