5 Shows That Offer Invaluable Lessons in Succession Planning

5 Shows That Offer Invaluable Lessons in Succession Planning | Human Resources | Emeritus

Drama, conflict, power struggle, anger, jealousy, betrayal—the things that make us human (clearly unlikable) are palatable grist for the blockbuster mill. While real-life succession stories possibly may not have such a display of heightened emotion, topics revolving around succession, dynasties, and corporate intrigue fill seats in theatres, increase the likes on Netflix, and make actors’ careers. Apart from the entertainment, there is much to learn too from such shows. From “Succession” to the slickly made “House of Cards”, succession planning and leadership lessons are baked into the plotlines. What is it that real-life dramas teach us about the succession planning process? It bears looking closer at these five popular shows and finding out.

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Reel Life Lessons on Leadership and Succession Planning  

1. The Crown

Type of Succession Planning: Traditional

The British monarchy has had a very cut-and-dry approach to succession planning. And characteristically British—fuss-free and minimalist. The essence is that the first-born gets the job, always. The widely watched Netflix series, “The Crown” follows Elizabeth II’s journey and evolution as a queen in 20th century, post–World War II Britain. When it became clear that King George V’s health was failing, he wasted no time in kicking into effect the plan to anoint his successor. Not only that, he ensures his inner circle is well aware and prepared to help Elizabeth take on the role of sovereign ruler. All in a day’s work, we’re sure.

Suitable for: Typically, this is the kind of succession planning that is the default for family-run enterprises. The oldest offspring is always handed over keys to the kingdom. In family businesses, the children are often groomed to take on the job, so there are no surprises or shocks, and the business chugs along as it always does.

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2. Peaky Blinders

There’s something about the well-oiled movements of gangster enterprises that can cause corporate envy. The “Peaky Blinders”, which started as a street gang fixing matches in post–World War I Britain, over its multi-season arc, grew in influence and spread to the upper echelons of the British government, even American Wall Street. All of this is possible largely because of the leadership and resourcefulness of Tommy Shelby. His older brother Arthur was unfit to lead and would have run the business into the ground. His war experiences had left him with a drug habit and a general incapacity to lead. While a younger son leapfrogging over the older is not the norm in family businesses, it certainly was the best choice for the Blinders.

Type of Succession Planning: Long-term succession planning

Suitable for: Any business, family-run or otherwise, with long-term goals in mind that needs a long-term strategy in place. It means there is time to groom potential leaders over a longer period, see how they fit, and evaluate their ability to lead. As leadership lessons go, this one is about always picking only the best person for the job. After all, Tommy was the man behind the staggering (and terrifying) success of the Blinders over their tenure. Even when they were small-time, and still fear-inducing, he was already putting his cunning and resourcefulness to use. He was, in effect, prepping for the long game. So, consider the long-term succession planning process when choosing a successor. Take stock of the overarching vision, its growth, and the person with the chops to steer it in that direction. 

3. The Office

For a bumbling, inept, inefficient, often inappropriate manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Michael Scott would not have been a tough act to follow. However, there was something about his sheer optimism and confident self-belief that allowed Michael Scott to succeed at his job. Finally, when he quit, it was on his terms. The search for his replacement was, it turns out, anything but easy, with every successive candidate bringing their own brand of crazy to the table. Eventually, Andy Bernard, one of the sales associates, is appointed to the role of branch manager. Andy makes for a great boss, is liked by his team, and gets the job done.

Type of Succession Planning: Non-leadership internal succession

Suitable for: Hydra-headed conglomerates who can look at internal talent and leadership potential to promote from within. This is especially the case when companies have regional offices and a large gap between the upper management at headquarters and employees in smaller branches. A trusted person from said branch can play a pivotal role in being the bridge between the team and HQs.

ALSO READ: What is Human Capital Management and Why is it Important?

4. House of Cards

Batman had Robin, Bonnie and Clyde, Frank had Claire—till he didn’t. Frank and Claire Underwood had always been ambitious, with an eye on the US presidency. Both worked as a formidable powerhouse to ensure their ascendancy in American politics, with Frank becoming president and anointing Claire as his vice president. However, the couple made their fair share of enemies along the way, and in a scandal-ridden beginning to Frank’s presidency, they decide the only way out is for him to fall on his sword at the end of Season 5. Claire as VP, was anointed interim president till elections could be held and a new leader elected.

Type of succession planning: Transitional succession planning

Suitable for: If one takes away the drama of it all, then a vice president stepping in for the president is your textbook succession planning best practices process. In American politics, it is an in-built mechanism triggered when the commander-in-chief is not able to serve. This also happens to be an interim succession plan to ensure as little disruption as possible. Among the types of succession planning to use, this one is best suited for companies (and countries) where any upper management member resigns or retires abruptly. If they are still looking for a replacement, then the second in command, familiar with the boss’s responsibilities, steps in in the meantime. For large conglomerates, it is necessary because any hint of unsteadiness at the top can have a cascading and widespread impact.

5. Succession

Succession planning in the much-lauded HBO series “Succession” begins where most organizations hope to never find themselves. Uncertain over the future because of the debilitating health of the head. Logan Roy, patriarch and founder of the global media company Waystar Royco, is sick, in a bad way. His plan to find a worthy successor among his children then sets off infighting, corporate gamesmanship, and general bad behavior in the race to claim the CEO’s chair.

Type of succession planning: Traditional /Emergency

Suitable for: Ideally, companies should not find themselves in such a position. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to a comprehensive succession planning process. If a “Succession”-like situation does arise, then at least ensure the company’s daily operations remain as unaffected as possible. Family businesses and companies with a broad base of C-suite leaders may be able to handle this. Allow the leaders-in-waiting to prove themselves. In the meantime, other members of the senior management can step in to handle the job and steer the ship. Alternatively, a company with a board of directors can also step in and hire someone they deem fit.

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While these shows offer a broad overview of the types of succession planning strategies, nothing really trumps having comprehensive planning for it. Here’s a quick breakdown to set the succession planning process in motion.

Succession Planning Best Practices

1. Identify the key leadership and managerial positions that need filling.
2. Make a note of the skills, hard and soft, that are necessary to succeed in the roles.
3. Look within the organization to seek out candidates with the right mindset and skills to develop.
4. If you aren’t satisfied with the internal pool of resources, cast the net wider and look outside. However, ensure you put in place leadership training programs, skill development workshops, etc, to enhance the potential within too.
5. One-on-one mentoring, face time with the upper management, handing over, etc, are all necessary for the chosen candidate to do their best.
6. Continuously evaluate and assess the candidate over time to check for suitability. Don’t hesitate to go back to the drawing board if the chosen candidate doesn’t come up to snuff.
7. Always keep the long-term goal in mind in the succession planning process.

ALSO READ: Preparing for the Future: The New Era of Talent Management

Pop culture is a great teacher. It’s entertaining, doesn’t ask questions, and lets you learn at your own pace. However, for a well-rounded education on succession planning, Emeritus’ HR courses should also be given a chance. What they lack in theatrics, they make up for with a comprehensive plan, deep insights, and great faculty.

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About the Author

Senior Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Gauri has found that the upside of being a writer and a scissor-happy copy editor is a rather constant, even paranoid, eye on her own work—and a healthy aversion to complacency. As a professional content creator for over a decade, she has spent time writing (and editing) design, architecture, and lifestyle stories, as well as corporate content, brochures, ads, and websites, among other genres. Her stint with Emeritus has opened an exciting and challenging avenue of education to explore and proves what she already knows—you’re really never done learning.
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