How are you doing with succession planning? Do you have a plan for how your organisation will not only continue to exist, but actually continue to grow when you eventually step down?
Here’s a lesson I’ve learned from football. Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful football manager of modern times. He was manager of Manchester United for 26 years. During that time he led them to an unprecedented era of success; 13 League Titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 European Cups. He stepped down in summer 2013, having won the 13th League Title that season. The following year, with David Moyes in charge, United finished 7th in the league. After that with Louis Van Gaal they finished 4th. Currently they’re 5th in the league, as at February 2016. They’ve not won anything since Fergie left, they’re on their 2nd manager, probably shortly to be their 3rd, and the club have undeniably gone backwards. They’re no longer winning trophies, and they’re no longer playing the attacking brand of football their fans crave. By any measure of success, they’ve stopped being successful since Fergie moved on.
The only comparable run of success to this in English football is Liverpool FC, during the 31 years from 1959-1990. In this time they won 13 League Titles, 4 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 4 European Cups. During this period they had four managers; Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. But Shankly did a unique thing at the start of his reign in 1959. He began a tradition that became known as the Liverpool Boot Room. After each home game the four or five most senior coaches at the club would dissect the match, talking freely about tactics, performance and lessons learned. Through the Boot Room the club built up a huge repository of knowledge, and ensured continuity as new managers were promoted from within, having spent years in effect training for the job. The system came to an end in 1990, when Liverpool chose Boot Room outsider Graham Souness to take over from Dalglish. The Boot Room system was dropped, and Liverpool haven’t won the league since.
So what can this teach you about succession planning? You need to create your own Boot Room environment in your organisation; a place where the senior leadership meet regularly, in private, and can speak totally freely about tactics, strategy, personnel and forensically analyse how to make constant improvements. Doing that will not only improve your ongoing performance in the short term, it will also give you a regular flow of leaders who can one day assume the top position at the organisation, solving your succession planning headache for the long term.
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.