Wanted: Heir to the throne (m/f/d) | Brunswick Group

Wanted: Heir to the throne (m/f/d)

The systematic buildup of a successors for one's own job has become a standard procedure for corporate leaders. This should also set a precedent in politics.

It was a good sign: departing German Chancellor Angela Merkel took her likely successor Olaf Scholz to direct talks with other heads of state at the G20 summit in Rome. An act that shows stateswomanly greatness and foresight. This confidence-building measure does not merely signal continuity to Germany's partners, while strengthening Scholz's position among other heads of state. It also strengthens Scholz's foreign policy positioning to be "ready for the job.”

What Angela Merkel is currently undertaking as German Chancellor, she has failed to do as CDU party leader: to establish a successful successor. Granted: She is not solely responsible for the personnel and leadership crisis that erupted in the CDU when her chairmanship era ended in 2018. Over the course of the total of 18 years, one or two CDU leaders also left the "Game of Thrones" themselves. However, it is a fact that the CDU will elect its third chairperson in three years in the coming weeks. And it is also a fact that, according to surveys, the people did not trust either of Merkel's potential successors with the chancellorship.



Here, the political arena could learn from the business world.

In politics, it tends to be the rule rather than the exception that at the end of an era or the unexpected departure of an incumbent, the respective party finds itself in trouble. Here, the political arena could learn from the business world. In the latter, the systematic development of successors for one's own office has often become part of the compulsory programme for corporate leaders. Often, so-called succession plans are even a fixed component of target agreements in contracts.

For companies, the structured search for successors makes sense. It allows them to secure experience, develop talent within their own ranks and increase the loyalty of employees to the company. Above all, it enables them to fill vacancies more quickly and aptly. This is all the more important today - according to the DIHK Skilled Workers Report, almost every second (47 per cent) of the 23,000 responding companies report difficulties in filling vacancies. Worse still, 59 percent of the companies perceive a shortage of skilled workers as the greatest business risk - despite the massive increase in energy prices.

That is why the succession plans encompass far more than just one or even several names, but also describe a structured and sustainable process. At the outset, the process begins with the precise identification of the positions for the succession search. After that, the requirements for the position and the respective candidates must be evaluated: Which set of skills is required for the position at hand today, and how will it change in 'one- and three-years’ time? Following that, it is a matter of building up a talent pool and preparing potential candidates in a systematic approach. Finally, there is an induction and a handover. In the case of effective internal management systems, this includes a strong culture of feedback, which ensures that no mistakes are repeated after responsibility for the position is handed over.

Such a process also makes sense for politicians. Not only to avoid situations like the current one in the CDU. Rather, it would promote talent development and identification, as it does in companies. Thus, it would make parties and politics more attractive as a place for social engagement.

But officeholders should see it for what it is: a smart move

Above all, however, the demands on politics are changing. Politics, more than anything else, must become more agile - as must those in charge. Challenges such as digitalisation or the fight against the climate crisis require rapid and sometimes radical political adjustments, while simultaneously demanding far-sighted thought. The immense societal consequences of these developments warrant the ability to think across party lines and political silos. Equally, it is no longer enough to delegate expertise and its acquisition. Digitisation and climate protection, for example, require in-depth scientific knowledge that cannot be acquired from file notes and on-site visits alone. The outgoing Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner, for example, still had his experts train him in AI and employs his programming skills himself.

Concurrently, politics is also challenged by the fact that the old models of power transfer are now being called into question. The new forms of communication such as social media not only strengthen the desire for participation and choice, but also enable its fulfilment. It is therefore in the interest of incumbents to build not just one strong personality for succession, but preferably a whole team; ideally highly diverse in composition.     

In the vanity fair that exists in politics as well as in business, it is somewhat courageous to call out and build up not only oneself but also one's own successors. But officeholders should see it for what it is: a smart move. (After all, a strong team can also be beneficial for one's own career.) The former Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizère, used the fitting phrase: "Anyone who becomes a minister must work as if his term of office were unlimited - and he must have the inner attitude to know that it is a temporary office." This is not only true for ministers. Those seeking to ensure that not just scorched ashes, but rather the fire, are passed on at the end of time, must take care of their successors from the very beginning.