Fun coaching case study: Willie Wonka and Succession Planning

By: Andrew Neitlich

Center for Executive Coaching

 

Sometimes it is fun to imagine what it would be like to coach characters from literature, history, the Bible, television/movies, and even comic books (for instance, imagine coaching Clark Kent to have more leadership presence).

Recently, Willie Wonka and his chocolate factory came to mind. Let’s say you are coaching Willie Wonka about his succession plan. I’ll lay out the scenario, and then a challenge for you as a coach, and hopefully you’ll see that this crazy case relates to some very real coaching issues….

Coach: So you want to come up with a succession plan?

Wonka: Yes. Can you help?

Coach: Well, perhaps I can ask some questions to help you come up with insights. For instance, it seems like you have thousands of very capable and loyal employees that could rise to leadership positions. You’ve told me that you have employees who are brilliant at everything from operations to developing great new candy products. Who have you identified as potential successors to you?

Wonka: Oh, no. That’s not my plan at all.

Coach: You mean that developing internal leaders to take over more and more of the candy factory and ultimately succeed you is not what you mean by succession planning?

Wonka: Goodness, no! My plan is much simpler. What I intend to do is have a contest. I’ll send out seven golden tickets in the millions of Wonka bars that we sell every week. The seven lucky recipients of a golden ticket will get a tour of my factory. One of them will end up being my successor. You see, I’ll design the tour to uncover all sorts of terrible, spoiled brat behaviors that will quickly disqualify them from being eligible to run my company. I’ll also give them a sample product – my Everlasting Gobstopper — and make them promise to return it to me at the end of the tour. Whomever makes it to the end of the tour without getting turned into a giant blueberry, shrunk down to miniature size, caught in a chocolate tube, molested by squirrels, or some other terrible fate – and also returns the Gobstopper to me….that’s my successor. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Coach: Wait. You mean to say that – just for instance – some impoverished, uneducated child could find one of those golden tickets, successfully complete your factory tour, give you back a piece of candy, and suddenly he is your successor? And that you will give him the factory even if he has no experience, education, or skills whatsoever?

Wonka: Exactly.

Coach: And just to confirm: Not one of the thousands of incredibly gifted, capable, creative employees that know the intricate details of your operations and have given their lives to you – working and living in your factory 24/7—is  in any way on your mind as taking on increased leadership and ultimately your role? Not one?

Wonka: You’re a little slow, but I think you are getting it.

Coach:[Stunned silence]

The above case is extreme, but it is not uncommon for our clients to surprise us with creative ideas that are different than what many would consider to be best practices.

What do you do when this happens, especially if all of your experience and knowledge tells you that the client making an unwise choice?

Here are your choices in the above case:

  1. Debate with Willie Wonka until he sees that he is making a crazy choice.
  2. Encourage Willie Wonka to explore a number of options before leaping to the conclusion that his current way of thinking is correct.
  3. Let Willie Wonka move forward with his plan. After all, he is the client and the coach’s job is never to be directive. Plus, his plan does build in  a way to find a fit with his core values—even if with a small, random sample.
  4. Something else not considered above.

Personally, if I am brought in as an expert and a coach, I would go for Option B, but also take a moment to ask permission to share my own experience about best practices in succession planning. I would want to know a bit more about why he doesn’t hire from within. If he remains 100 percent sure about his decision after we delve deeper into other options, and wants coaching on how to make his idea succeed, I might then ask about ways to minimize risks and cover a variety of scenarios.

What about you?

Announcement
Performance and Results Management (CESB Accredited Program)
July 25-26, 2019

Understand the discipline of having a systematic Performance Management System by learning how to plan, manage and monitor people performance, and provide timely, precise & accurate feedback to individuals and groups to improve individual, unit & organizational performance. Managing people’s performance is the key objective of establishing systematic performance management system in the workplace.  Performance […]

Building Powerful Teams (CESB Accredited Program)
August 8-9, 2019

Building powerful a powerful team is an essential tool of any successful and good company. When building a powerful team is done right, it is fun and it can help build camaraderie which is essential for a company’s success. Develop your team’s ability to better define objectives and goals, solve problems, resolve conflicts and trust […]

Transformational Leadership (CESB Accredited Program)
August 15-16, 2019

Transformational Leadership is to positively influence the organization. With the combination of right approach and talented employees, the potential of being a great organization is limitless. Positive transformation in an organization is always a good indicator of effective leadership. Learn and understand the basic concepts on being an effective leader. Understand how to help subordinates […]

Strategic and Critical Thinking (CESB Accredited Program)
August 29-30, 2019

Strategic and critical thinking is an essential factor for an organization to succeed. We make personal and professional decisions  everyday, not just hundreds but sometimes we make thousands and so on. In this program, learn to develop strategic and critical thinking that allows you to develop a plan of action designed in order to achieve […]

Problem Solving and Decision Making
August 28-29, 2019

Making effective and timely decisions can contribute to the proper execution of business strategy that ultimately leads to organizational effectiveness. To have this, managers and staff need to be equipped with the skills to decide quickly, implement these decisions and ensure that the implementation is flawless.     When done correctly, your organization and its […]

Driving Execution (CESB Accredited Program)
September 5-6, 2019

Driving Execution is very essential in the organization, implementing plans is very difficult as some are resistant to change.  In this program learn the art of implementing plans despite the numerous challenges that may arise and be skilled in understanding and coping with the dynamics of change to help you achieve organizational success.   Date: September […]

Coaching: Raising Performance to the Next Level (CESB Accredited Program)
September 12-13, 2019

Coaching is a training and development of a learner. Coaching is very important as it help to bridge the gap between education and work experience.  It is a way to develop the employees which can be vital in achieving goals. In this program, understand and apply the different styles of coaching. Boost your employees performance […]

Building a Culture of Innovation in the Workplace
September 16-17, 2019

Organizations (profit or non-profit) are facing change like never before. Driving forces to this change include a rapidly expanding marketplace (globalization), and increasing competition, diversity among consumers, availability of and accessibility to new forms of technology and even a changing workplace culture. Creativity and innovation are keys to the success of a business. Leaders need […]

Articles
Newsletter

Subscribe to receive our latest updates


View our clients’ testimonials