Beat the Growth Curve by Enabling (and sustaining) Business Growth

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Every once in a while, something magnificent happens.  A company, through no fault of its own, finds itself in a situation of unexpected growth: that uncharacteristically large order, email inquiry from markets afar, or perhaps media coverage that yields a rush of customers.  As enticing as such growth can be, there is an important question that must be carefully considered: can this level of demand be sustained?

It’s easy to find joy in times of success, wanting little more than to sit back and savour the moment.  Having said that, it’s important to not fall into the trap of taking short term growth as a given for the future.  This is a dangerous approach that has been the downfall of many companies, who banked on the money before it arrived and made decisions on this basis, many of which involved outlays of cash.   Too often, the “can’t miss” opportunity is anything but, with the key unanswered question being whether or not the increased level of demand was sustainable or just a bump in the road.   Paired with this is often a lack of appreciation of what’s required to create sustainable growth over the long term.

Business leaders can take matters into their own hands to increase the likelihood of a better outcome, to effectively stay ahead of the growth curve and beat it.  The approach is built upon fundamental, good business practices; here are some tips to get you started:

  • Research always rules—when demand rises, it’s a great opportunity to find out why. This can be achieved by engaging with customers and keeping an eye on the marketplace for developments of interest.  Published research sources, industry associations, and economic analysts can bring information about key trends and how demand could be impacted.  Utilize this information to understand changes in demand for the short and long term and how your business strategy might be impacted.
  • Focus on what makes you special—every business must be able to tangibly articulate why customers should choose them, as opposed to the competition. It’s important to communicate what your company has to offer, not just in the present but also on a sustainable basis.  Focus on areas such as proprietary expertise, products, service levels, and other areas that set you apart.
  • Keep an eye on external developments—which includes emerging trends and happenings in the industry and marketplace where you do business. Look for opportunities to offer new products and services in your area and pay careful attention to changes in consumer preferences.  Too many business leaders focus the majority of their time on internal matters and can quickly find themselves out of step with opportunities in the marketplace, as well as displaced by savvy competitors who didn’t make the same mistake.
  • Accentuate the positive—increased demand can be tempting, in terms of quick decisions to scale up, buy, hire, and other expansion related steps. Conversely, a good strategy is to leverage what you already have and minimize new cost outlays.   Accentuate the positive by building on what you already have; longer business hours, a greater online presence, and making use of existing capacity are all options.  Strategic partnerships can also expand your product offering without significant costs.
  • Build the brand— ideally, it’s important to create an identity that positions your business as the “go to” provider of choice; this is key to sustaining demand for the long term. Most communities have such examples, so utilize your efforts to make your name a recognizable one.

Recognize these efforts for what they are: an investment; to take control and grow on a proactive and prolonged basis, well into the future.  Your business (and your bank account) will thank you for it.

Grow Within your Means? Yes, You Can!

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Generating growth in the business world can be a tricky thing.  Companies do whatever they can to grow, but many find themselves unprepared when success happens.  On the other hand, some businesses take mighty steps in advance of growth: hiring staff members, moving to a bigger location, and buying new equipment, only for increased sales failing to materialize.  Business leaders often struggle with which road they should take: forward, back, stay put?  Sometimes this indecision can be a good risk mitigation strategy, and at other times, it leads to opportunities being missed.

Growth, however, does not always have to involve adding significantly to a company’s expenses.  This might sound surprising, but by applying some careful thought and creativity, it is possible.  The potential is compelling, as in situations where revenues increase and expenses decrease, profits can multiply in ways that you might not have thought possible.  There are ways to generate growth by getting the most out of what a company already has and is likely still paying for; and however you look at it, it’s a great time to grow:

  • Utilize your existing workforce to the fullest—hiring staff members is a long term commitment, so ensure that you are not using it to resolve a short term problem. Each and every staff member should be fully utilized with a meaningful workload, so identify inefficiencies and work smarter.  Using cross-training and reassignment of tasks across departments and hiring part time/contract staff during peak periods can all help.  Standardized procedures, templates, and documents can be used repeatedly and eliminate the wasted time associated with “reinventing the wheel”.  Ensuring that staff members have the right technology to increase productivity is a must, recognizing that more is not always better.
  • Take a fresh look at your premises— consider reorganizing work schedules, adding shifts, or servicing customer markets that could be accessed during off hours. Ensuring that your online and social media presences are as robust as possible also represent opportunities to spur growth.
  • Take things in stride—turbo speed growth isn’t always the best approach, as it can be difficult (and risky) to service and maintain. Long term success is often better achieved by taking a gradual approach, raising the likelihood of profitable growth that is also cash flow positive.  View this as creating the basis for the next level of expansion.
  • Look to fill product and service gaps—identifying partners who have products and services that fit well with your own, or would be of interest in your marketplace, can be a great way to grow. Each partner works within their own resources, but benefits from offering products and services to each others’ customers.  It’s also no secret that groups who work together can generate additional productivity, simply by collaborating and working smart.
  • Take a short term focus—view growth as a series of small steps or advancements. Stay away from long term facility commitments and equipment loans, as they are expenditures that remain well into the future.  Generate growth that has a likelihood of being sustainable over at least a moderate period of time, such as a couple of years, before committing into the long term.  This approach can be repeated over the years, resulting in managed growth that mitigates risk.

Much of what is required to achieve success in this regard is not glamorous, but rather, represents good, fundamental business practices.  Take stock of what you have, make it run like a charm, utilize it to the fullest, and monitor, measure, and refine.  Do it well and be prepared to welcome the kind of growth that will be with you for years to come.

Speaking Tour, Day 4

DAW traveled to Toronto for the fourth and final stop on the Fall, 2015 speaking tour.  We were greeted by sunny, warm weather and an enthusiastic group; a great way to end our tour.  The mix of participants in the room, the services they provide, and their client experiences always make the sessions interesting and unique.  Recognizing that a real opportunity exists to build a growing client base for the long term is an exciting prospect!

Key thing to think about for Day 4: It’s been raised on every stop of this tour that some clients tend to fall into the same difficulties time and time again; why is this the case?  Much of what needs to be learned represents a mind shift, a new way of thinking, and although these concepts might be understandable, they can be very difficult to put into practice.  This is just one reason why advisors have an important role to play in supporting and coaching their clients to meet and beat the challenges they face.

Thanks everyone who came out to see us, participated, and stopped by to share experiences and tell us that they enjoyed the day.  It means the world to us!

Speaking Tour, Day 2

The second day of the Distinguished Advisor Family Business and Year End Tax Planning Workshop was in Vancouver; thanks to everyone who participated!  I’m always interested to hear the questions that are raised, as well as the experiences that advisors have with their clients.  This active, in the field interaction helps to keep my presentations practical and real, as I believe that this experience puts advisors in the best position to help others.

Key thing to think about for Day 2: Investor ready business planning isn’t just for start up and early stage companies; it is also extremely important for growth stage businesses, as well as those that are considering succession. As I’ve raised on every stop of this tour, the vast majority of business plans I’ve seen in my career are not investor ready (most are nowhere near ready!), and this is a significant problem for those seeking capital.  I’ve developed an approach based on my years in the venture capital industry, so if you’re going to invest the time to develop a business plan, do it the investor ready way!

Thanks to the Vancouver Club for their hospitality.  Up next: Calgary

Speaking Tour, Day 1

 

A big thank you to everyone who joined us in Winnipeg yesterday for the kick off of the Distinguished Advisor Workshop Family Business and Year End Tax Planning session.  Lots of lively discussion and great questions in my sessions!  The real benefit of attending this type of event is being in a better position to help clients improve what they do, fuel successful growth, and generate business for both clients and their advisors over the long term.

Key thing to think about after Day 1: How to put your business clients in the best position to capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace.  As far as I’m concerned, someone will benefit from marketplace opportunities; why not your company?  I’ve developed strategies to help companies do exactly that, so contact me directly for assistance with your business.

Thanks to the Manitoba Club for such a great venue!  Up next: Vancouver!

Coming to a City Near You!

ThinkstockPhotos-153961287I’m pleased to be on the road again this Fall with the Distinguished Advisor Workshop (DAW). Our Family Business & Year End Tax Planning sessions will take place in Winnipeg (Oct 27), Vancouver (Oct 28), Calgary (Oct 29), and Toronto (Nov 2), so be sure to confirm your spot today!
My sessions are all about building a more independent company; from business planning in a manner that resonates well with investors, to taking the right steps to increase capacity to generate growth beyond what a business leader alone can achieve. As an experienced advisor, I’m able to bring practical strategies to help leaders overcome the typical growth related challenges and setbacks that occur along the way.  This is powerful leverage for achieving success in a competitive world!
As part of our session, we will ask participants to identify the “one big thing” that they could do to help make their company more independent. Have you considered this lately?

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 2)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

If succession planning is a challenge for business leaders, potential successors might describe the process as mysterious.  While a business leader or founder has typically been at the helm of a company for some time (if not a prolonged period of time, in many cases), potential successors are often just trying to find a way to get to the table.  One day, the founder is keen to “step back” from the company, while the next day, “retirement” seems vague and far in the future.  For someone wanting to aspire to a leadership (and ownership) role, this type of situation can be a difficult to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Whether a potential successor is a longstanding “2-IC” (2nd in Command), management team group, or family member, their vantage point might provide relatively little information in terms of how the company actually operates, the business leader’s true expectations around succession, and what it would actually take for a transaction to occur.  Add in the mixed messages that can be so common with the issue of succession and it might be enough to cause a potential successor to scramble for the door, vowing to create an opportunity all their own (and on their own terms).

This reality should be sufficient to get the attention of business leaders who are contemplating succession, if not outright relying on it as a means to monetize their ownership position.  Given that a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (1) found that the top barrier to succession planning is finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), those seeking to exit their business should recognize that finding (and keeping) a potential successor is not to be taken lightly.  Unfortunately, too many potential successors find just the opposite to be the case.

The Successor Perspective

Something that many potential successors have in common is that they are keen; to implement their ideas, take the company in a new direction, and just “get started”.  Many have a reasonable expectation that succession will occur at some point in time, either by virtue of previous conversations on the topic, or perhaps, in the case of a family business, where succession is “expected”.  Call it an informal succession plan.

As a result, potential successors want to better understand how and when a transaction might occur.

This is particularly true in the case of individuals who have invested a number of years working in a company, learning how it operates and directly contributing to building its wealth.  They reach a certain age or point in their careers when they truly need to know: (i) if a succession opportunity actually exists; (ii) when it would occur; and (iii) what the financial implications would be, particularly in terms of the cost to undertake the transaction.  In the absence of this information, a successor’s next best alternative is to move on to other opportunities, and given the effort they have invested in building the company (often, to the direct benefit of a shareholder group in which they are not included), this is understandable.

The Opportunity

Identifying a qualified and willing successor is only the beginning of the succession process, as there is often still plenty of learning to do in order to fully assume and conduct the leadership role.  But even before this can happen, the parties need to be able to arrive at an agreeable value and the successor has to have the ability to pay, either by way of their own funds or through securing financing (in the absence of either of these options, it often comes down to the departing business leader to agree to be paid over time).  Since the  Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey found that valuing the business (54%) and securing financing for the successor (48%) are the second and third highest reported barriers to succession planning, all involved in the process need to take note.

For potential successors to chart their course, there are a number of things that can be done on a proactive basis to better understand the particulars of the opportunity, as well as getting a plan into place.  Seeking advice from those who have undertaken or financed business transactions can help to bring context to the situation, in terms of its appeal and how to help move the process forward.  Here’s how:

Look in the mirror. The truth is, not everyone is cut out for a leadership role. Leading a company, in terms of both the role and ownership aspects, can be significantly different from the experiences of a potential successor thus far, including the scope of responsibility, level of risk, and degree of commitment.  As an example, in the event of insufficient cash flow, owners typically bear the responsibility to inject additional funds or decrease their own compensation to cover shortfalls.  This type of uncertainty might fall outside of a potential successor’s risk tolerance level.

Potential successors need to take a hard look at all aspects of assuming a leadership role, objectively balancing both the risks and rewards of ownership.  Advisors can help by providing independent feedback or helping successors to undertake a self assessment to better understand the types of roles in which they fit best, before proceeding any further.

Assess the situation objectively. Due to the inherent uncertainty that often clouds the succession process, potential successors need to be able to get to the heart of the situation, to first understand whether or not an opportunity actually exists.  This uncertainty is a relatively common frustration, and the reality is that succession is only going to happen if a business leader is committed to undertaking the process.

Advisors can help potential successors to see the situation for what it is, as well as suggest approaches to further discussions with the business leader or how succession could occur.  In addition, successors might need to take action to put the situation in context, by identifying other possible succession opportunities as a comparison.  Although business leaders might not like this very much, the reality is that there are situations where succession simply will not occur, no matter how much a founder might indicate otherwise.

Communicate.  Given that succession can be a sensitive topic, it’s not uncommon for the parties to have difficulty having meaningful conversations around the issue; this can be particularly true in family businesses.  Since succession represents a complex business transaction with numerous details to be considered and negotiated, it won’t just magically happen.  Given the sensitivities, these conversations tend to get deferred and delayed, making succession seem less likely as each day passes.

Starting the succession dialogue between the parties is critical, to map out an agreeable approach, but to also identify situations where an arrangement might not be possible, allowing both sides to pursue other opportunities.  Advisors can help to start the conversation in a non-confrontation manner, in an attempt to find common ground, where it exists, and cover off areas that need to be addressed.  This approach can also help to fill in knowledge and experience gaps that are common in the case of potential successors.

Financial implications. Discussing money is often tough, not just because of the calculations and various financing structures, but simply because the parties might find it difficult on a personal level.  In the case of family businesses, parents might be sensitive to the financial situation of their children, while the next generation might be concerned about not “offering enough” as compensation for all of the work that has been put in to building the company.  Couple this with a founder’s understandable desire to receive fair compensation to finance the retirement they have been dreaming of and negotiations can stall.

Potential successors often do not have a lot of experience in this area, and financial partners can be helpful in terms of transferring knowledge and suggesting approaches that could meet the needs of all parties.  Regardless, those who are serious about taking on a leadership and ownership role at some point in the future need to ensure that their professional development program includes business financing, sooner rather than later.

Although it’s true that good successors are in short supply, all potential successors need to take a hard look at not only what is required of them, but also whether or not the opportunity at hand is viable.  In times of investment (and that’s what succession is), bringing a professional approach to the table is a must to ensure that the right deal gets done.

Source:

Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

The Executive Edge (Market Focus)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

As much as executives have to manage what’s going on inside a company, external developments and the environment at large are at least as important, if not more.  If being in business is all about developing and delivering products and services, it is the marketplace (including customers and competitors) that makes this effort relevant.  Think about it; in the absence of a customer need for a particular product or service, businesses really don’t have much to offer.  Similarly, the presence (or absence) of competitors can also determine whether or not a company has a meaningful market opportunity.  This reality should be a humbling reminder for all executives.

Successful business leaders know that it’s critical to pay close attention to what’s going on outside of their company; committing at least 50% of their time to keeping a close eye on the external environment.  This includes monitoring things like customer preferences and demand levels, competitive developments, and emerging trends on a number of fronts, including consumer behavior, product development, regulatory matters, technology, and economic conditions.  Staff members at a less senior level might think that these areas don’t have much to do with “making the product”, but in fact, it is the marketplace that should drive a company’s internal efforts.  Afterall, what is the value of a product or service that no one wants, is obsolete, or readily available through multiple sources?

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including, risk management, generating results, and communication.  Here’s more about why successful executives understand the importance of integrating an external focus into their perspective.

Where it Goes Wrong

Companies have a tendency to get caught up in internal matters, including roles, staffing, and “the way we do things around here”.  Another area where businesses often spend a lot of time (and in many cases, too much time) is in contemplating the products and services that they deliver, particularly when technology is involved.  Although having great products and services is important, the level of effort in this area can at times far exceed what is actually required, often due to the natural passion so often associated with invention, as well as this area being at the core of how many businesses were founded.  Couple this with attention grabbers such as personalities, politics, and other people related issues and the risk of distraction from what really matters can soar.

When business leaders spend too much time focusing on the company and don’t pay enough attention to the external marketplace, they run the very real risk of the business veering off course and becoming out of step with the needs and expectations of customers.  In addition, less attention is paid to competitive and other market developments, which can result in displacement of position, as well as a decreasing relevance to customers.  And make no mistake, this can happen quickly!

Get the Executive Edge

Learning how to take a balanced perspective, including both internal and external viewpoints, takes practice and can be a significant shift from that of less senior roles, where the focus is typically more internal.  Here’s how to start developing the ability to have a greater external focus:

  • Understand the meaning of “industry”. An industry is a segment of the economy, where a company operates in its broadest sense, and is typically considered on a global or continental level.  Although some might ask “how does what’s going on half-way around the world impact my business?”, it actually does, particularly in terms of consumer and technological trends and developments.  Learn about the industry in which your company operates and monitor developments on a regular basis.
  • Understand the meaning of “market”. The market is the next level down from the industry, and often encompasses the area within which a company operates on a national or regional basis. Closer to home, developments are very relevant, particularly in terms of competitors and customer preferences.  Within markets, companies can chart an expansion strategy.  Consider this in the context of your business.
  • Articulate the target market.  The target market includes potential and current customers, and businesses need to have a strong understanding of developments and attitudes towards the company.  Know who your target market is, the potential for growth, and the level of satisfaction with your company’s products and services.
  • Stay connected with customers. Finding ways to connect with customers on a regular basis is a great way to integrate an external focus into your role.  Customer service calls, surveys, appreciation events, and seminars/training can be great ways to interact, receive feedback, and “be seen”.  Make a conscious effort to be active within your company’s customer base.
  • Get involved on an external level. Taking an active role in industry or community associations, participating in events, and networking help to keep the level of internal focus in check and provide a different perspective. Seek out these opportunities and choose wisely.

Over time, it’s not uncommon to notice a shift in terms of how time is spent and the increased external perspective that is generated.  A balanced approach is powerful, so make a real effort to “look out the window” every day.

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 1)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

Business succession planning is tricky; part old, part new, part money, part emotion; it’s no wonder that so many business leaders put it off.  The reality is that an abundance of Canada’s small to medium sized businesses (more than half, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business) don’t have a succession plan at all.  Since companies in this category are responsible for generating approximately one half of the Canadian economy, there is undoubtedly cause for concern.

Consider some of the key survey findings (1):

  • 51% of business leaders surveyed indicated that they don’t have a business succession plan.  Of the 49% that have a plan, only 9% have a formal, written plan
  • Approximately 48% of business leaders plan to exit their company within the next five years
  • 48% plan to exit their business by selling to buyers unrelated to their family, while approximately 37% plan to sell or transfer the business to family members
  • The top barriers to succession planning include finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), valuing the business (54%), and securing financing for the successor (48%)

Those who have even a moderate interest in the issue of business succession likely realize that various surveys and sources of information have yielded similar results.  Delving beneath the surface, however, reveals interesting implications for business leaders, their potential successors, and those who seek to finance the transition, some of which should be sufficient to kick-start those seeking an exit anytime soon into action.

The Business Leader Perspective

Since over 85% of business leaders surveyed identified retirement as their reason for exit, it stands to reason that many have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into building their company.  As a result, a transfer of ownership represents the primary opportunity to monetize value that has appreciated over what could be a lengthy period of time.  Although this increase might be significant as compared to that of inception, business leaders are often dissatisfied with the offers they receive, which reinforces the need for thorough, early, and practical succession planning to maximize value wherever possible.

What’s even more compelling is how dependent a business leader’s ability to cash out at what they consider to be an acceptable value actually is upon the ability to identify a potential successor who has the: (i) skills to lead the business; (ii) interest in doing so; and (iii) ability to secure financing.  This is a tall order, since many successor candidates might only meet one or two of these requirements.  Couple this with a lack of experience in terms of developing a business plan to take a company forward in a manner that provides the necessary level of comfort to secure enough financing to close the deal.  In the absence of third party financing, business leaders are left with the gamble of whether or not the company, under new leadership, will be able to generate a sufficient amount of cash over time to pay what could be a significant portion of the proceeds related to the transfer of ownership, a scenario that doesn’t end well far too often.

The Opportunity

Business leaders and those in the financing field both have a vested interest in terms of how Canada’s succession planning future plays out; the former wants to cash out and the latter wants to roll cash back in.  In order to avoid a time-consuming stalemate in a situation where time is of the essence, an opportunity exists to help potential successors become real successors, by providing the tools to take companies forward; the right skills, plan, and leadership ability (and a bit of extra effort to help get the deal past the goal line wouldn’t hurt!).  Here’s how:

Business leader skills. Many potential successors have played a second tier role in their careers, without having had the opportunity to ascend to the CEO level. Since the top job can be quite different from what has been the experience thus far, potential successors need a transfer of knowledge, mentoring, and practice in abundance, prior to formally assuming the CEO role.

Existing business leaders can help by creating professional development plans, delegating areas of responsibility in a meaningful way, and taking the time to provide practical mentorship.  Potential successors often complain that leaders don’t take the time to provide meaningful coaching; sadly, this is too often the case.  Doing so can be the difference between a well prepared leader and one who stumbles out of the gate.

Investor ready business planning. Many potential successors don’t have experience with developing a business plan that is sufficient to secure financing, let alone the process of raising capital.  Business leaders who have lost interest in the company, not stepped up internal planning and control processes, or haven’t had the need to seek financing for long periods of time don’t help the process, resulting in a lack of information and competitive positioning to develop a compelling business plan.

Business leaders can make sound business planning a reality by ensuring that the right systems and information are in place within the company to support successors in putting together a plan that can be financed.  Making the effort to critique existing business models, consider new markets, and understand important industry developments can help to identify opportunities for the company well into the future, all of which bodes well with financial partners, and, in turn, benefits those who are seeking to exit.

Leadership ability. Those who have spent years at the helm of a company understand the importance of leadership skills, particularly in terms of the impact to the business as a whole.  Being a good manager doesn’t ensure that a company will be well led, a reality that is too often overlooked when passing the torch.

Recognizing the value of practical leadership development programs and forums and encouraging involvement can help to groom the business leaders of tomorrow.  Starting well in advance and providing practical opportunities to put learning into practice are not only a powerful combination for success, this approach can also identify situations where an individual is not a good fit for a leadership role.  Business leaders that do not encourage this type of development are effectively “boxing themselves in”, in terms of viable succession options.

Facilitating the exit. Financial partners can work with companies approaching (or well past) the need for succession by bringing options to the table, in terms of acquisitions, mergers, successor candidates, and other types of transactions.  In the case where financial partners identify “to do” items to improve a company or go-forward plan to the point where a succession transaction could be financed, facilitating the introduction to advisors who can help makes all the difference, as the complexities of the succession and financing processes make it difficult for business leaders and potential successors to identify the right advisory resources.

The reality is that business leaders have to “help potential successors to help them”; the same is true for financial partners.  In the absence of this approach, it might be difficult to affect a successful transfer of ownership in many cases.  Seasoned business leaders know that a big part of their role is to create an environment that will make those around them successful; addressing the issue of succession really isn’t any different, in this regard.

Where does this leave potential successors?  This topic will be considered in the next installment of The Succession Conundrum.

Source:

(1)  Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

Does your CEO Successor have the Right Stuff? Avoid these 5 candidate types when selecting a potential successor

Published by Divestopedia

For many reasons, business leaders can find themselves at a loss when trying to identify a potential successor.  Part of this could be due to the founder having started the business many years ago and building the leadership role around himself.  Similarly, a particular business can be so synonymous with its founder, that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else actually taking the company forward.  Sounds typical, right?

What does this mean in practical terms, when a business leader is in the process of seeking a potential successor to assume their role?  Financial and transactional issues aside, ensuring that potential leadership candidates are truly CEO material is a key issue; one that often gets clouded by other matters, leaving the business leader in a state of confusion.  Combine this with probably not allowing sufficient time to undertake the succession planning process and watch the desperation begin to appear.  Suddenly, potential successors start to look a lot more ideal than they actually are.

Here’s the reality of the leadership role: CEO’s require the ability to oversee a company across all functional areas, including administration, sales and marketing, finance, products and services, as well as liaising with various external parties, such as financial partners, customers, and regulators.  As a result, a CEO is not typically on the “front line” of delivering services; rather, they reside a level or two above the action so that they have the right sightline to oversee all key areas and resources.

So, if you’re not sure who your successor should be, start off by understanding who the next CEO shouldn’t be.  The following types of candidates typically don’t represent a good choice:

Can’t let go of the detail—some people work at their best on the front line, analyzing information, understanding detailed problems, and perhaps working directly with customers. Their focus is narrow (i.e., departmental, as opposed to organizational), and they might even regard tasks that fall outside of their direct area of focus as an interruption or annoyance.

Although they often excel in their current role, these people, by their very definition, typically don’t make good CEO’s.  The reality is they lack the skills or interest to oversee a company across various functional areas and are at their best when working in a specialized area, such as product development, sales, or technology.  Lots of businesses make the mistake of promoting this type of person to a broader, more senior role than they can handle, when they probably should have been left in their current position.

Winner by popularity alone—taking the approach that being a CEO is all about being popular and liked might be more common than expected. The reality is, CEO’s often have to make tough decisions that won’t be popular, but are in the best interest of the company.  Selecting a successor because “he’s a great guy” or “people will like her” isn’t a good approach.  What a potential successor can bring to the role is what really matters, so don’t get caught up in polls and popularity contests.

Winner by family alone—family businesses bring an added layer of complexity to the succession planning process, and if the goal is to have the company survive for the long term, being a family member isn’t reason enough to be its next leader. Again, skills, experience, and what is in the best interest of the business should prevail, unless you want to be one of those companies that doesn’t last for generations.

Thinks the product is the business—although products and services are an important component of any company, they do not represent the whole company. In the absence of cash in the bank, the ability to invoice and receive payments from customers, a qualified sales force, reliable distribution, and sound operating systems, the product or service alone, in relative terms, isn’t worth much.  Good successor candidates understand how a company as a whole operates and all of the pieces that are needed to operate a business, as opposed to just focusing on products and services.

Doesn’t have a long term focus—leading a company requires the ability to see not only where you are, but also where you are going. Real growth typically doesn’t happen in the short term, and with business cycles fluctuating over time, a good CEO needs to have the patience and ability to ride it out and take the company forward.  Potential successors that are not able to do this typically lack the long term commitment and stability that are required in the CEO role.

Surprised by this list?  The reality is that many business leaders don’t think about succession from this perspective; it’s more about “who do I know?” or “who is the best fit from what we currently have?”.  Instead, it’s best to take a more strategic approach and seek out candidates who really have the right stuff to thrive in the CEO role, now and well into the future.