Leave A Legacy: Debriefings: Crucial to Successor Development

April 23, 2016 02:05 AM

Successor development is a continuous learning and improvement process. To make sure your successor is developing into an effective manager, you need regular performance reviews and objective assessments, along with open and mature communication. You can complete these essential tasks during regular debriefings of business performance. 


Debriefing sessions need to occur on at least a quarterly basis. It’s best to involve the CEO, the successor and members of the management team. 

The purpose of debriefing is for the successor to learn how and why major decisions are made and aid in the 
process of being seen and accepted as part of the management team. In addition, the business benefits from the management team learning from its mistakes and faulty decision processes, as well as addressing problems and opportunities in a more thorough, timely manner.

Debriefings involve reviewing decisions and the reasoning behind them. Before the meeting, document the key business decisions you’ll discuss, as well as the assumptions that went into putting it together. 

During the meetings, ask yourself: How did things turn out? What was the cause of any results that differed from exceptions? What assumptions were right? Are there things that could or should have been done differently? If results were favorable, was the decision process repeatable, or was it just luck? Is additional, better or timelier information needed? Most important, what was learned?

For debriefing sessions to be most productive and beneficial, follow these guidelines:

  • There must be open two-way communication and respect for different points of view.
  • Asking questions and expressing differences of opinion must be acceptable to everyone.
  • Everyone should be willing and able to challenge the status quo.
  • Learning how to disagree and offer/receive constructive criticism are key to managerial maturity and effective communication.
  • If a response to any question is “because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” recognize there’s likely an opportunity for improvement. 

These meetings allow everyone to understand the “why” behind major decisions. As Tom Peters mentions in “Thriving on Chaos,” if the reason for continuing to do something a particular way is “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” then you probably haven’t looked hard enough. 

In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins observes the best companies spend as much time analyzing what they need to stop doing or do differently, as they do evaluating new opportunities. 

On-the-job training occurs not just by doing but also by observing and questioning. John Baker, farm transition specialist at Iowa State University, often points out dumb questions are significantly easier to deal with than dumb mistakes. The unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them is a sign of a closed mind or an inflated ego.

Remember, it’s an economic reality that for your business to continue successfully after you leave, management must learn, adapt and continuously improve at the rate set by the leading edge of the competition and not by your comfort zone. Otherwise, your business will fall behind, even if it’s moving ahead.

The need to improve primarily comes from outside the business. Global competition, changing consumer demand, regulations, new technology, alternative financing sources and arrangements, availability of the necessary people skills, the rate of change and scientific breakthroughs all drive the improvement process. 

Your successor will have to run the business in a different world than you did. The sooner he or she starts preparing, the better.

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