Succession planning is a strategy and process for preparing new leaders to take over the leadership, and often the ownership, of a company as its previous leaders leave, retire, or die.
A recent Google search showed me that most of the resources available on the internet about succession planning focus on the human resources element: talent identification and development.
A brand can also facilitate succession or hamper this kind of business transition.
Here, I provide a brand-centric viewpoint on succession planning, including five concrete things a leadership team can do to leverage a brand to support successful succession.
Types of succession planning
Three general types of succession occur, and each needs a plan:
- Emergency—the fabled “CEO gets hit by a bus” scenario. An interim leadership plan should be in place, along with an associated communications plan.
- Planned Transition—the current leadership has a known “expiry date” and succession has a defined timeline with milestones to meet along the way.
- Strategic Leadership Development—the proactive ongoing development of leaders, including identifying future leaders (or leadership gaps) and a strategy to nurture emerging leaders into specific roles.
The five tips I provide later are most relevant in the planned and strategic succession plans. In emergencies, a solid brand platform provides the stability of a set of values and beliefs to guide decisions, as well as a tone and voice to guide communications.
When to do succession planning for a brand
If succession planning has not been an ongoing, proactive topic of discussion and planning over the decades, the brand is more likely to be directly affected by a succession process.
Two instances call for brand succession planning:
- The retiring generation of leadership wants to ensure things are well set-up for the next generation (of family or staff/employees). This motivates them to look critically at things they may have taken for granted for some years: systems, processes, the website and other marketing tools.
- A new generation of leaders has inherited an established brand and finds that something is “sticking”. The brand isn’t supporting new ideas and approaches, or is unable to shift to accommodate a changing market and customer needs.
In either case, the next generation of leadership must be deeply involved in, and feel ownership of, the brand as it evolves with the organization.
Five things to do for your brand during succession planning
As you consider the brand you are passing on or the brand you’ve inherited, these are my top five “to-dos” to ensure the brand can support a successful succession:
Evaluate Vision, Mission, and Values
Spend a session reviewing the brand’s mission, vision, and values. Compare these to what’s really happening in the business right now. Ask these questions:
- Do we all understand and agree with these statements?
- Is anything missing?
- Is anything no longer relevant?
- Does the language we express these in match who we are today?
If you cannot locate written mission, vision, and values statements, STOP and make it your first priority to establish these. These statements provide a critical touchstone to guide decision making about everything the company does and the brand conveys.
Identify Brand Equity
Set time aside to examine where the brand’s equity lies. This is often taken for granted or overlooked; being caught up in the day-to-day operations, many companies don’t recognize where real value has accrued.
Here are some questions to consider:
- What unique knowledge have we built up in our industry/market space?
- What intellectual property have we developed? (Consider information/data, resources, processes, systems, and reputation as well as patents and copyrights).
- How unique is our product, service, or offer model?
- What can we do that others cannot, or that has set us years ahead of others in the industry?
- In our segment, what are we the go-to company/brand for?
Consider what you’re offering (products and services) and how you’re offering it (offer model). Spend time evaluating how well your offering aligns with customer needs and expectations today. Ask:
- What do we offer that people want most?
- What do we offer because we feel we “have to” offer it?
- Do we have loss leaders?
- Which of our offerings are highly differentiated?
- If our offerings are not differentiated, is the way we offer them unique and valuable?
- Do we have several products/services that are usually purchased together?
- Do we have random “one-off” products/services that are only rarely purchased?
- Is it easy for new prospects to know how to engage with us? Can we make it easier?
- Is it easy for existing customers to continue to engage with us? Can we make it easier?
- How would customers most like to interact with us and receive our products/services?
Deeply Know Customer Types
An effective brand is customer centric. That doesn’t mean your customers or clients decide what the brand is—it means that the brand presents its message in ways that truly connect. Doing that well requires an intimate understanding of customers. Start by identifying the various customer groups that you serve or want to serve. (Individuals in a group are united by similar needs, buying behaviours, demographics, etc.)
For this exercise, be careful to not define your customers based on your offerings. That is, “Buyers of Widget Z” is not what we’re looking for, here. Get into your customers’ heads and out of your own for this exercise.
Answer these questions about each of those customer groups:
- How do they express/speak about the problems they have that are problems we can solve, whether or not they realize it yet?
- When they’re in the belly of those problems, what are they feeling? What emotions do they experience?
- What are all the things they already do to deal with those problems (including DIY and “do nothing”)?
- What thoughts do they have about the problem, about themselves, and about the solutions?
Now, revisit #3 (offerings)—how well do your offerings align with these customer groups?
Evaluate Brand Story and Voice
As a leadership team, set aside some hours to be curious as if you were your prospects and customers. Search on google for solutions and see what you find. Visit your website and try to have the customer’s experience as you look for a solution and figure out what steps to take.
During this time, look at the websites and brands of others in the space, then consider what story and personality your brand conveys within the market. Where does it fit? Is it what you expected? Does it align with what your customers (see #4 above) expect, need, and want?
Passing it on or moving it forward
Whether you’re being proactive to pass on a strong business to the next generation of leaders or you’ve inherited an established brand, it’s an ideal opportunity to ensure the brand supports the business’ goals and intentions.
At Phrase Strategy, we specialize in working with established companies and their leadership teams to do just that. For examples of our range of work, consider these succession planning projects:
- Guertin Lawyers—a family-owned law firm that rebranded for a new generation of leaders and clients.
- Modern Niagara—a national firm that consolidated its brand to support new goals and changing leadership.
We love learning about companies and talking about their brands. The first consultation with us is always free—please reach out.
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