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Succession planning essential in business

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By Johanne Bouchard Explore Big Sky Business Columnist

One aspect of effective business leadership is having a succession plan. It’s important to decide who can step into leadership roles when uncontrollable events threaten to throw business – and life – off course. I’ve been thinking about this in the wake of three recent and abrupt passings.

First, Google executive Dan Fredinburg was killed April 25 in a Mount Everest avalanche during the cataclysmic earthquake in Nepal. Then on May 1, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg died after a gym accident while vacationing at a luxury resort in Mexico. Shortly after, I received word that a friend had passed suddenly after a disease he’d been fighting rapidly accelerated.

While I’m reluctant to spread gloom by citing these events, the truth is that uncontrollable incidents occur that can significantly impact our lives, and the lives of others. When you’re in a business leadership position, people rely on you for guidance, to sign checks, or provide access to a building or files.

You also have a responsibility to consider how your business will proceed in your absence. It can be difficult to consider worst-case scenarios, but protecting yourself, your employees and your business is imperative.

As an owner, you need to think about making your business sustainable without your leadership, whether the circumstances are temporary or permanent. You must determine who will take over and have the ability to ensure minimal disruption if, for example, you decide to take an extended holiday, you need to switch gears for a time, or you decide to retire.

If you’re walking away permanently, you must decide whether you will sell to an employee, a family member or an industry player, or dissolve the business altogether. Make sure your company is fully considered in your will or estate plan. Everybody’s strategy will look different, but having a plan is critical, and it should be in writing.

As an executive, there may be a time when you suddenly decide to retire or accept another position. Having already identified and groomed individuals that could take over for you will minimize the impact of your departure. If you take a leave of absence, determine who can cover in the interim without jeopardizing your job security or the important business progress you’ve made.

Also, consider if your business partner or direct subordinate unexpectedly left, necessitating that you quickly increase your bandwidth: Whom else could you rely on? Having answers in writing, and alerting key members of your team to your plans will help ensure that personnel needs have little effect on “business as usual.”

Succession planning begins when you interview and hire candidates – you need to know if the person you’re considering for your team could be – and should be – part of the succession plan for you and your business.

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. An avid skier, Bouchard and her husband have a second home in Big Sky. Visit to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”

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