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Why Business Owners Avoid Succession Planning

For many entrepreneurs who have grown a business from infancy to a successful enterprise, just the thought of talking about succession can cause stress.  There is a myriad of reasons for the reaction- the fear of not being able to find or develop a strong enough successor, worry about how to transition client relationships, the personal financial impact, legal issues, and figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives, just to name a few.

Once a successor or successor candidate is identified the transition requires great communication and a plan. Even the most capable candidates can fail unless there is an ongoing, open and productive dialogue. It is no wonder that succession planning is something that most don’t look forward to addressing.

In a family business where a parent is developing a child to take over, or in a non-family business where an owner is trying to delegate in order to free themselves up to focus on business development, it is common to hear (above or below the surface) the following:

Successor: “How can I ever grow if you don’t delegate?”
Owner: “You’re inexperienced. You don’t understand what it took to develop this business.”
Successor: “I’m supposed to be in charge, but every time there is a problem, you get involved.”
Owner: “Of course I want to stay involved; it’s my business at risk.”

New ways of looking at an old situation can be a breath of fresh air and help a business evolve, but are often discounted due to thinking such as, “You don’t really understand the business, the customers, the market, etc.” People sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction when a change is suggested, no matter how innovative, to “the way things have always been done here.” They get attached to a particular routine or to doing something in a way that worked well in the past, and tend to want to stick with what used to work – especially if “what worked before” was their idea or innovation in the first place.

For owners who have created and grown their businesses, the company represents a lifetime of financial and emotional effort. Taking a step back or accepting a new way of doing something can be a difficult task. Sons, daughters or key employees who are motivated and able become frustrated during the transition process. The parent’s or owner’s uncertainty may be interpreted as a lack of trust or respect. When the people involved in a transition find it difficult to communicate in a constructive way, it makes the transition process that much more painful for everyone who works in that business

In any organization, how does an owner/leader effectively transition his or her skills, knowledge and experience to someone else, while encouraging their growth? How can you “let go” as a business leader or owner, and still feel confident that the organization will continue to grow and thrive in new ways without your constant participation or supervision?

Strategic Planning Can Help Cross the Divide

Even at a time when I did not fully understand the transition challenge, and quite by accident as a strategic planning facilitator, I observed the strategic planning process to be effective in opening doors of communication that have been locked for years!

Any effective transition plan must recognize and accommodate the needs, goals and objectives of the organization at large, as well as those of each individual team member. Strategic planning is an IDEAL way to discuss these needs, differences, and strengths. In order to optimize products, services and positioning, strategic planning requires new perspectives. Strategic planning is a proven method to help everyone get on the same page while setting up a business to thrive into the future.

By setting aside time, finding a space and using the framework of a planning process, something magical begins to happen. Everyone involved starts to communicate. Once differences are put on the table, new ideas and creative thinking begin to occur. The ice is broken. Discussions about market data, resources, trends, and dreams for the future begin to solidify into new strategies for the future.

If you are thinking, “It could never happen with the players in my business”, it is probably necessary to bring in an experienced facilitator. With a neutral party facilitating a discussion, people are less likely to hold on to their resistance to new ideas, and more likely to open up with ideas of their own.

Seasoned facilitators help participants express themselves, and get heard in a respectful, trusting and effective manner. Everyone has equal opportunity to contribute to the discussion and process, and everyone works together to create ideas and make decisions. A skilled facilitator can guide the group to arrive at optimal solutions by starting with a diverse set of thinking. The breadth and differences in thinking are what make the planning process so rich.

The result of strategic planning is better decisions and solutions, and a renewed commitment to work towards a common vision by turning ideas into action. There is no better way to pave the way to transition, or open the locked doors of communication.

Written by Helene Mazur

Helene is the founder of Princeton Performance Dynamics, an executive coaching and strategic planning facilitation company for business and non-profit leaders and their teams. Helene’s passion is helping her clients to focus their goals, see new perspectives on their current situation, put in place realistic, motivating plans, and execute to achieve new levels of success.

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