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Thinking about retiring?

December 17, 2012
by Terry Axelrod
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"Thinking about retiring?" "When are you going to retire?" "How much longer can you do this for?" I can't be the only person being grilled on this a lot these days. I heard recently that 10,000 people a day are retiring. True or false, it's a lot.

Having started my career back when the community mental health field was born in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the "de-institutionalization of the mentally ill" movement took hold, I feel I have earned the right to comment on this as my last blog post for 2012. Not because I am planning to retire any time soon, mind you, but because I think we all need to be making our list and checking it twice.

CEO Succession Planning Starter Checklist

  1. Is your organization set up to run without you? What would happen if you dropped out of sight tomorrow? Do you have an emergency succession plan for how each of your roles and accountabilities would be handled? Tip: How did your staff manage without you on your last vacation? Who covered which aspects of your job? How did that go? What changes would you make if you were to take a "longer vacation"?
  2. Thinking about long-term succession, make the long list of what you actually do in a day, a week, a month, a year. Be the fly on the wall. Resist the temptation to get caught up in self-blame or self-adulation and just list out what you currently do. Include everything, even the things you know a CEO should not be doing. Tip: Rather than making this list on your own, have someone else who works with you (even a board member) interview you about what you do and have a third person there to record the list.
  3. Go back over the list and categorize each item as one of the following:
    1. Something I do that I know someone else could do and I already know who that person is. Put an "A" next to those items and write the name of the person who could do each of them.
    2. Something I do that I know someone else could do, however I don't know who that person would be. Put a "B" next to those items.
    3. Something I do that I don't think anyone else could do. Put a "C" next to those items.
  4. Get to work:
    • For all the "A" items, do whatever it will take to officially give over that task or accountability to the other person. Make it official. Let them relish in rising up to take on something new, especially while you're still around to mentor them and, if necessary, pick up the pieces.
    • For all the "B" items, meet with your leadership team to identify someone else who could be trained over time to take on that task or accountability. Confirm that this person wants to be trained to be "the one" and then make a plan for training them over time, with specific measures for their success, as defined and signed off by you.
    • For all "C" items, keep doing them. As your load is lightened from giving away the A and B duties, you may find you like giving more things away. Others on your team may step up and ask to be trained by you to take over some of the bigger items in this third category.
    • And, no surprise…this third list also becomes the basis of the pared-down job description for your successor!
  5. Extra credit: If you are seriously interested in the long-term sustainability of your organization, go through this same exercise with each person on your senior management team.

Enjoy the holidays!


Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod


Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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