India's corporate landscape is currently noticing a significant transformation in leadership. Mukesh Ambani, the Chairman of Reliance Industries Limited, has initiated the succession by appointing his three heirs - Anant, Akash, and Isha - as Executive Directors and has outlined a comprehensive five-year succession plan for them. Concurrently, Uday Kotak, the promoter of Kotak Mahindra Bank, has also announced his resignation from his position, paving the way for new leadership in India's third-largest bank. Additionally, Chairman Prakash Apte and Joint MD Dipak Gupta's terms are also to be completed by the end of this year.
This change in leadership at the top level will set off a ripple effect, cascading through all C levels of these organisations. Many longstanding members of Mukesh Ambani's or Uday Kotak's core teams may also undergo succession, creating opportunities for new talent infusion at the top of the echelon. This is a crucial step in ensuring the organisation's sustained growth trajectory.
The importance of a well-planned succession
It is imperative to emphasise that this leadership transition is both challenging and pivotal. An incorrect elevation in top management can have far-reaching and adverse consequences, potentially resulting in sluggish growth, substantial business losses, cultural disharmony, loss of talent, and deteriorating trust among customers, shareholders, investors, and partners. Therefore, a meticulously considered and well-executed succession plan is not merely a strategic choice but an absolute business need.
The process of succession is intricate, discerning, and often arduous, demanding active participation from incumbents, boards of directors, human resources teams, external consultants, and advisors. The collaborative effort of these stakeholders is crucial to navigating this complex process successfully and to ensuring the seamless continuation of organisational excellence. It is a challenging and complex process but if implemented by focusing on key variables and engaging all stakeholders in a defined manner, will result in desirable results. It is important to understand the role played by each stakeholder and some of the critical aspects required for successful completion of succession.
Mentioned below are the various factors that play a crucial role in ensuring a successful leadership transition.
Starting the conversation with intent: Simplifying this complex process can start with the simple act of initiating a conversation about succession at the right time and with strong intent. Regardless of the urgency of succession, organisations often fail to acknowledge it and end up making hasty decisions.
Determining a timeframe: Determining the succession timeframe is a crucial variable. The timeline for succession hinges on meticulous planning and commitment to it. Companies generally work with long-term, mid-term, or short-term plans. For instance, Reliance has set a five-year timeline for its succession plan, though the actual process began approximately five to seven years ago. Long-term plans may span from 10 to 30 years, while short-term plans are executed over six months to two years, depending on the urgency and pipeline. Companies like Microsoft,
IBM, Google, Apple, and P&G typically adhere to long-term succession planning, grooming high-potential candidates from the early stages of their careers. Notable leaders like Arvind Krishnan of IBM and Jon Moeller of P&G are products of this grooming process. However, external variables can significantly impact the chosen timeframe, potentially delaying the process.
The role of the incumbent : A successful succession largely depends on the incumbent's leadership and guidance throughout the process. Unfortunately, incumbents often fail to recognise the critical nature of this process and may be reluctant to engage with it seriously. This reluctance is especially pronounced when incumbents are at the pinnacle of their careers and may consider themselves infallible.
Recognising the need for succession planning and embracing this mindset can expedite talent identification and development, infusing objectivity, and purpose into the process. When a CEO or key management personnel grooms a successor, it is essential to maintain open communication with the HR and board members and engage in frequent discussions about succession. Providing a clear assessment of the successor's strengths and areas to the Board for improvement is vital for success.
The role of the board : The board's role in CEO and key management personnel succession is paramount. If the board prioritises and engages in frequent and in-depth discussions about succession, it can meet its goals within the stipulated timeframe or maintain a robust talent pipeline for future leadership needs. The frequency of these discussions depends on factors such as the existing pipeline, urgency, and the set timeframe.
The board must work collaboratively with the CEO and key management personnel to gain a deep understanding of potential successors and their abilities to perform under challenging circumstances. This collaborative approach can lead to the identification of high-potential candidates and help the board provide consistent feedback to the CEO regarding succession candidates.
The role of the successor: In the advanced stages of succession planning, numerous companies transparently communicate to the identified and shortlisted candidates that they are under consideration for future leadership roles. Their intention is to foster and develop these individuals through various initiatives. Many companies place these candidates in accelerator programs or fast-track leadership development programs, exposing them to diverse facets of the business and various scenarios.
For a successor to thrive, a more holistic approach is necessary. They must align themselves with the organisation's forward-looking vision and cultivate a comprehensive understanding of various business aspects. Additionally, it's crucial for them to closely shadow and learn from their supervisor or predecessor, engaging in ongoing discussions about their progress with HR, beyond mere functional metrics.
A successful successor should not only excel in their functional expertise with superior performance capabilities but should also be deeply rooted in the company's culture and ethos.
The role of HR : The HR department assumes a pivotal and strategic role in the complete succession planning. From the initial stages onward, it infuses objectivity into the entire process. HR is pivotal in the identification of the right talent and plays a key role in their comprehensive development, orchestrating exposure to diverse scenarios while facilitating a thorough assessment of the candidate's potential. Moreover, the HR team craft tailored leadership development programs for the successors. On the other end, it also expands the perspective of crucial decision-makers such as the board by presenting multifaceted progress reports of the successors.
HR's key role is to facilitate smooth communication among all parties, especially when dealing with sensitive matters between current and future employees. They also help in setting clear expectations, keeping succession candidates engaged, and retaining top talent. HR maintains morale among other ambitious employees who may not be chosen for the top position, ensuring they stay committed to the organisation.
In conclusion, defining a standard succession framework is challenging due to various external and internal factors that may not be within the management's control. However, a well-considered and collaborative approach involving all stakeholders can lead to a successful leadership transition, ensuring the continued success and growth of the organisation.