Is succession planning irrelevant?

Photo by Digital Vision./DigitalVision / Getty Images
Photo by Digital Vision./DigitalVision / Getty Images

Here’s an interesting idea - succession planning is given too much importance at businesses and may be a complete waste of time. That’s according to Lesley Uren, a management expert for PA Consulting, who argues talent management is much more important. 

Speaking to the BBC a few weeks ago, Uren said: “We are spending a lot of time looking at things such as succession planning when in reality it is probably a waste of our time.”

The comment was backed up by a recent PA Consulting survey of 70 global CEOs, which found that few of them appreciate the importance of talent management. “Talent and the way we are approaching it hasn’t really evolved since the 1940s,” said Uren. “We are still using a lot of the same processes and the same tools that were developed back then.”

The research and Uren’s comments weren’t specifically directed at family businesses, but might in fact have more relevance to them given the preoccupation of succession at many of them. One of the Uren’s points has particular resonance for family businesses and those running them: “Seventy percent of the CEOs we interviewed have a personal philosophy about the way you develop leaders which is absolutely akin to their own experience,” Uren told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. “This means that we are at risk of creating organisations full of mini-mes.”

Family Capital has spoken to many father/son and mother/daughter management partnerships at family businesses and found the tendency towards creating ‘mini-mes’ is typical. As Uren said: “We tend to duplicate our experience through our people and CEOs in particular seem to do that, which does limit what we look for.”

Uren reckons that companies need to be thinking about capabilities rather than jobs. “We should be looking at skills that we will need - like digital - and starting to find those skills in our people, rather than trying to match our people to specific jobs that don't exist in ten years’ time.”

The comments come after a recent Family Capital article that predicted CEOs at many family businesses are likely to put off succession as they live longer. Already one prominent family business is run by a 90 year-old.

Maybe it’s about time we start looking at succession in a different way...