When it comes to work and life, there are many conversations about what's next. Many of these conversations, however, take place within our minds and are often fear-based repetitions of what we worry about. If you stick with the fear-based repetitions of what you don't want, the payoff is that you don't have to make difficult decisions or have uncomfortable conversations. Welcome to the human race!
What would you notice if you put a microphone on the internal conversations? Rather than push the nagging thoughts aside, what if you actually verbalized them? It is often what we don't want that begins the articulation of what we do want. And once you start verbalizing what's next for you, based on what you want, the brain kicks into a higher gear to align your thoughts, words, and actions to generate what you want.
So how does this apply to succession planning? With succession planning there is the added human element of our mortality, with retirement a milestone closer to death than birth. The conversation for leaders on both sides of the baton passing takes on the tone of what's after retirement -- a bit more significant than what's next. Words matter, and the various definitions of "to retire" can help shine light on why it can be difficult for people to engage in planning around a leader's retirement. Here are some of the definitions found on dictionary.com:
to withdraw, or go away or apart
to go to bed
to withdraw from office, business, or active life, usually because of age
to withdraw (a machine, ship, etc.) permanently from its normal service, usually for scrapping; take out of use
Wow! No wonder retirement is difficult to talk about. It's about withdrawing from active life, going to bed and being taken out of service for scrapping. Or at least that is where the fear-based conversations might take people.
Interested in having it go a different way?
The opportunity is to deliberately and compassionately take on succession leadership, with people on both sides of the baton shifting how they relate to the exchange that will occur when a company leader retires. Many succession plans are based on the financial aspects of a person exiting the ownership of a business and a timeline to pass on institutional knowledge. What many succession plans fail to address is the very personal and human experience of the ending of a career. If you are the person retiring, the opportunity is to design what retirement looks like for you, to celebrate decades of accomplishment rather than dread the retirement party, and to grieve the ending of a significant way in which you have experienced your value.
If you are the person stepping into leadership, the opportunity is to be ready as a company for what's after by doing the deliberate work, well in advance of a leader's retirement. This includes having conversations with the retiring leader and engaging in strategic planning that includes culture by design and a fresh look at the company's vision and purpose.
By allowing the human side of succession planning, succession leadership is what will have the next generation effectively take the baton from the previous generation. The retiring leader will see a legacy of success being honored while the emerging leaders feel free to propel the company into its future.