When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation last month, he caught much of the world off guard. After all, no one alive had ever seen a pope resign; it hadn't happened in 600 years. Once the surprise wore off, it was replaced by a question: How does this change how the next pope is chosen?
The Catholic Church had gotten comfortable with its succession plan; it hadn't had to think about what to do if something different happened – such as a still-living pope stepping aside. What role would he play in the selection process? What role would he have after his resignation? Do the same time rules have to be adhered to before convening the conclave (the closed meeting for the selection of the next pope)?
It's doubtful that your distribution company has been around for more than 600 years, but there are lessons that can be learned from the flurry of uncertainty that surrounded this unfamiliar situation. First, never let yourself get too comfortable with your succession plan.
Brent Grover wrote in the conclusion to The Little Black Book of Strategic Planning: "Succession planning is about preparing for the inevitable departure of owners or managers, and having the right pieces in place when that happens." And since you may not know when or how those leaders may depart, you have to have plans in place that prepare you for nearly any situation.
The second lesson: Be prepared to change the rules to adapt to the environment. Historically, the papal conclave had to wait at least 15 days to convene. The purpose for this, in part, was to allow for the cardinals around the globe to get to Rome. But today, travel is much quicker. And since the pope's resignation came in the midst of one of the most important times for the Church, moving the starting date up is being considered. (As of this writing, no date has been set.)
Don't be a slave to what's been done before. As Mike Marks said in the recent MDM Webcast, The Link Between Business Intelligence and Profitability, a decision that was made 60 years ago may have been right for that time, but it may be very wrong for the current market. Change may be difficult for some people to accept, but it's necessary to keep improving your business.
For more on creating an effective succession plan, read Succession Planning: What's Next?