Roseann Kelly: Change is inevitable, it's how we handle it that counts

POINTING THE WAY: This is a time to think about going forward
Roseann Kelly

JANUARY will always signal a changing of the tide - a time of year when our calendars turn over a new leaf. The future rushes into the present, retrospectives beget resolutions, and we look forward to the next 12 months with a shared – if at times cautious – sense of optimism.

Covid and the year-end emergence of Omicron have no doubt tempered excitement and cast a cloud of uncertainty over the short term. At a time when we were just beginning to glimpse faint rays of hope at the end of a once-in-a-generation-sized tunnel.

The variant and its chilling effect on local economies has been strongly felt, after Danske Bank last week revised its 2022 economic forecast for Northern Ireland, down to 4 per cent growth from an earlier forecast of 4.7 per cent.

All told, the past two years have been a truly trying time for business leaders, particularly those in hospitality, retail and other consumer-facing sectors. The pandemic has conjured new challenges and intensified old ones. Curve-balls are now an everyday occurrence. In this Covid era, the need to innovate and expand the business model has become essential to ensure enterprise survival.

This is a time to think about going forward. Not so much the next 12 months, but the next 12 years and, crucially, how a business can thrive during the inevitable changing of the guard. Succession planning, at its core, future-proofs both a company and its legacy, regardless of whether it’s a short-term sabbatical, or a more long-term leave. So when the time comes for a new leader to be sworn in, and it will, the transition can feel organic. Seamless, even.

Change is inevitable. It’s how we handle it that counts. With that said, the winds of change don’t impact everyone in equal measure. One report that struck me was a recent study by Harvard Business Review, which found female founders were 15 per cent more likely to exit their business that their male counterparts.

Female entrepreneurs from all walks of life face unique challenges in that they are more likely than their male peers to step away from their company – either on a permanent or temporary basis – to tend to personal or family issues.

For female-fronted start-ups, such findings only serve to underline the need for a carefully curated succession plan, one which ensures a business not only survives, but is able to thrive under new leadership. Starting a business is one thing, but cultivating a long-term strategy that outlasts even the individual is curiously rare, with American Express’ state of women-owned businesses report revealing that 58 per cent of business owners, male and female, lack a concrete succession plan.

We have a tendency to focus on what’s in front of us and, in so doing, quietly pushing longer term thinking onto the back-burner. Yet succession planning, by its very nature, only risks becoming more complex the longer it’s left to its own devices.

And what is January if not a time for future-thinking. An opportunity to take stock of where we are now, and where we want to be, both in business and in life.

Roseann Kelly is chief executive of Women in Business (

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