Originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel
There is a great commercial airing now, where a woman goes to her boss to announce her retirement in 15 years. This shows great planning on her part for retirement — something we all need to be doing.
Business leadership succession planning takes not just 15 years, but often even longer. It is a long-term process to be initiated many years before the company is to pass to the next ranks of leadership. The most successful plans involve not only the inheritance of policies and procedures, but also motivations and beliefs.
As many have heard me say before, culture is one of the most important assets in business. This is especially true in our business of relationships. Other companies may tout the same abilities, services and even values — but the manifestation of those values in the character of the employees is something you can’t purchase or hire immediately. The team must learn to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.”
In 1998, when my late husband’s cancer was diagnosed (before he died four months later), I thought I was working full time. But in reality, my mind was not at work and often I was at home. During that time I had (and have) a wonderful management team who stepped in and not only kept the wheels on the cart, but also made some great hires and really carried the torch. It was enlightening to me, that wow, I didn’t really have to do everything myself. But I also had to be willing to let go to make it happen.
In the ensuing years, I have been very proud to let smart people make good decisions.
To some people, I appear driven by the motivation to “get things done.” Individuals closer to me know that I always try to do the right thing for my clients. Doing the right thing for our clients is core to our entire decision making. That culture is who we are, more than policy and procedure manuals. Making sure the management team executes this philosophy on a daily basis is what will lead the company’s direction going forward.
So in the last few years, as I take more vacation and don’t arrive at 6:30 a.m. like I did for the first 30 years of my career, I hope I have also allowed others to step up. There is a business reason for my vacations. Even though I am always available by phone or email, our team knows that I trust them to handle things. And when I am not in, I certainly am not micromanaging. Letting other people do things a different way than I would have done is difficult. But necessary.
I always like to say that succession planning means not being necessary for all decisions. It means being willing to give over portions of control in order to empower the next leaders. As I have let my staff know over the last few years, my goal is to be wanted in our office, but not necessarily needed.
In summary, hire good people. Train them well, not only about policies and procedures, but also about the culture. Delegate and don’t second-guess. Nurture, don’t boss. Then take joy in seeing others grow and develop, and hopefully our business will be doing the same.