I wouldn’t want any business owner reading this to jump to the conclusion that the default answer for the question “Are you the right person to bring this to the next level?” is “No.” The question is designed to engender honest reflection.

You may be the perfect person to take your business to the next level—but how do you know?

The answer is far less important than the process in getting there. A successful, growing business has the strategic planning systems in place to be able to adequately answer those questions.

George Has A Succession Problem

Several years ago, I went to Oxford University to participate in an advanced leadership course. A multitude of brilliant business minds from all over the world had congregated there for a host of different reasons; ultimately, all the reasons stemmed from the desire on the part of the participants to be better strategic leaders and figure out how to evolve what they were doing in some way.

One of the gentlemen I met there (whom I’ll call George) had made a lot of money marrying emerging technologies with commercial markets. He had a natural knack for understanding how technology could be used in real-world scenarios, often connecting industries with technology they’d neither previously seen nor considered. Looking at some of his work in the automobile and insurance fields was eye-opening. George truly was a visionary.

For a week, we were immersed in a variety of different discussion groups, case studies and creative problem-solving activities. One of my favourite things was when they had us conduct a choir. It was about how to bring a team along, even if you weren’t completely familiar with each other.

George was at this Oxford course because his evolutionary business issue was that he was reaching the end of his career. He’d built an organisation unlike any that had existed before, so there was no blueprint for succession. It was a problem he’d wrestled with for a while but had reached no suitable conclusion.

Now, this may seem like a simple scenario. Post the job to all of the typical places, gather applicants and interview the best ones. The problem was, there wasn’t anybody who came close to having George’s mix of skills and experience, and he wasn’t finding the right person.

He had no idea how he was going to find this person and knew that stepping away from day-to-day operations and attending this course, getting feedback from other professionals and having the thinking time he needed might just be the way to get to his answer.

At the very end of the week, George was still wrestling with how to tackle the issue. The problem really wasn’t about how he was going to find the right person or even who the right person for the job was.

Over the decades of running his company, George had developed into two full-time executives. On one hand, he was the Chief Product Officer. He always kept that ability to understand how emerging technology could be adapted to a commercial setting. One the other hand, he was also the CEO. George was a good businessman who knew how to run a tight ship.

The process for finding the best person wasn’t his problem. He was going to fail no matter what process he used. The problem was that there was no person who could do what he did. If he was going to retire, he’d need to bring in two executives to fill his shoes.

Despite George’s brilliance, he needed others from the outside to come up with what was a relatively simple answer. Sometimes, when you’re so involved in your company, you develop blinders to thinking outside of the box and coming up with alternative solutions.

The solution to George’s conundrum was not to continue to think about or change recruiters. It was about having an objective look at the issue, and it reaffirms why I like working with the leadership within organisations. I love being brought into a new situation and using my “fresh eyes” to figure out how to make things operate more efficiently for a better bottom line.

Before posting a new job opening or starting to accept applicants, many companies will thoroughly review a position and figure out what the current skill sets are, and how they may emerge in the near and far future.

Often, it’s not just about replacing people who depart, but also redefining positions. I think that’s a process more companies should employ if they’re looking for long-term success.

I have just published a book entitled Growing Up – Unleash Your Business Growth aimed at business owners who have a passion and vision for Business Growth. If you manage a medium-sized business, are battling with growth roadblocks and have a passion to change, I will be happy to send you a copy of my book free of charge. (Yes, it is a real book, not an eBook). Just follow the link at www.unleashyourbusinessgrowth.com

David Nixon is Director, Advisor, Author and Entrepreneur and is recognised as Australia’s Authority on Unleashing Growth Barriers for SMEs.