There’s something eerie about the sound of wind high in the trees, shaking the last crackling leaves to the ground, mingled with the remaining bird calls, cricket chirps, and wind chimes of summer. I am struck with the dichotomy of this relationship: the departure of one thing and the ushering in of another – both fighting for their space while one fades and another becomes more dominant.
Just as fall and winter will surely replace the final warm days of summer – at least here in the Midwest – so it must be when individuals retire from long-held positions. It might seem like one can’t exist when the other is present (the old guard and the new), but in some ways, they can and should. It’s not possible to make this transition successful without some collaboration and aligned co-existence.
Plan ahead – way ahead. This is one big key to ensuring a successful succession outcome for all parties involved and for your firm as a whole. Discuss as a partner and leadership group your planned retirement date (project it if you’re unsure). For any leader with a retirement date in the next three years, a plan should be made related to duties that need to transition, a list of possible candidates for all or portions of those duties, and an approximate transition date for each (to be solidified as the plan unfolds). An adequate timeframe allows everyone – including clients – the opportunity to get used to the idea of things with declining involvement from the retiree and also ensures that every piece of the puzzle has been accounted for.
Be open to new ways of doing things. As you dive into the process of succession, there will be conflicts about which individual has the “best” approach to particular tasks. While it’s not necessarily “up to” the retiree to determine how things will occur in the future, listening to their expertise is important, especially as it relates to how they handled partner, client, and alliance partner relationships. On the other hand, it’s possible for the “new guard” to have as good or better ways for them personally to take over certain tasks. You aren’t transitioning to your clone, so consider each other’s wisdom and allow the successor, within reason, to do it their way.
Honor each other and the emotions that will crop up for all parties. Being honest and vulnerable with the successor, the succeeding individual, and the rest of your team will allow everyone to let go of uncertainties and fears about the future. It’s not just the one retiring who will have mixed emotions! The successor, partners, staff, and administrators will have their share of apprehension. Find a forum for open communication, such as a monthly transition meeting, where all can share and discuss solutions to concerns.
Celebrate it! Each stage of the transition can be a reason to rejoice. For me, without a positive outlook, fall can be depressing – the time of year when everything dies. Instead of the succession being the end of something, ponder the ways it is also the beginning of something new and different – hopefully a great period in your career and life! For more on this idea, read Jennifer Wilson’s blog on Letting Go Gracefully.
Do you have an upcoming transition in your firm or your life? How do you feel about it? What will make it a success for you? What tips do you have from a previous transition? Please share your thoughts on this subject by posting a comment!