A Lesson from McDonald’s on Succession Planning

 The mdonalds logo from the late 90s

“You can’t figure out how to be a CEO until you are one. ”  This is a quote from McDonald’s outgoing CEO Jim Skinner.  Skinner is stepping down at the end of June and will be replaced by current COO, Don Thompson.   CEO change can have a huge impact on an organization and can generate wave after wave of change.  Sometimes this can bring a much-needed turnaround, but it can also generate chaos.  McDonald’s has successfully navigated several CEO changes and we can learn a lot from their transitions.

It is the role of the current CEO to guide the selection and development of pool of successors.  Successful CEOs must be confident about their skills and willing to face uncertainty – or even their own mortality – to drive a process that will leave their organization secure in the face of unexpected change.  They also must be willing to reevaluate the talent on their team, as needed, to ensure the best people are in place if it becomes time to transition. 

So what can we learn about successful succession planning from McDonald’s?

  • Succession planning is an ongoing process – McDonald’s has deep leadership bench and an ongoing focus on succession across the organization.  Jim Skinner came into the CEO role after the organization lost two CEOs in six months.  Embedded in his approach to his role was a focus on developing strong, ready successors.
  • Internal Promotion of a CEO helps drive a consistent strategy –  McDonald’s has been following the “Plan to Win” and Jim Skinner, as an internal promotion to CEO, was committed to that strategy from his first day in his role.  And it has delivered excellent financial results.  A new CEO may have changed course and produced a completely different outcome. 
  • Development is critical – Skinner has discussed his commitment to coaching Don Thompson on what it will take to be successful in his new role.  Thompson also had roles that would ensure that he was as ready as internal candidate could be for the top spot.

Our takeaway?  Plan now for tomorrow’s transition.  You don’t have to be a CEO to create a culture of succession, where leaders develop those on their teams to step forward when needed. You don’t need a crisis to need a succession plan.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 ©2012 Melissa Lanier – All Rights Reserved

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