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From Mahabharata to now, very few have got Succession Planning Right!

Source | LinkedIn : By Prasanth Nair

In the great epic Mahabharata – cousins fight war for the kingdom and throne. Although driven by several factors, one of the root causes for the dispute is getting the succession planning wrong. In the last few months – from politics to corporates – we have been witness to cases where succession planning has not gone as per plan. Even though we are aware of those cases which have been covered in media, the fact is there are lot of other firms and organizations that are facing these challenges.

From Mahabharata to now, why do only few get it right in Succession Planning? Seen from this perspective, I mention some points which are not necessary answers but probes which may induce thinking especially in corporates.

1.      Can a promoter or founder completely exit and what does a partial exit mean – We have seen cases where a promoter or founder stepping back, and appointing someone to lead the organization. Given the high power distance and high attachment syndrome existing in our society, is it possible for the promoter to have a full exit? There are cases where the promoter takes on the mantle of a mentor. We need to realize that the dynamics surrounding the full exit and partial exit are different, especially to the person appointed to lead the organization.

2.      The thin line between mentor and backroom driving: Taking the line of thought further, there exists a thin line difference between what constitutes mentoring and what is backroom driving. I believe there is nothing right or wrong in either – as long as it is clear and understood by all.  Even in Mahabharata– What was Krishna’s role? Was he a mentor or more of a non-playing captain?

3.      Difficulty of ‘letting go’ – Can we let go? Why don’t we let go? Is it attachment? Is it fear of not being able to control legacy? Is it fear of being stripped of identify? Is it better to ‘let go’ or should there be oversight? Actually there is no one right “model”, but individuals involved need to understand ‘self’ and then take the right decisions based on context.

4.      Alignment of both ‘Stated and unstated’ expectations: Given the need to work closely, the promoter and successor need to align the expectations. While the public and stated expectations are easy to understand and work on, it is often the unstated and private expectations that are more important and create challenges. Try to discover and state the same so that the successor can clearly understand the deliverables.

5.      Important realizations: A promoter who appoints a successor needs to realize two key things.

a.      ‘She or He’ is not ‘You’:  The person appointed should not and will not a mirror image of the promoter. He/she will have his/her style and preferences and as long as the expectations are aligned, one should be fine with same.

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