By Scott Philips
I’m often asked, “what is the hardest aspect of generational transition in a family-owned business?” It doesn’t take long to come up with the answer to that question, because it is almost always in play.
Some people might think that leadership succession is most important – who is capable of running the business that dad or mom started? Others may think it is the transactional ‘buy-out’ of dad or mom’s equity, which can definitely take some work. These issues are high on the list, but none are as difficult as helping the owner let go of his or her ‘baby’. By far the most problematic issue is for the ‘retiring’ owner to let go of what has become their personal identity – their business.
There is an interesting process that often occurs in the family-owned business. Initially, we begin our business with an idea or product that we believe can be sold in the marketplace. Though we may not know much about business in the early days, we possess a belief that – with determination and grit – we will figure it out. This belief comes not as a result of learned business acumen, but from our innate skills, capabilities, and drive, which will get our business off the ground. This self-belief is a great start. The introspection provides a firm foundation for ‘making things happen’. We work long hours and put our mind to solving the most difficult of issues. If only we could keep this ‘can-do’ perspective.
Over time though, the belief in ‘self’ transfers from ‘who I am and what I can do’, to the belief in ‘what I have built’ and ‘how it proves my capabilities’. The focus is no longer on what we can do, but rather on what we have done. Along the way, we tend to get comfortable and maybe even lazy. No longer is it necessary to give everything we have to be successful. With things clicking along, we are less than fully engaged. But, the trap is set for what happens next.
Toward the end of our career, things begin to change. Self-doubt and fears begin to grow. We begin to question everything; usually not out loud, but to ourselves… ‘Do I still have the “mojo” that got me here?’ ‘Was I good in making decisions or did I just get lucky?’ ‘Could I do this all again if I had to start over?’ This too is a good place to start. The more we are able to recognize that our past performance is not what makes us good, the better. Rather, the application of our skills, abilities, and grit is what keeps us relevant and vibrant.
So, what to do about it? What is the best way to help someone who is struggling to leave his or her business?
The key lies in gaining a vision for re-applying our innate or learned skills and grit to any number of new options and initiatives. This is a critical point to be underlined. If you are not going to something important, it is best to stay where you are. We describe this as CPR (Creative Personal Re-Assignment). This means getting the heart beating again. Doing what drives you…your passion. Whether that important thing is a hobby, a recreation, a relationship, or a new business, visualizing the road ahead and re-engaging in the early years’ energy to successfully plan, develop, initiate, and deliver on a new plan, will prepare the retiring leader for a ‘next chapter’. Even in the latter years of life, there is opportunity for new beginnings.
TruNorth Partners works with individuals and companies in transition. If you are in the midst of a big life change or just beginning to contemplate that possibility, let us help you. We would love to work with you to envision and execute a successful transition plan that is just right for you, your family, and your company.