The news from Manchester United in May 2013 that Sir Alex Ferguson was stepping down as Manager reminded me of one of my pet topics … building legacy into succession planning.

In the harsh world of football management, we all realise that a 26 year managerial reign is very rare.  In business, such a long stint would usually be frowned upon.  A manager in a role for so long would be suspected of being “stale” or it would be claimed that “new blood” needed to be brought in regardless of performance.  Why is it, however, that longevity in a role seen as incompatible with change?

Ignoring legacy slows down change

I often hear from my delegates at workshops how the “churn” at a management level in their organisation undermines much of what it is trying to achieve and affects performance and morale.  They tell me how new managers come and go, each with their own ideas about “how things should be done” and are replaced by someone else within a few months or years who tries to put their own stamp on things.  In their eyes, there is no consistency of vision, values or direction represented by this succession.

This helps develop an internal discourse that goes something like “…just keep your head down, nod and agree with what they’re saying and they will be gone within a few months.  They never talk to each other when they handover so chances are we can go back to what we have always done and no one will notice”.

Respect the past whilst implementing change

It is understandable that managers want to build a career and experience different roles but why do organisations (or individuals) put so little value and credibility against building a sustainable legacy in a particular role?  And why do organisations encourage new managers to come in and “make your mark” rather than “inherit, build and improve”?

Yes, organisations are facing an unprecedented pace of disruptive change and this requires speed, agility and transformation. However, it is possible to respect the past and the individuals who built it and to implement radical change if it is needed.  The trick is to have a consistent organisational framework of vision, direction and values for the change to be made within.  All too often, leaders use their personal values and experiences as the driving force behind their actions.  But when these do not fit with the values of the organisation they inherit, problems arise.