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  • Writer's pictureRandy DeMuesy

Don't begin succession planning until you've done this first

If you are the Founder of a successful family owned business, there is no shortage of business consultants urging you to engage in succession planning sooner than later. And having a qualified professional guiding you through this important process is paramount to securing your family’s future.

But there’s something else you need to have first.

While essential to the continued long-term success of the family business, the process of working through the organizational changes between family members can be fraught with tension. Succession planning involves deep dives into strategic, financial, estate, and human resources planning … each of those happening at the individual, family and business level.

Any conflicting perspectives between family members (and there are sure to be some) multiples the challenge.

Clarifying and articulating the family business’ brand position firstbefore beginning succession planning — is essential. Doing so helps succession planning be that much more focused, constructive, effective, and successful during and after the succession planning process.

Helps reduce tensions among family members

A big part of what makes the succession planning process successful is going into it having a strong and valid strategic vision for the business that is shared and embraced by all, without any reservation from any of the family members who will be in leadership and key support roles. Clarifying and articulating the family brand through the brand positioning process first provides this huge jumpstart, reducing the amount of conflicting perspectives arising during succession planning, and increasing the opportunity to focus more energy on the many other important issues that must be considered and addressed.

Allows Founder to be even more certain of Successor

Selecting a company’s next CEO is one of the most significant decisions the Founder will make. If there is any doubt in the Founder’s mind about that family member or non-family member they are considering turning the company over to, the process of going through a brand positioning exercise first may well aid in making a more conclusive and confident decision … as the Founder will be able to witness and evaluate exactly how their chosen Successor reacts and handles herself or himself during the brand positioning process, when their every belief is being challenged and must be defended (or, if the case may be, evolved).

Transforms apprehension among employees into excitement

On that day the completed succession plan goes into effect and the keys to the family business are handed over to the Successor, there can exist a good deal of apprehension, discomfort, or even crisis of confidence among employees. While this not only negatively effects morale among employees, it can add to the burden of the Successor. This situation can be avoided by going through brand positioning first since the employees are part of that process and make contributions which aid in clarifying and articulating the brand. Which, in turn, makes them feel more a part of the whole evolution of leadership and the future of the company. Indeed, the very morning leadership switches to the Successor, the attitude will be less “Well, today’s the day Bob, Jr. takes over … better hang on” and more “Today, our refreshed brand relaunches with our new CEO John, Jr. at the helm!” From potential dread and foot dragging, to sure excitement and momentum.

And even this ...

From a purely emotional standpoint, there’s another possible ongoing benefit for the Successor: though there will be some tough future decisions made knowing that ‘Dad’ or ‘Grandma’ would likely have ‘done it differently’ — as long as those decisions are being made to support the family brand and strategy — there will be no reason for the Successor to beat herself or himself up, since they will have the comforting knowledge that the very vision they are striving to continue with their decision, was a vision honed, clarified, and committed to paper by all the family members, past and present … a well-articulated brand position that the whole family, and the whole company—truly rallies around.

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