Over the weekend, I caught a late night documentary on Fleetwood Mac – many of you will remember them for “Albatross” and others for their later albums which were a different direction musically. This set me thinking about how bands like this deal with the loss of a key member and what “succession planning” might look like in their world!.
The sound of Fleetwood Mac that many of you will recall today is possibly more related to their 1977 album, “Rumours” than “The Green Manalishi” which was the last single recorded with Peter Green. The various changes in personnel that followed over the years don’t appear to have been planned and each one looks like a reaction to the most recent loss. In one case, whilst on tour, one player went out to buy a magazine and never came back! (He joined the “Children of God”!). Peter Green was persuaded to join the tour to enable them to fulfil obligations but this was only temporary.
Now, does that not sound familiar? How many reading this have not seen examples of an employee leaving and being taken back as a contractor or temp?!
A totally different example though comes from my all time favourite band, “Yes”.
Like Fleetwood Mac, they too have seen changes over the years. Most fans would probably agree though that the definitive “Yes” lineup would probably be: Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White and Rick Wakeman.
To quote Steve Howe in the sleeve notes for their 2003 DVD “Live at Montreux”, “We love to play certain Yes songs just like the audience love hearing them”. Which of course, becomes a problem if the distinctive voice of Jon Anderson isn’t available! And in 2008, that is exactly what happened! John was admitted to hospital following a severe asthma attack and advised not to work for at least 6 months.
To maintain that distinctive “Yes” sound though needed someone who sounded like Jon Anderson. So, where else would you look than a Yes tribute band! Benoit David, from Canadian tribute band “Close to the Edge” toured with the band during 2008 in North America together with another new boy – Oliver Wakeman. You see a pattern here? – I saw them at Hammersmith in 2010 and the band still sounded like the Yes I remember.
Of course, the band had lots of other changes over the years too but the difference for Yes was this apparent underlying desire to maintain the “Yes” sound rather than a permanent change of direction as was the case with Fleetwood Mac.
As an update a few years later, the same thing happened! And now they have Jon Davison who also sounds like Jon Anderson! Of course, many predict that the real Jon will return again one day! (will your key employee ever return?!)
Sadly, Yes have again had to consider what to do about the illness and subsequent death of founder and bass player, Chris Squire. When Chris had to take time out for treatment, this presented a problem with a US tour and their popular “Cruise to the Edge” event. Chris in fact chose his own replacement in the form of Billy Sherwood – a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist who had been a band member from 1997-2000 and also their 2014 album “Heaven and Earth”.
Chris always believed that the band would outlive it’s original members – a sentiment echoed by a recent interview with drummer Alan White:
“Things can’t just stop, you know? We’ve got to maintain the Yes name and … meet the high standards of musicianship Chris created.”
But for now, the band have kept this in the Yes family and a successful brand will continue.
Since writing this post a year or so ago, I have discovered another gem, this time from Genesis. As all Genesis fans will know, there is “before Peter Gabriel” and “after Peter Gabriel”!
So, how did they go about solving this problem? Well as a starting point, they did what most organisations would do and tried to recruit a replacement. One small problem though: the songs for the new album “A Trick of the Tail” were in the wrong key for their shortlisted singer! So, Phil Collins had a go and the album was recorded with him as the lead singer. This was only meant to be a temporary situation and further auditions were subsequently held for the lead position on the tour. Well, you know what happened next but who better to tell us than the band themselves:
So, what can we learn from all of this?
- We need to have plans on what to do if a key staff member leaves – particularly if they have unique skills that are part of a Unique Selling Proposition
- We could consider a total change of direction depending on who we recruit as a replacement – “get the right people on the bus and see where it takes us”
- Keep tabs on former key staff – we may need them back at some point and they will have gained fresh experiences along the way. We might even benefit from someone they know so don’t be too quick to remove them from your LinkedIn or Facebook lists! (I knew we’d get back to Social Networking eventually!)
- Consider what talent we may already have in the organisation