Leaving a Legacy: Embedding Success—and Succession—In Your Organization
How difficult is it for a company to remain on the Fortune 500 list? Jim Collins, of Built to Last fame, wrote in 2008 that since the list’s inception, nearly 2,000 companies have appeared on it—and only 71 companies from the original 1955 list were still running strong. The Kauffman Foundation, in a recent report, noted that after seeing relatively low turnover in the 1960s and 70s, Fortune 500 turnover accelerated to new highs in the 80s and 90s. And Peter Senge of MIT’s Sloan School of Management writes that the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company is only about 30 years. With such an uneven record, any successful CEO preparing to depart from his or her company should rightly be concerned about the legacy he or she is leaving behind—but that legacy is about far more than the CEO.
May 2 2013 by Randy Ottinger
How can CEOs do this in a way that makes sense for their organization? In his recent article “Accelerate!”, Harvard Business School professor and leadership guru John Kotter makes the case for developing two parallel structures in the company that operate in concert with each other. The traditional hierarchy operates on one side, and ensures that day-to-day work gets done in the most efficient manner possible. This structure is well-suited for execution, and is a go-to for carrying out a new business plan.
On the other side, companies that embed innovation within the culture develop a network of employees who are empowered to search for innovative solutions to existing challenges and to offer new ideas. The employees in this network are organized into “guiding coalitions” made up of volunteers from all levels and areas of the organization, thus giving the team the opportunity to flex their creative muscles, attack challenges from all directions and develop the leadership skills necessary to keep the organization nimble in the wake of senior leadership turnover. The guiding coalition is where innovation is nurtured, and breaks down the barriers inherent—and necessary—in a hierarchy. By virtue of being a group of willing volunteers with diverse perspectives, this structure maintains the urgency and enthusiasm necessary to foster organizational agility.
With both the hierarchy and the guiding coalition working side-by-side, a company develops a transformative, repeatable process that allows it to adapt quickly to a changing world and stay ahead of the curve. Most importantly, it ensures that a company’s success is no longer tied to a single person; rather, it is now embedded in the DNA of the company through a new way of operating.
So, as a CEO prepares to depart his organization, he should be asking himself more than “Did I prepare my successor well?” He also needs to be asking, “Have I left my organization a more agile, innovative place?” If the answer is yes, he has embedded success for generations to come.
Randy Ottinger has spent more than 20 years as a high tech executive for companies including IBM, McCaw Cellular (Claircom), and Captaris. He also served as SVP for Bank of America. Before joining Kotter International, Ottinger founded LMR Advisors, which provides business and leadership advisory services to legacy business leaders. He is the author of Beyond Success: Building a Personal, Financial and Philanthropic Legacy (McGraw Hill in 2008), and has written numerous papers and articles on leadership, strategy acceleration, family wealth, and social enterprise.