SAD Times

What Price Successor?

Someday you won't be there. Make sure whoever will be is ready for the task.

If you're running a successful company, no one has to tell you about the importance of planning. But one area of planning many entrepreneurs overlook is grooming the next generation of leaders and managers for their organizations.

"Any leader's final legacy is building the next generation," says Tom L. Hoskison, managing partner of Express Consulting Services, a human resources consulting firm in Oklahoma City. "And they need to prepare that next generation of leaders to go beyond what they've done."

Hoskison says you should designate your successor long before your own departure, whether you're looking at retirement or considering starting another venture. The person you select should have both the ability and the willingness to do the job; once you've chosen your successor, you need to prepare him or her to take over. "The best way to do that is through experience," Hoskison says. He recommends a hands-on, planned rotation through the key areas of the company to build the necessary and appropriate skills. It also helps to let others in the company, as well as your customers, know what you're doing.

"This person needs to be clearly the heir apparent," Hoskison says. "The smaller the organization, the more important that is." Other employees and even customers will usually be enthusiastic about helping the up-and-coming leader and contributing to a seamless transition when the time comes. Also, when an individual knows he or she is next in line, that person's loyalty to the organization is greatly strengthened.

Hoskison suggests five years or less as the ideal time frame for designating and developing a new leader. "If you take longer than five years, the enthusiasm for the new role will wear off," he says. "Also, you'll be developing a person who will probably be recruited away from you. Most people aren't patient enough to wait more than five years to take over."

Don't confuse grooming your company's next leader with developing managers. "Leaders set the tone, the vision and the direction of the organization," says Hoskison. "They're the people who are out in front, leading the charge, and usually in a small organization, there's only one of those. You may have several managers; they're the ones who manage individual activities. They also need to be developed and trained so they're prepared for the future."

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This article was originally published in the November 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: SAD Times.

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