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HBO’s Succession: Are there similarities with the social impact world?

The latest binge watch in our house has been Succession. Loved it. Brilliant script, acting, production - definitely worth watching and worthy of the Emmys it won this week. And while the experiences of the media empire-owning Roy family feel a million miles away from the work I’ve done and do in the social impact world (fewer helicopters and retreats in exotic locations) I was struck by the many similarities – particularly from working with Founders, Boards, and senior teams.

1. Founders are very unlikely to walk out of the door (you probably don’t want them to) and are still of real value to your organisation. So if it is time for them to move on from the CEO role, find a role which maximises their skills and experiences and help them to make a plan to transition into their next stage.

2. Spend time understanding your purpose and mission. This might seem like a simplistic step, but getting back to basics and scrutinising questions like whether your original purpose is still valid in today’s world, or whether you have drifted away from your mission is really important in ensuring your organisation is relevant in the long-term


3. Ensure that you are aligned as a board and senior team. Once you have tested and agreed your mission and purpose, focus on building a strategy that’s consistent and clear throughout your organisation. It is crucial that everyone is pulling in the same direction.


4. If you must, be ruthless and make the decision that’s right for the organisation. Sometimes the Founder and/or long-standing CEO will not transition into a new role – but you need a new leader. Or the current strategy isn’t working and the organisation needs to pivot to something new. This is the time when the Board needs to step up and make the hard decisions.

I don’t expect many social impact organisations operate like the fictional Waystar Royco in Succession but it’s surprising how many issues and solutions are similar.

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