The last month has been sad, somber, poignant, historic and enlightening in equal measure.  Coming from a family with Scots heritage, the bag pipes always set me off so throughout the period of national mourning and watching the various coverage of events in recent weeks I have found myself having moments of tearful reflection, my grandmother loved the Queen and all the pomp and ceremony that we do so well, so I was reminded of her and what she might have thought about it all.  I am also aware that my great grandfather was a Queen’s Life Guard, so it was interesting to see the Life Guards marching in the procession to the drums and the music.  But I also felt for the royal family, who I would imagine by the end of the state funeral were exhausted and simply wanted to grieve privately for their beloved family member.  And now all seems calm again, and our attention is turned to political tag.

I found the point at which the Queen’s crown, orb and sceptre were removed particularly sad as it marked the finality of the end of her reign but royal life and royal business, commonly referred to as being part of ‘The Firm’ goes on.

And then it struck me.  This was succession planning at its absolute best, the pinnacle, the gold (or should I say Diamond) standard, yet it is something businesses get so wrong and suffer the effects of for a long time.

So what can we learn from this well planned, well implemented, well executed, well messaged and very public event?

It’s OK and in fact really proactive and helpful to have a ‘what if’ plan – who knows what is around the corner, the events of the last (nearly) three years have been a testament to that.  If you have a key or top performing individual in your business with whom you would struggle to be without, make sure you know what ‘one’ would do if they weren’t around anymore.  The Queen’s passing or stepping down was meticulously planned for for a very long time and those next in line have been the subject of training, guidance, planning, support, instruction and communications positioning for some time, and we can see that is ongoing for ‘what if’ King Charles III needs to step down for whatever reason.  Knowing the policies, protocols, procedures and the ‘way we do things around here’ well understood and followed.

Businesses, like The Firm need to be clear on roles and responsibilities in role and post role.  In the last few weeks, everyone knew and understood their role and their responsibilities and swung into action as required.  Plans were implemented and actioned and communications shared about what those plans were so everyone knew, but more importantly other than the periods of state and private mourning, normal royal service continues, we aren’t trying to work out who will take over or recruit a replacement, or work out who did what and what we want that to look like moving forward (like some businesses do).  We aren’t locked out of systems or missing equipment or log-ins or key business information/data.  A seamless transfer has taken place.

The Queen was very clearly an impeccable, well loved, highly respected leaver which is what makes it a sad and somewhat reluctant handover, the end of an era the like of which won’t be seen again for many years, but none the less protocol determined that all ‘equipment’ such as the crown, orb, sceptre, cars, property etc. have been accounted for and handed over for the next incumbent – I wonder what will happen to all the hats and handbags!  In business, this isn’t always the case.  A bad leaver or a key employee who’s leaving comes as a surprise or shock can be devastating for a business reputationally and operationally.  But with forethought and planning businesses can ensure as much as possible that they aren’t left locked out of key accounts or equipment, that equipment is returned as needed and no significant data or company information is lost or destroyed making it difficult to run your business moving forward.  You have to plan ahead and have a contingency plan or business continuity strategy.  You business needs to continue and your clients/customers will still be there looking to be serviced.

With someone that has been in a role for a long time so much information, knowledge and experience is gained and retained by the individual.  There can’t be a manual or a handover briefing that imparts 70 years of carefully developed in role knowledge, and my goodness the Queen’s global reach will be missed, but by having a succession plan to identify possible successors, by being a great role model, delegating well, looking after ‘oneself’ and providing training, guidance, leadership, advocacy, support, preparation, up skilling, and by ensuring that one person doesn’t hold everything within their role, there is a good chance some of that knowledge doesn’t leave the business (or The Firm) when your key person moves on.

A top performer, rising star or key individual doesn’t get to where they are alone, there will be a team behind them that help them be successful and do what they need to do, this should be recognised, acknowledged and embraced, by working together individuals can still be fulfilled in their role but supported, and the organisation protected from a Lone Ranger leaving with business critical information.

When everything is ok and rolling along day to day it can be easy to soak up the success and stability and become complacent.  But I would urge you to take a look at your business and really consider who your key employees or stakeholders are and what would happen if they left, became unwell and were out of the business for a long time, or died or became incapacitated for any reason.

What do they know?

What do they have access to?

What do you need to know about their knowledge and the ways they work?

How damaging would it be for your business if they gave notice, left or suddenly couldn’t come to work?

Are they the only people in your business that know something specific that is critical to business delivery?

Can your business do what it needs to do without them?

Do only they deal with key clients or suppliers and if the individual leaves, will those clients and suppliers leave too? How can you protect your business from that happening?

How can you ensure business as usual?

No one wants to think they are dispensable but perhaps we should consider a mindset based on legacy.  No one wants to burn out or be pushed out of an organisation because they hold so tightly on to everything that they overload their stress bucket and start to under perform rather than be the star performer , and I wouldn’t want to leave an organisation knowing that by leaving and taking lots of knowledge and expertise that only I know with me, I might jeopardise the jobs of others left behind or the business survival/viability.  What do you want to be known for, what’s the legacy you want to leave behind?  Do you want to be known for being generous with your time, knowledge, experience and skills, good at your job and keen to develop others around you to be just as successful, proud to be good at what you do and the performance you bring to the business, the good manager people remember for years to come rather than the bad manager people moan about and leave behind.  We all have a choice.

Queen Elizabeth II made her choice and pledge 70 years ago, and I think she got the legacy bit right, don’t you?

If you want to discuss succession planning and building some resilience into your business/workforce then get in touch at or you can download our free Self-audit HR Checklist here to see what shape your HR is in.

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