Three priorities of succession planning for family-owned businesses

Making time for the conversations that matter

By Scott Beebe

Scott Beebe is the founder of and author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, and Build A Business That Matters. Scott hosts the Business On Purpose podcast, sharing real stories of how he and the BOP team work with business owners and their key leaders to build systems, process, and purpose, using the Business On Purpose Roadmap to liberate businesses from the chaos of working in their business and help them get their lives back. 

There are milestone conversations in the life of a family; starting a family, the “birds and the bees” and end-of-life discussions. For families that own businesses, the transition and succession of the business can be equally taboo. 

There are three elements that can provide relief to the pressure of this inevitable conversation and make that milestone something to look forward to. 

First, every owner of a family business must have a written, multi-page vision document answering a very simple and broad question: What do you want?

This is not a sentence or paragraph but a few pages of written details thinking through timelines, personal goals and dreams, financial needs and ambitions and a simple diagrammatic structure of the team that will need to be built in the owner’s absence.

Second, the owner must have a digital file that captures each major process within the business. Business owners are infamous for abdication or disowning a task and lobbing it into the field of play for another employee without clarity or training.

In addition to people and culture, a business is a collection of constantly moving systems and processes that must be captured in a format that the upcoming team can grab hold of and continue pushing toward the vision in the absence of the existing owner. 

Finally, owners must set an “RPM” platform for communication: Repetition, Predictability and Meaning.

Set dates, times and agendas for continuing discussions regarding succession by sharing the vision, systems and processes with frequency. 

Set aside time for what matters to the people who matter. 

A business is a life-giving organism often treated as a lifeless machine. You can do something different, something meaningful with this business that has provided so much meaning. 

Lack of purpose, lack of clarity and lack of repetition will lead to frustration and bitterness.

Vision, delegation and communication will lead to a legacy.

Building on a family legacy

Family-owned businesses are a gift or a curse, and you are the one who gets to decide. Extracting the gift of a business will required repetition, predictability and meaning. But most business owners avoid the important conversations and go to the grave leaving their business, as Thoreau said, “in quiet desperation.”

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