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Nightmare or Greatest Achievement?
In John’s mind, there was nothing Blaine couldn’t accomplish. He did well in school, was a past-president of FFA, and had multiple job offers upon graduation. With no consideration to the contrary, Blaine was John’s natural choice to follow him as the leader of the organization. From his point of view, any of Blaine’s shortcomings were simply inexperience, not a lack of ability or desire.
Selecting a successor to lead this organization can be a nightmare or it may become John’s greatest achievement. Despite all the factors that affect a leadership transition, the element of chance should be minimized. Succession planning intersects finance, business and the human spirit. Using proven assessment tools to measure leadership behaviors can help channel emotions into constructive activities. Assessments also help in:
Identifying the leadership practices needed to achieve specific organizational goals.
- Recognizing leadership behaviors currently practiced within an organization.
- Creating selection criteria that serves as a predictor of success for leadership candidates.
- Providing relevant and insightful feedback to participants for professional development.
- Building meaningful actions and accountabilities into the professional development plans.
- Providing coaching suggestions for key areas of professional development.
Assessments are especially helpful for the family business where it’s often difficult for senior generations to be objective regarding the qualifications of their successors. In a recent interview with Jim Lomac, a founding partner of Management Research Group (MRG), an assessment development firm, I asked him to explain how an assessment helps facilitate the process.
Jim cited a case using one of MRG’s most powerful assessment tools, “We have an instrument that measures a person’s motivators, those characteristics that are hardwired into a person’s DNA and cause them to react to their environment in a particular way. Since these motivators are hardwired, the goal of the assessment is to learn and understand behaviors, rather than change them.”
Lomac further explains, “Let’s assume you have a first generation member of the family, who is rated high on stability, high on structuring, and low on creative. This is person who likes predictability, they like certainty, and they like organization.” On the other hand, “The low creating score suggests a person not open to change. This senior generation leader is not interested in taking risks.”
“Now contrast that person,” Lomac goes on, “with an aspiring next generation leader who is rated moderate on stability, moderate on structuring, but high on creative. With those scores, this person is okay with less certainty, less predictability, and less organization. And, given the high creative score this person is motivated to take chances and try new things. This next generation leader is inclined to think outside the box.”
Without the assessments providing an objective description of each person’s motivators, these two will constantly struggle with all things related to decision making and business management. They’d probably dismiss their differences as a failure to communicate or a generational thing. However, using the results of the appropriate assessment tool, they can learn to work together. Focusing on their similarities they can build bridges of communication. Understanding their differences will help them use each other’s respective strengths to grow a better management team. Both outlooks cause them to recognize that the friction experienced in their relationship is really of their nature and not an act intended to cause conflict.
So, instead of the young person who is rated high on creative waking up every morning thinking about how we can do things differently, and the elder resisting with a ‘We’ve done pretty well for the last 40 years, so why do we have to change now’ attitude, they can gain insights from one another, find some middle ground, and build a better business together.
Lomac summarizes it well, saying, “We can learn to understand those things that aren’t going to change and engage with one another more effectively.” Or put another way, “Developing a course of action where these two parties can engage in an effective way, without either one of them being expected to change their spots.”
As to John and Blaine, I’ll recommend we start with an assessment. The process is simple and relatively inexpensive, but invaluable in succession planning. Together we’ll devise a strategy for professional development and for transitioning the operation to Blaine as a well-prepared next generation.
Published as ''Nightmare or Greatest Achievement?", by Kevin Spafford for "Farm Progress" magazines, March 2015.
Photo courtesy of Montana Stockgrowers Association (unrelated to article content).
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