Sometimes a telephone ring sounds ominous.  When I answered a call from Cliff last Wednesday, that proved to be the case.  “You’re not going to believe what just happened.  Jack came into my office and told me he is leaving in two weeks!  I can’t believe it – he’s the person I’ve been counting on to be my successor! Now what do I do?”

“You start looking for another one,” I replied.  “And this time, let us help you find someone who really wants to be number one of your organization and fits your culture.  Ambition may open the door.  It’s commitment that keeps what’s inside appealing.”

Whether we’re talking about family members or non-family member employees, there’s a certain process that you can go through to evaluate the will and skill of those whom you’re considering as your successor.  Analyzing each candidate’s skill sets is important yet insufficient on its own to recognize whether or not you’ve got a keeper – family member or otherwise.  So, follow these steps to rank potential successors.

  1. Develop a simple matrix. Let’s call it a “WAMP” (Where Are My People) analysis.  In the first column, list the names of the potential successors, including the names of non-family members who may serve as a bridge between you and the eventual family successor.  In the following columns, list the cultural characteristics important to your organization.  In the case of values, your snapshot evaluation is a “+” if they frequently demonstrate that value, a “-” if they usually do not demonstrate that value, and a “+/-” if sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
  2. Now add three more columns:  one for understands, one for committed, and one for capable.  Instead of a “+” or “-“, use a “Y” for yes and an “N” for no.  With each of these three factors, there is no middle ground – the answer is either yes or no.
  3. Your WAMP matrix should now look something like this:

Note that the bottom row is called the “threshold”.  This is the row that tells you what score you need.  Then you can compare the Threshold with the actual rankings to determine who is in the running, who has a ways to go, and who is not likely to get there.

  1. The +, -, and +/- scores have some wiggle room.  The Understands, Committed, and Capable evaluations have no margin for error.  If the answer to any of those questions for a selected candidate is an “N”, they should no longer be considered as a potential successor/leader for the next generation.

That takes us back to “Succession Square 1”.  If your family member is likely to be no more than an administrator, then you should give serious consideration to a succession bridge – an individual or group of individuals who can lead and guide the business to a safe landing.  While this may not be the dream route you pictured for your business, at least it’s a bridge that goes somewhere.

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