10 Barriers to Succession Planning Part 3 of 3

This week we finish our discussion of barriers to succession with:

4. Serving more than one master.

Change is hard enough. But there is an old biblical reference that is always true: “You cannot serve two masters.” The business needs to stand on its own and only insiders should have influence. Too often non participating siblings or spouses exert undue influence on the process. Parents or children try to compromise to please all parties and the business suffers.

We are all subject to outside pressures like family and non – business obligations. It is when those obligations interfere with the future and even the present of the business that they become inappropriate and, possibly, dangerous.

The antidote is another old saying: “To thine own self be true.” This means that you must separate your external obligations and make choices and decisions and commitments for the business based on merit not on the wishes of a non participating party. Each participating individual must take personal responsibility for personally being a positive contributor and also for how they may be contributing to the problem. Each must be fully accountable for the RESULTS.

3. Control

Some time ago a friend of mine’s wife had a terminal disease. This usually laid back man proceeded to become increasingly difficult and controlling. Fights and tantrums occurred over seemingly meaningless things. None of us could understand what was happening to him until a psychiatrist friend of mine shared that a common human response to a life seemingly out of control is to control anything we can… no matter how trivial.

As independent owners we are used to a form of absolute control. For better than two decades our profession has been going through increasingly rapid and complex change. Any observer familiar with the statistics would conclude that we have done a poor job of adapting. Ultimately some of us, especially as we age, become more and more rigid in our beliefs and needs.  I have given up pushing people to change. Rather, I am actively working with people to develop a new dream. Sometimes that dream is what I call “Safe Harbor” which is my euphemism for finding someone else to buy the business. In other instances that dream is a revised strategy, focus and mission. Either way, the key is to take one’s mind off your circumstances by looking beyond the circumstances.

2. Lack of forgiveness

Things happen and when they do others sometimes take offense. Sometimes the offense is legitimate others not so much. Some people have a very difficult time letting go and forgiving. As long as unforgiveness prevails the company is operating as if something were fouling up the gears. Occasionally, the whole business is sidetracked. Until it can be resolved either by one buying the other out or selling the whole thing or truly forgiving one another, time will continue to erode the business. It’s helpful to remember that:

Unforgiveness is the poison we take hoping someone else will die!

1. Lack of appreciation and recognition

I have another friend who is a self made multi millionaire and serial entrepreneur. Over his life time he has held high public office, bought and sold many successful businesses for a premium and best of all has many close friends. What drives him, though is that his father has never told him he was proud of him. I knew his father and I knew he was proud of my friend. But he had never openly acknowledged it. It remained an issue until 2 years before the father died. My friend made many good decisions and accumulated much wealth but he would have given it all for his father’s acknowledgement. Have you, as a parent or sibling told those other family members how much you appreciate them and respect them. Try it, it’s addictive.

Likewise something few people recognize is the need for that generation aging out and transitioning to a lesser role or no role at all is the need to be acknowledged and respected for their contribution. I am in that generation and I witness it regularly. It is expressed simultaneously as a fear of the future without their identification as the business leader and a sadness that their children and staff don’t recognize what they have been through and sacrificed to bring the business to its current level.

I facilitate a leadership exercise to overcome this problem and it’s always interesting how surprised team members are to find that they are appreciated.

These 10 barriers to succession are prevalent throughout organizations. They are mostly a result of poor communication and equally poor leadership models. Both can be fixed.

Comments

  1. Alan – Excellent article series…very well-written and directly on point. These obstacles definitely are present in family funeral business…and all other family businesses. Thanks for sharing!

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