Succession Planning

I have had the good fortune recently to work with a local medium-sized business on some interesting growth challenges.  Like several others I’ve worked with, the focus of “running the business” was drawing away from the creativity and enjoyment of why the owners went into the business in the first place.  Worrying about staff, inventory, capital investments, clients, marketing, cash flow, paperwork and all the other necessities of business today burns up a tremendous amount of time; time that would be better spent following the latest developments in the industry, developing products, processes and people, and getting back to doing what they love.

Have you ever noticed how quickly time goes by when you have something else you’d like to be doing, but have other more pressing needs to get through first?  These folks live it every day, and as a result, rarely have the time to do what they do best, let alone step back from the paper tiger to take a longer-term strategic look at where they want to take the business.  Having met with the owners a few times I noticed common themes about how much they didn’t enjoy some facet of running the business.  After asking a few questions to see how far they had thought it through, it became clear that either they didn’t see any alternative or did, but weren’t too keen on it.  So, here’s what we did…

First, the buzzword: “succession planning”.  The easiest way to put it in the proper context was to think in terms of replacing the owner.  If the business had to replace you, what does the replacement need to be able to do?  It may help to put it in a more real context:

  • Could the business continue without you?
  • If not, what do you think the business would be worth in the event of your departure?
  • Are you OK with that?

Often the value of a business is tied up in the skills of a key individual.  I’ve seen it in almost every small and medium business; the founder or star employee is the centre of the universe for that company; yet if that person leaves, there really is no business.  The first order of business, especially if you want to retire some day, is to PUT YOURSELF OUT OF A JOB.  The business (and likely you personally) will be worth MORE if the business can stand alone without you than if it can’t.

The first step to solving these interrelated challenges was to ask what an average day looked like.  They key was to think about functions being performed and the amount of time spent on each, with the objective of laying out what skills are being exercised.  How many hours were worked in a day, spent on a task, etc?  Was there a weekly, monthly or seasonal cycle?  What type of ad-hoc things popped up, how long did they take, and how frequently?

Armed with this information, list the functions/tasks by the amount of time consumed (daily, weekly, monthly trends).  Just getting this on paper is probably the biggest part of the review; the discussion it creates is invaluable.  Now a few more questions.  As the founder of the company…

  • What tasks on this list are things you are NOT willing to give up?
  • What tasks on this list would you be comfortable to be informed of or be consulted on rather than do yourself?
  • Which ones would you be happy to never deal with again?

Now you have the beginnings of your succession plan.  Armed with this knowledge, is there someone in the organization these tasks could be assigned to?  Could someone be hired, even part-time, to take on some of these tasks?

The hurdle here, and it is common to many businesses, is that it’s EXTREMELY unlikely that you’ll be able to replace them with one person, and even if it is possible, there may be a certain amount of ego involved with that perspective.   They key is to tie in the “letting go” of lower value-add tasks to the better end-state value of the business.

The decision on how to proceed with the information is up to the owner; my role was to help them see the possibilities, provide a pragmatic way of approaching the situation, and offer options to bring them back to the place where they’re happy to come to work and have a plan for long-term company value.


New Pre-Qualified Services

Just a quick note to let folks know we are now pre-qualified under RFQ SPO 3329 (held by the Strategic Partnerships Office of the Ministry of Technology,  Innovation and Citizens’ Services) for:

  • Executive Planning and Business Advisory Services,  and
  • Strategic Negotiations

Our successful qualification comes from extensive experience in the realm of large contract outsourcing, from initial opportunity identification through to negotiating and managing the contract.  Some examples of the type of work anticipated under this RFQ are outlined below.

Executive Planning and Business Advisory Services

Providing services in an advisory capacity to public sector clients involved in complex projects, particularly with respect to business process outsourcing or re-engineering initiatives.

  • Providing strategic advice on major strategic deals and assisting in the identification of strategic directions and strategic portfolio alignment;
  • Developing end of term assessments on major strategic deals;
  • Developing comprehensive business documents for complex services, such as business cases, value assessments, stakeholder plans, accountability matrixes, acquisition plans, governance plans and transition plans;
  • Conducting mid-term assessments on major strategic deals;
  • Conducting benchmarking studies and best practice reviews;
  • Project management experience on complex, high value initiatives;
  • Facilitating workshops and delivering presentations on governance, strategic planning, relationship building, and organizational development;
  • Developing change management strategies; and
  • Designing and implementing governance structures

Strategic Negotiations

Negotiating in complex, multi stakeholder environments.

  • Negotiation strategy development and negotiation delivery involving high value, complex services and initiatives involving multiple stakeholders;
  • Development of vendor negotiation strategies at the portfolio level;
  • Leading and facilitating stakeholder consultations or discussions in negotiations;
  • Developing staff capacity through the provision of on the job mentoring and knowledge transfer activities related to negotiations, deal architecture, and other relevant subjects;
  • Developing contract language, developing negotiation mandates, and providing advice to affected stakeholders;
  • Determining procurement and negotiation risks and developing mitigation strategies;
  • Partnering with deal leads and leading negotiating teams, including liaising with legal counsel under the direction of deal lead, and subject matter experts to successfully achieve negotiation mandates across multiple vendors; and
  • Direct subject matter experts, including financial modellers, on financial business cases, modelling, and frameworks to support negotiations

Under the terms of this RFQ, any Broader Public Sector client can request a “mini-RFP” for these services and we will be invited to bid on it.  The contact for this process is Morgan Beach in the Strategic Partnerships Office –

As always, we can also be hired directly without procurement for small engagements under $25,000.  Please contact us at your convenience.

Non Profit Grant Submissions – some lessons learned

As the treasurer/accountant for several non profit and charitable organizations, part of the annual budget process is to estimate how much grant revenue the group will be able to receive from various supporting organizations.

Recently, one of my organizations was successful in obtaining funding where they had been unsuccessful previously.  The board Secretary was curious to know what is was that made the submission I had prepared successful as compared to previous submissions.  It was an interesting question, and I thought it might make a good post to go through what I felt made the difference.

First a bit of context.  The executive of this organization is all new; fresh ideas and different (and yes, some conflicting…) perspectives are now being brought forward.  The best part is the mix of “old school” and new – our president is a charismatic guy who has been running all kinds of endeavors over his 60+ years.  If I had to point to the single greatest success factor, his “tell them a story with a cliffhanger ending they can’t resist” advice would be it.

If you’ve read my other posts you’ll know that I’m a fan of carefully crafting a compelling case that flows logically and clearly from start to finish.  In this particular case, I changed the perspective of the submission from “ours” to someone looking at the Society’s activities for the first time.  This created many questions to answer, background pieces to fill in, and most importantly forced me to create a compelling answer to the simple question,”why?”.

The basic data elements of the submission didn’t change, but the narrative explaining what we were doing and more importantly why we were doing it made the submission that much more compelling.  It was written in a way that was more engaging, and brought the reader on board with the whole plan.  The cliffhanger piece was to show how this project would allow us to open new avenues of access; the success of which would only be revealed in the years to come.

The final touch added was to clearly articulate what benefit the granting agency would glean from supporting our submission.  The first step was to understand what the agency wanted; this information can be gleaned from websites, advertising, strategic plans and other publicly available documents.  Armed with this information, I then picked up the phone and talked to one of the staff to confirm/adjust my understanding and allow me to tailor the submission to be a great fit.

In this case, the agency wanted public acknowledgement and to be seen as supporting a project with a clear linkage to their mandate.  The proposal included two specific, observable actions that would be taken to address the public recognition piece, and the project description was re-framed to demonstrate exactly how it fit the mandate.

The submission was accepted and approved, and the project is currently underway.  We are documenting everything and will be providing a scrapbook style document to the funders with the final closeout package.  With this success in hand, we will be returning for additional funding next cycle for a new project!