Real Succession Planning

By Doug Griffiths, Community Builder

Succession planning is critical to a community’s future, and by community I don’t simply mean a town. I mean any group of people with a common purpose that wants to see continued success well into its future. If you don’t plan for who will replace you, and others in your organization, then you are planning to fail. Its just that simple. The challenge is that we all think we know how to do succession planning. However, we seldom do all that is required for successful succession planning. Below are the five reasons why our succession planning fails.

We start too late. Succession planning must begin early and with vigor. It should be a cultural mindset within your community or organization. I was reminded last month by an old friend of mine that shortly after I won my first election (I served through 4 elections in 13 years) I asked him if he was interested in running to replace me someday. I asked a lot of good young people if they were interested. They thought it was strange that I was seeking my replacement, but we should begin finding our replacement the day we start a new role. Too often we wait until a few months before we are set to leave. By then it is too late, and the reason why it is too late is the next point.

Real succession planning requires time to teach, and then mentor, others to take on new responsibilities, and eventually replace you. When we don’t start the process soon enough we ensure those with the talent to fill our shoes don’t have the skills to fill our role. That is a recipe for failure as those who come next are unprepared for the challenges they will face. However, it is equally detrimental to good succession planning to over-coach those who would replace us. We over-coach, hoping they will be just like us and will make the same decisions we do, because we often presume our way is the best and only way. That kills creativity and talent in those who would replace us.

We should allow those we mentor room to be creative. I recall a great saying: “Don’t tell people how to do something. Tell them the problem and you will be amazed by the solutions they come up with.” We tend to value someone for their talent, and then teach them exactly how everything needs to be done, and then criticize them for their lack of creativity and problem-solving skills when they face challenges. If you let someone explore new ways to address issues they may surprise you with a brilliant solution. Of course, they may fail on occasion too.

There are un-celebrated benefits to failure. We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. In fact, our successes teach us nothing. We expect our successors to do as we do, and seldom give them latitude to try new things. However, when we do, if they fail, we are often quick to declare they don’t have what it takes rather then helping them work through, and learn from, the experience. Teaching someone how to fail properly is the rarest, and yet the most important part of proper succession planning.

Finally, so many of us have egos that simply don’t allow us to properly turn over our role and the power that goes with it when the time comes. We come up with all sorts of excuses to justify our continued control, but in the end, they are only empty excuses. An old friend of mine reminded me of that: “My Grandpa didn’t teach me to drive by always sitting me in the passenger seat. He put me in the driver’s seat and let me try.” That is one of the most important items of succession planning. At some point, you need to let them take the wheel.


Success isn’t a sprint. It doesn’t happen overnight. But, neither is it a marathon where one person runs the entire 26 miles. Success, for your community, is a baton race that never ends. One person runs their leg at full speed and then hands off the baton to someone else who is already at full speed who carries on for their leg of the race. And so on. That is how you get legacies. That is how you build strong communities.

We all think we know what it takes to do succession planning, but it takes more then most of us realize. It requires foresight and the ability to let go your ego and desire to control the situation. It is hard work and sometimes it takes outside help. If you find yourself in that situation and you are ready to get on with real succession planning but don’t know where to start, give us a call.

We know . . . There’s Always A Way.