Why Keith Richards Should Run your Succession Planning

In 1988 I was working in a department store and scored a huge poster of Keith Richards’ new solo album: Talk is Cheap. Fantastic album! I was amazed to read that they cut most of the songs in one take, live in studio. It was raw rock n’ roll, with huge appeal, and quickly certified gold.

I recently watched the Netflix documentary “Under the Influence” focusing on his life. More than a walking chimney, Keith is a deeply talented songwriter. I was surprised to watch him ‘fiddle’ around at the piano banging out some pretty blues, and then confess that he likes playing bass more than guitar. What? 

That got me thinking…

Band members in the group Saga commonly switch instruments in the middle of a concert. Steve Vai spent time on the accordion before he became one of the most in-demand guitar players in the world. Robert Reed (Magenta) can play just about anything. Multi-instrument talents are common in successful bands.

I work with a wide variety of executives and it’s common to see a diverse series of roles on their resumes, from finance to operations to HR. They have become multi-instrumentalists. Varied experience enriches our ability to adapt; to handle new situations. The generalist brings advantages over the specialist.  

Succession planning is critical to ensure the loss of leaders doesn’t cripple the organization. Every org needs a pipeline of talent that is progressing up to senior positions. The best way to do develop that pipeline is to have high-potential employees switch roles. Mentoring is not enough. If you want to build flexibility, give them diverse responsibilities so they can learn and grow.

It applies to consultants, too. I’ve been involved in every aspect of operations. I can improve processes for just about anything a client needs. I had to take chances by tackling different problems.

Change is the secret sauce. It forces us to adapt. Keith Richards got that. Learning to play multiple instruments guides Keith to extract the best performance from his bandmates. He can say that he’s been there and knows what will work.

How are you pushing yourself to expand your value? How is your organization improving the capabilities of its leaders? Wouldn’t you want a few more like Keith Richards on your team?

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper