Small Business Adviser
When my father, Pasquale, stepped away from his position as CEO of Trozzolo Communications Group, I added those three letters to my business card and took on some new, exciting responsibilities. This decision wasn’t a surprise. Over the past six years, we developed a succession plan that made the transition smooth not only for us but also for our clients, our employees and for the successful partnerships we’ve cultivated throughout Kansas City.
As the successor, I have a unique vantage point on the process. I believe that developing a succession plan is more than just preparation for upper management; it’s a way to give yourself, and the next generation, a greater opportunity for continued success.
I was lucky to have my dad’s guidance as I learned the ins and outs of our business. He was and remains to be a shrewd businessman, but I believe the most important lesson he taught was by example. My father believes strongly in community and connections, and encourages people to explore their own.
It’s advice that’s proven true repeatedly. Seek out and create opportunities to speak with other entrepreneurs and company leaders. Not only is it beneficial to get perspective from someone who isn’t emotionally or financially connected to your business, but it’s also a great way to expand how you think as a person and as a leader.
In business, as in life, your peers are a valuable form of support. From joining a resource-driven formal
organization to casual get-togethers over lunch, seek out connections. Your contemporaries have a great deal to teach you.
When you’re taking the helm as CEO, show your team and your customers that you’re leading the organization into the next phase of its development. I know, this is easier said than done.
Do you remember the scene in the movie “Tommy Boy” where Chris Farley’s character (a fellow Marquette grad, though I only spent four years in college) laments his inability to sell brake pads while simultaneously persuading the waitress to serve him wings after the fryers had been turned off? As this happens, his friend and assistant Richard has an epiphany: Tommy can’t sell brake pads like his dad. Instead, he has to be himself to develop the confidence to make the sales and, eventually, lead a company.
Richard’s observation is on point. Confidence makes the difference, and being yourself leads to confidence. Don’t try to act or manage the exact same way as your predecessor. Of course, it goes without saying that completely changing the way the business is run isn’t a wise decision. either. No matter what you do, keep people informed.
Your employees may have different reactions to a change in leadership. It’s human nature; some people are reinvigorated by change while others prefer constancy. Before and during succession, mitigate unease with open communication and by making special efforts to ensure that everyone feels included and informed.
It may sound crazy, but creating your own succession plan within your first few years is smart thinking. The bases are covered in the event of an emergency, but it’s also an opportunity to think critically about your company.
Succession planning is, at its core, what your goals are for the future of the business. As we all know, goals change over time. Companies grow and markets shift. Think of succession planning as another method of sharpening your competitive edge. Look over your strategy every five years or so and adjust those plans accordingly.
While you’re creating a plan and perhaps making modifications down the road, get the right people involved. Let people know if you consider them strong candidates for advancement and how they can improve within their current roles. Make your expectations clear regarding the way present actions can affect future positions.
Lastly, consult your financial and legal advisers. They will undoubtedly have recommendations for a seamless transition.
Whether you’re firmly positioned as the CEO or you’ve been designated as the next in line, know that your place in succession planning should be a hands-on role. Further your success by finding like-minded individuals and carving your own path of leadership. When it’s time to pass the torch, your knowledge can help light the way forward.