Most successful business leaders understand the need to have a carefully designed succession plan to ensure the sustainability of their operation for the long term. In fact, several of my recent articles have addressed how to create these plans to ensure a smooth transition. While it sounds rather easy to draft and implement such a plan, reality is far different. One of the biggest stumbling blocks are individuals who just won't let go.
I find the ability to let go especially difficult for closely held or family business owners. Even when owners have the best of intentions, they often falter when it comes to actually taking the necessary steps to allow for an effective transfer of power. This reluctance to engage in the very behaviors needed to make the transition process smooth ultimately can sabotage a successful succession. Inevitably in these scenarios the individual “waiting in the wings” is at best frustrated and at worst leaves the company feeling angry and resentful, which negatively impacts family and personal relationships, along with the business.
Identify Your 'Transition Terrors'
Many owners are unknowingly paralyzed by what I call “Transition Terrors.” While some of their reluctance may be a legitimate concern over the successor's ability to effectively lead the organization, more often than not their fears are more personal. Some of these “terrors” are: difficulty accepting aging and their mortality; unclear understanding of what to expect in retirement; not having outside passions, hobbies or interests; fear of a loss of identity; and concerns about their financial well-being.
To prevent the sabotage of the succession process, you must face the issues and concerns that have the potential to overwhelm you as you enter this next phase of your life. While introspection can be painful, it is essential for you to get unstuck. You must ask yourself the critical question: What stops you from being fully committed to a succession plan?
Redefine Your Vision
Behavioral research confirms that anticipating and preparing for the future is essential to ensure the quality of life you desire. The MIT Age Lab and Hartford Funds, as part of their research into the benefits and challenges of living longer, came up with three core questions people should answer to find clarity and purpose as they grow older:
Who will change my light bulb? (How will everyday tasks get done?)
How will I get my ice cream cone? (How will I get around?)
With whom will I have lunch? (What will my social network look like?)
Obviously, these questions are broad and apply to anyone as they face the aging process.
Therefore I have come up with another set of questions that can be invaluable for business owners to ask themselves as they contemplate post-business life:
What will my calendar look like? (How will I fill my days?)
What will keep me from using the snooze button? (What will motivate me to get out of bed?)
How will I retain valued connections? (Who will remain in my social circle?)
In answering these questions, business owners are actually participating in the process of creating a whole new world for themselves — a world that must have purpose and ways to measure success that are much different than those found in a corporate setting. With a clear focus on what comes next, it becomes easier to step away from what's known and comfortable to enter into an exciting new chapter of life.
Notice I didn't say it is easy, because it certainly is not. It takes a good deal of work for business owners to basically re-create their identities because their entire lives have been focused on one goal that is no longer applicable: being a successful entrepreneur.
Those who fail to create a clear picture of what their lives will look like after transitioning out of the business are the ones who often inadvertently sabotage their carefully designed transition plans because they keep hanging on for dear life, to the detriment of themselves and their businesses. On the other hand, those who are able to seamlessly transition from their business — doing so with grace — are providing their successors with a great gift: the ability to take the handoff and run with it.
Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]