Succession Planning with Meredith Elliott Powell

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Meredith Elliott Powell talks about how to effectively plan for succession, communicate plans to employees and stakeholders, and engage employees more fully at work.

After the Interview

About Meredith Elliott Powell

Meridith is the founder and owner of MotionFirst, where she is a coach, speaker, and business development strategist. She’s the author of Who Comes Next: Leadership Succession Planning Made Easy and Own It: Redefining Responsibility.

Meredith Elliott is the founder and owner of MotionFirst, where she is a coach, speaker, and business development strategist and she's the author of Who Comes Next: Leadership Succession Planning Made Easy and Own It: Redefining Responsibility.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Welcome to Deliberate Leaders Podcast. I am your host Alison Dunn, executive business coach and fonder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast.  Today and I am super excited to have our guest, who is Meredith Elliot Powell. She’s the founder and owner of Motion First, where she is a coach, a speaker and a business development strategist. She has authored several books. The first one being Who Comes Next Leadership Succession Planning Made Easy. And her second book is Own It Redefining Responsibility. And I think both of those are incredible topics for our listeners today. So Meredith, thank you so much for joining us.


I am looking forward to being here and looking forward to this conversation.


Awesome. Um, so I want to start with your the first book they mentioned on succession planning. So who comes next? What do you so I must have some statistics that you can share on the number of businesses that are in this process here in this country.


IOt’s um, you know, it’s kind of fascinating because, you know, we’re, we’re talking right now in the middle of this pandemic. And right before, right before the pandemic, it was really looking at a staggering statistics of boomers getting ready to leave the marketplace, and a huge void. I mean, something like less than 20% of business owners today have really thoughtfully planned out their transition, whether that means that somebody is going to take over the company, whether they’ve got to have somebody in place that they can sell the company. But now, you know, it really throws this whole idea of in succession planning into another realm, because I believe that boober will probably work longer. But, you know, now we’ve got to think about do we have critical people in place in order to keep our business viable to keep it sustainable, so I’m really interested to see when all of this plays out what the landscapes going to look like at that point.


I’m just in general, speaking from at least the Boise that kind of that greater Idaho area, you know, we’re we’re like the rest of the country. And some of the most hardest hit practices right now are sort of, I don’t know, the classified as non essential medical practices, right. Or they’re high income earners. And they, some of them are going into retirement age, they’re closing their doors, they don’t have another way to serve at this point in time. without a plan. There is no succession plan in place, and I think that they thought that they were going to sell it.


Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, you’re seeing that you a little bit like this happened in 2008. You know, where the retirement strategy was selling, you know, was selling the practice, but the thing about selling a practice is, it is worth more if you have talent in there that can keep the promise Going, my husband is a dentist and we sold his practice two years ago. And what do they think? Thank you. Yeah, I know what got good timing. But one of the big things that we did was, we made sure that his staff was stable and could run things, so that you could just plop him out and put another dentist in there. And it made the practice worth almost twice what other practices sold for in the area. So I love that you’re bringing this up, because succession planning isn’t just the owner. It’s all the critical levels of every single person in your organization, and it brings value to your business.


So I I’d like to kind of tap to tactically talk about some of the nuts and bolts that are part of succession planning and the stages and what people wherever they may be, maybe they’re 10 years out, what are some of the things that they need to be thinking about in order to have a successful transition? Yeah. And who comes next?


Yeah, one of the main things is I think succession planning is one of those terms that really overwhelms us, right? I mean, most people don’t. It’s kind of like doing your taxes, you’re like, uh, I just, I don’t want to sit down and tackle that. So I always tell people, number one is let’s just start small. Let’s look around your business and really say if this business is going to be viable, if it’s going to be successful, long term, what are the positions that I’ve got to have in place in order for it to be your 2/3/4 years from now, the other thing is, another real step you’ve got to take is you’ve got to identify the type of employee that is successful in your organization. This is one thing we really did in my husband’s practice. My husband’s very tight Bay works really hard all about the patient. And he was just burning through SAP. And we sat down and we said, you know, what type of person are you looking for? And he was looking for somebody who was interested in learning who wanted to work for a practice that was number one in the area when we started to identify what is it We, his ideal employee was, we started to hire that type of person. In the last eight years he practiced, he didn’t have any turnover at all. So every business, every person running a business has a type. And you’ve got to know who’s successful in your organization. But the last piece I’m going to say is communicate succession. Let people know there’s a future and that they’re vital. And they’re important, because even young people will stay if they know those things are there.


In, in some in all of my coaching, we talk about, you know, having a five year plan when you know that you are going to be passing the baton. So you have a knowledge transfer and you’re developing them off with the business skills, not just the expertise of a particular like a dentist, right? Yes. And how do you know when to start the process when you may even not know when you’re even planning a transition?


Oh, I love that question. The answer to that is start now. You know, I don’t care. I don’t care if you’re 32 years old and you just graduated from school and you’re opening your business, because again, we always think about succession as retirement, right? But truly succession can be so many different things. It can be tragic, it can be an illness, it could be an opportunity that you never knew that that you had. I mean, I’ve got one that we just worked through some things we’ve been working together 10 years, and she’s bought five different practices. So when she bought her first one, her mind wasn’t that she would own five. But because she had talent in place, when the opportunity arose, she could take advantage of that. So pull the trigger immediately. succession should be a part of something you’re doing every year.


And looking at kind of the Dream Team you want to surround yourself with in that type of planning. So what do you think are the mandator, trusted advisors you should have and what other tools and resources should people seek out From in order to do it well?


yeah, I think that number one, you know, years ago before I did this, I was a banker. And and I used to always tell people that the businesses that I banked is that number one you’ve got to have, you’ve got to have your banker, you’ve got to have your insurance professional, you’ve got to have your attorney, and you’ve got to have your investment advisor. Now I add him that you’ve really got to have the business coach, you should have somebody who doesn’t have skin in the game in any single one of those areas, is able to advise you as well and to able to keep you accountable to whatever your future is, you know that the thing about the reason I love the advisory team, right is as a banker, I was just trying to keep you from not going broke. And the insurance professional was just trying to keep you safe. And the attorney was just trying to keep you from being sued. And the investment advisor was just trying to position you so one day you could retire. So sometimes we were fighting with each other, you know a little bit and I Find that the business coach is the person who sits outside and says, Remember, you said you wanted to be on a ski slope full time, by the time you were 69. I don’t understand how what you’re doing get you there. So you need that team of advisors that I like to see them really sort of become people you’re really close to. I mean, you’re really talking to them and asking them about things all the time.


And in the beginning of this conversation, you mentioned about talent gaps. And in my opinion, I believe that that is the number one challenge other than there aren’t enough buyers for the number of businesses that are in the market. Yeah, maybe that’s number one and the talent of who has the talent to take over? What do you suggest or what have you found to be successfully developing the talent gaps that most organizations, especially small businesses have today?


Yeah, you know, let’s, let’s really wrap those two together, because they’re aren’t enough buyers out there. But if you want your practice to be bought, then develop your talent, but because it’s the only thing that you have really different, it’s the only competitive advantage you have left. The reason I wrote the book on it was exactly to answer that question because it because after 2008, and I think again, after this pandemic, employees don’t believe there will be a future with their business. You know, when I was growing up, I’m 56 years old. And when I was growing up, I believed you graduated from school, you got a job. And if you just didn’t screw up, you could retire there, right? You get a pension. Those days are gone. Nobody believes that anymore. So as leaders, we’ve taken guarantee off the table. And one of the fascinating things I’m working on another book right now. And one of the fascinating things that I’m seeing with businesses who thrive through crisis is the CEO, the business owner understands that talent is the most important thing that they have. They take that time. All on themselves. So I don’t care if you own a small practice, you own a large corporation, those business owners are thinking the same thing, if I’m going to win if I’m going to be successful, so I think that things that you have to do really, quite frankly, they’re simple. Number one is you have to prioritize talent, you have to make it your job. You have to really invest in your culture, decide what you want the employee experience to be. And then you have to engage them, you have to bring them in to the process, allow them to help you grow your business. By the time my husband retired, he pretty much showed up to work and his employees kind of told him what to do, because they really took the ownership of the practice so seriously, but you have to design a culture that invites that and then you’ve got to invest in them. If you want them to invest in you. You don’t have to, you know, buy them a college degree but you have to make sure that they’re training, learning and growing and you know what they value


Um, I guess one of the things, so this episode is going to come out in the next week or two. And I just want to make sure that we drive home. What pivotal moment in time. This is for a lot of our businesses in the war on talent. Yeah. In this kind of crisis mode, while not taking the opportunity to let go of talent that hasn’t served you well, and making sure that you retain and keep the talent you have. What rule of thumb, would you suggest that people use in making that equation work for them?


Yeah, I think I think that’s such an important thing to do right now. And I’m sure just like you have been advising so many of my clients at this, you know, the moment that we go through crisis, and, you know, goodness knows, none of us has ever been through anything like a pandemic before, but we tend to think of ourselves as weak and needy. And the first thing you need to do is have a paradigm shift, and you need to realize that they’re going to be A lot of people looking for jobs, a lot of people looking for opportunity. So hiring people is not going to be an issue. But hiring really great people is going to be an issue. So you need to really start to think about again, who is it that you’re looking for? Who do you want to save onto your team? And you’ve got to realize that it’s not your job to hold on to everybody. If I’m not giving you everything I’ve got right now, then cut me free. It’s honestly the nicest thing that you can do to me, I’ve been going to a colleague of mine is doing everything he can. He’s borrowing money right now to hold on to his team, three of which are just major weak links. And we disagree on this. And I just think the only thing that’s going to carry you through this pandemic, is a strong team, be picky and choosey because here’s the thing you’re doing. If you hold on to the weak links, you’re putting your strong employees in jeopardy of your business. Not Making it and you need to take care of the people that are keeping the ship afloat.


Good, strong advice. Thank you for, for the guidance.


Before we move off of succession planning, I think one of the challenges I think every business owner goes through when they know that they are going to be transitioning out is when do you communicate it? How quickly do you communicate it? Or where do you hold it back so that it doesn’t cause a house of cards? In the mind? They think?


Yeah, yeah, that’s all the more reason to start early. Right? Because when you start succession planning at 32, nobody thinks you’re walking out the door, right? And I tell people to communicate it and communicate it very clearly. So most of the time, I’m working with somebody that decided that the age of 55, they needed to build a succession plan and that’s their number one fear. I can’t tell anybody. Well, here’s I hate to tell you this, but everybody realizes that you’re getting older and everything. is wondering when you’re leaving? And so if you don’t answer that question, people start to get afraid both employees and customers or patients start to get afraid that your practice isn’t stable because your business is unstable because you don’t have a plan. So I tell my clients really, let’s just communicate it. Let’s say that, hey, we know I am not going to work forever. And so I want to have talent on board. So that you know, so that we’re grooming them so that you’re always taking care of, I don’t have any plans right now to leave, which if that’s true, communicate it, but just tell people would name the elephant in the room because everybody knows and everybody is talking about it.


So just start communicating. Just start communicating. Okay. I’d like to talk about own it. I am a big fan of ownership responsibility, accountability, we’re about reliability, but you hone in on specifically responsibility. So Can you define that for Earth? Yeah.


So when I wrote that book, my publisher called me and said, You can’t put responsibility in a book title. Nobody wants to be responsible. Which I thought, which I thought spoke volumes, right. And so, for me what responsibility and the reason I read that book is because I wanted to flip the script on that. Most people think of responsibility as a negative, I don’t want to take ownership. And I see it as the path to freedom is that when I blame others for my situation, or the circumstances that I that I’m in, I lose the power to change those circumstances. And I wanted to see people to take, you know, I have met in life, people have taken responsibility for their own situation. And that’s when you can change the situation. And I really just felt like we were starting to do a true disservice to the younger generation. Because we were giving them out as to you know, life. is not fair. That’s just the way life goes. But if you can see past, blaming other situations and saying, Okay, I’m here for a reason I’ve got to figure this out. That’s where the people’s biggest success points have come from. It is, it is truly a gift.


I’m a I’m a big fan in listening for the language that talks about where they are in that conversation with themselves. Mm hmm. Whether it’s me, I or it’s you and them and they and you know, someone else. What, what are the three key strategies that you teach to help leaders attract, retain and fully engaged top performers?


Yeah, if they’re gonna, yeah, if they’re gonna, you know, again, they’ve got to First they have got to give people a reason to engage. So there’s got to be I tell leaders that one of the most important questions that you can answer For people is why, why should I work for you? Why are you asking me to do people want purpose? And there’s it’s the most powerful, intrinsic motivator that there is. And so your organization has got to have a purpose, people have to be working for something bigger than themselves. When I first started studying employee engagement, I found that the most disengaged workers worked for the government, and the most engaged work for nonprofits. And when you think about that, I mean, even now, in the middle of this pandemic, our government workers have a job, they have a paycheck. You look at nonprofits, and they’re probably not getting paid looking at a you know, in a tough year, but you’re giving your all because you don’t think you’re doing a job. You’re fulfilling a purpose. And so that’s really where it begins. Then it goes to ownership. People want skin in the game. I always tell leaders to learn to lead through the power of the question, you get to decide what your company’s going to do, but you ask them How to do it. Because when people are given voice, they take ownership. They support their ideas. And last but not least, is they want a future. They want to know what the next step is and that you care about them. So they want accountability. You know, it’s kind of like when we were growing up as kids, everybody had the house that you went to that was the party house. But you were glad you came home to parents that we’re going to punish you if they ever found out what you did at the party. Right? So we’re that we’re built that way. And so even though employees don’t say it, they like rules and parameters and they want to work for somebody that has the courage to handle the dead weight and the courage to the sport, the people who are performing.


In my experience, I found that the more engaged the rest of your team is because that is almost like an empowering effect. And yes, the standards everyone else around them like wait a minute, you don’t I mean, like what you know, this is what I’m doing. doing?


Yeah, exactly, exactly. They don’t want that dead weight. And so think about that in the middle of the pandemic, when you need your employees to give you more than they’ve ever given you. If you are not handling the dead weight on the team, you are saying to them, I’m not doing everything to make sure that your position is secure. And what will happen is they’ll stay with you through this pandemic, but as soon as it’s over, your talent is going to fly out the door.


Sure, hmm. I think that’s a warning for now. So I wonder if that means buying talent.


Right? That’s right. That’s right.


Um, what would you say is the most fascinating story that you’ve come across in the research you did for this book?


Um, you know, it’s funny because when you asked me about responsibility, a story flew into my head and it’s a story of this happened a few years ago, but my husband and I were we had gone to cook dinner at a at a homeless shelter was a homeless shelter for veterans. And, and we got It was just the two of us in the cook in the kitchen. And the cook was a veteran who’d done two tours in Afghanistan and had come back and he was badly on drugs and alcohol and all of the guys in this place where we’re recovering addicts. And as we cooked dinner, we kind of asked him as he asked us all about ourselves, never ever talked about himself. But I finally asked him about his story. And he said, you don’t want to hear my story. And I said, I really do I want to I want to hear your story. Well, he had an abusive father and addicted mother, he was kind of on his own from the time he was six juvenile hall, you know, the whole rigmarole ends up you know, in the army does two tours and can’t it’s so bad that that but he goes AWOL on the second tour, so he loses all of its benefits comes home, bad alcoholic and a drug addict loses his wife has no access to his child. And he’s telling this story. And he but he goes on to say he said, You know, I’m where I am in my life. Because of the choices I made and the position I put myself, and when I found this Veterans Home, I learned that and he said, Here I am just two short years later, I’ve got a job. I’ve got a new fiance, I’ve reestablished relationship with my daughter, and I’m leaving here next month to start my new life. Now there is a man who had every opportunity life did not deal him. I set a cards I mean, he had abusive parents, he was on his own. God help anybody who’s seen two tours and didn’t end up going AWOL. But he didn’t blame anybody for where he was. And he was building his life. And it just it just really struck me that there is somebody who was mired in alcohol and drug addiction. And no matter what, nothing is more powerful to get rid of those things than to take responsibility for where you are because he was proud of himself. He felt he felt proud. And in and encouraged for what he was doing and nobody else can give that to you. You know, and I just love that story because it wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair if anybody has any right to blame him, but he would have stayed stuck in alcohol and drugs and it’s only through responsibility that he found the path out.


Great story. Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic.


Um,coming down to kind of my final question, I have a question regarding connecting with employees. So we’re all in kind of different work environments more, you know, especially now because a lot you know, the separation and people working from home, a lot of people aren’t working at all, but still, I’m hoping that they can go back  and work. Yeah, um, you say that the most important ingredient for success is connecting with people. So do you have any recommendations for how our company’s leaders can maintain and grow those connections with their employees So remote, and maybe in a completely different work setting than they’ve ever had to lead from.


Yeah, I think the two most important things, um, I’ve been speaking a lot about this lately is number one, you’ve got to realize that leadership is different right now, you know, when we hit, we all brought in January of 2020. It was a new decade and a robust economy, we thought we were in for one of the best years on record. And here we sit at the end of first quarter, you know, in a in with a decimated situation, we’ve set our workers home unprepared, you know, this type of thing. So I think there’s a couple of things is number one, you’ve got to realize as a leader, you have to be more visible than ever and you need to invest in them. You’ve got to realize, I think compassion is one of the most important things that you can have. And so you need to invest in building relationship and connection with them. Meaning that when you start those meetings, check in with them, see how they’re doing, you know, if people start to kind of fall off the rails and are working as hard. I understand there could be something else going on in their home. So I guess I would wrap that up and saying you have got to show people right now that you care.


Such good advice. I have a random question and then I’ve got a wrap up questions. Okay. My Rapid Fire question. I heard it on a podcast. I was like I was answers. Were so fun. So what saving your life right now?


What’s saving my life right now? Zoom. I mean, I get to see people talk with people. We’re having birthday parties and all those types of things. Zoom is saving my life right now.


Yeah. Oh, that’s a great answer. I bet you that’s the answer for a lot of people. Right. That’s great. In closing, do you have any final advice that you would like to impart on our listeners?


Yeah, I would. And that is that to remember that this pandemic will be over and that you need to I’ve really done divided it into three phases is that you need to be doing what you can right now just to sustain the business and hold on to it, reach out get help, you’re going to be surprised how many people will help you through this. This isn’t a time to say I have all you know, I have all the answers. And so you need to be doing in educating the things that you need in order to take care of yourself through this pandemic and be prepared because we’ll come out the other side and there is going to be opportunity there.


Completely agree my favorite same these days is all bad things come to an end.


Yes, that’s good said yes.


What is the best way for people to connect and follow you online?


Yeah, they can find me at my website value speaker comm just the terms value and I tend to live on LinkedIn so you can connect with me there as well. And I have built on my website is special page for resources and tools for helping you through this pandemic. I do believe that if you build your network, you change your life. So if you reach out, I will reach back.


Fantastic and what is the name of the book that’s coming out next?


The book that’s going to come out next is Thrive Strategies to Turn on Certainty to Competitive Advantage.

Unknown Speaker  26:17 

Love that. Oh, that’s fantastic. Meredith. It’s been a pleasure spending some time with you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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