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How to Succeed at Succession Planning: 3 Key Steps


Nearly 60% of C-suite and board executives do not believe they are prepared for GC Succession. How does your company measure up? This year, BarkerGilmore surveyed hundreds of executives in conjunction with NYSE Governance Services on the evolving role of General Counsel in public companies. The survey began as an assessment of GC performance and ended up revealing some surprising figures on GC succession preparedness.

We asked public company executives: If an unforeseen situation occurred with your GC today, do you have a successor in whom you have total confidence to become a permanent replacement to the current GC? Across company size, the majority reported that no GC successor has been identified; and while many others claimed a successor was identified, they had doubts in his or her ability to become a permanent replacement. Across industries, we observed similar results; less than one third of executives believe they are prepared for GC Succession.

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These figures are reported at a time when the General Counsel role is more critical than ever; companies now expect GCs to go beyond managing the legal department to acting as strategic business leaders. 60% of executives and board members view their GC as a strategic adviser to the executive team, and 40% see their GC as a strategic adviser to the board.

As the GC role continues to expand, it will become more difficult for company executives to find a trustworthy replacement with the gravitas and business acumen necessary to assume the strategic advisor GC spot. Here are three key ways your company can stay on top of its GC succession plan: 

  1. Plan Ahead. Succession planning is not something to consider at the dawn of GC retirement. An integral part of successful leadership is to begin preparing for a replacement from day one. A variety of action items can get you ahead: begin developing your team with experiences in a variety of areas to identify top performers; define the current GC role with key criteria; and develop a succession planning template to rank internal talent and review internal contenders.

    How BarkerGilmore Can Help: Our experienced team of former-GCs can help advise your leadership team on succession planning, assessment & development. Work closely with an advisor who can guide you in establishing a plan of action for a smooth GC transition. 
  1. Benchmark Against External Talent. We asked C-suite and board members their opinion on best practices for GC succession planning, and 57% reported benchmarking internal candidates against external talent as the best strategy.

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    How BarkerGilmore Can Help: BarkerGilmore’s executive search team can help you build a strong list of outside potential successors. Benchmarking against external talent requires a substantial amount of investigation and performance analysis. The trusted recruiters and advisors at BarkerGilmore have the network access and research and assessment tools to help you confidently identify the best GC candidate for the job
  1. Prepare an Existing Successor. If your company has already identified its GC successor, ensure they have the proper tools, knowledge, and experience to take on GC responsibilities.

    How BarkerGilmore Can Help: Consider utilizing our coaching and advising services, led by a renowned team of GC consultants. Equip your internal successor with an industry-focused executive coach who can prepare them with the leadership tactics and executive presence that the GC role requires.

In our survey of public company executives, we asked: Based on your experience, what is the best way to handle General Counsel succession? An overwhelming majority report that hiring a specialty boutique executive search firm, like BarkerGilmore, is the best way to go.

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The successful, strategic GC is not one that is easily replaced. Are you prepared if an unforeseen situation occurs with your GC today that puts your succession planning on the fast track?

Topics: Legal Talent   |   Advising & Coaching   |   Executive Search   |   GC Succession


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