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Show and Tell: Why you need to start planning for succession now

As part of the New Zealand Innovation Council’s new video series, Innovation Heroes - Show and Tell, which focuses on eight specific elements required to achieve successful business growth, some of Aotearoa’s best-known innovators share their stories of innovation and inspiration. This time we hear from Flick Electric Co.’s Steve O’Connor, NZ Innovation Council’s Louise Webster, and Pushpay’s Sarah Elder.

Succession. Moving on. Saying goodbye. Departing.

No matter what you call it, it’s uncomfortable to think about. After all, most of us don’t like to leave things, especially if it’s something we care about and have poured our heart and soul into – possible over many, many years or even decades.

But it is a key part of business, succession planning. When it comes time, it’s best to have a plan in place – and this is coming from people who’ve been there before.

Steve O’Connor, of Flick Electric Co., says it’s critical to think about roles for founders and key staffers over time – as well as the company’s purpose. “It’s about thinking what the company needs to succeed.”

To “find” a successor, O’Connor says, it’s important to think about what skills are needed immediately, and the direction the company or organisation is going in.

Louise Webster, founder of the New Zealand Innovation Council, says two things are important. “You need to line up your strategic goals and your strategic plans with the organisation you’re selling to,” she explains. “The other thing that is not quite so well-known is you really have to think about your people and teams. Because culture is a really huge part of it.”

Pushpay’s Sarah Elder says her company handled more than $2 billion worth of transactions last year, making it one of Aotearoa’s fastest-growing companies. That level of growth makes succession planning difficult, she explains. “We’ve had to be very deliberate with the people that we bring on board and the processes that we put in place. The ramifications of getting those things wrong would be magnified down the line.”

Elder also stresses the importance of knowing the capabilities of team members – and sometimes having to make tough calls about who to keep onboard. “Just because someone is the right person to grow a team’s revenue from a million dollars to ten million doesn’t mean they’re the right person to grow that team from ten million to a hundred million.”

Flick’s O’Connor agrees, but says a lot of that could be impacted by how far into the future you may be looking at for succession. “Try and look as far enough ahead as you can to get a sense of what the business is going to look like and what the business is going to need.”

He adds that it’s critical to find people from within the company and to always be flexible.

Webster adds more advice. “Think about who the business is getting ready for, what that timeframe looks like, and make sure it’s realistic,” she explains. “Think about that right from day one so that you can plan ahead.”

And all three of them – Webster, O’Connor and Elder – agree on the most important thing of all to remember not only in succession planning, but in every aspect of doing business. "It's all about people.

Although these three innovators come from very different backgrounds and have very different businesses, they share many of the same traits. To watch the video, download your FREE booklet and get our Innovation Heroes’ ‘Top Tips’ go to innovationcouncil.org.nz.

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