Succession planning: don’t turn it into an ego-trip

It’s simply intolerable when two institutions, both world-famous, make such a
comprehensive mess of succession planning.

Let’s start with Tony Blair. What we have witnessed is so palpably wrong that
it needs to be exposed for what it is. How can the prime minister or the
chancellor (and this is not a political view) hold their heads up either in this
country, or on the world stage, in the belief that they are handling succession
properly? They – and this also goes for anybody that might join the fray – are
perfectly aware of the discredit not only to themselves, but to the nation as
well. Egos have stood in the way of this being done properly.

This brings us to Browne. Lord Browne, (not Gordon Brown), the chief
executive of British Petroleum, has been rightly lauded as one of the most
outstanding chief executives of his generation.

How, then, was it possible that in planning his succession this great company
could seem so ill-prepared? Browne himself was disappointed with the view of his
chairman, who, in spite of Browne’s outstanding contribution to building the
organisation, was not going to break company rules and let him carry on working
beyond the age of 60.

Equally, how could the BP board be pleased with having done such an
inadequate job of preparing Browne for the bad news? And then to compound it all
by giving a search out to Anna Mann, before withdrawing it and deciding the
position was best filled by an internal candidate! To put it at its most polite,
it’s simply unprofessional.

Compare this mess with how Andy Hornby seamlessly took over from James Crosby
as CFO at HBOS. Hornby was replaced by Benny Higgins from RBS, and Crosby
stepped down to the surprise of many, including those at HBOS, at the age of 50.
That’s how it should be done.

Succession planning has never been rocket science, but these examples
demonstrate how easy it is for egos to get in the way, and how damaging that can
be for all concerned.

The message is clear: the cornerstone of career management is managing your
career, but while you are employed there is a contractual obligation to deliver
what is best for the company, and it is for the individual privately to square
that with his or her own agenda.

Andrew Garner is CEO of Garner International

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