As a Certified Succession Planner™, I have the great privilege of talking with business owners, family members, family member employees, and key managers in those businesses.  In one of my most recent sessions, one of the participants asked, “How do you form the habit of thinking about succession and taking action to make sure that it happens?”

That really is a good question. We see later generation leaders vowing that what happened to them will not happen to their spouses, children, or key managers.   Even with the best of intentions, however, we still seem to set ourselves up to repeat history.

According to an 18th Century philosopher named Samuel Johnson, habits are so weak they cannot be felt until they become so strong they cannot be broken.  But we do know that habits, even those terribly addictive ones, can be broken or unlearned; and new ones can replace them.  The big question though is: “How?”

Well, here are some steps you can follow to develop and retain the succession planning habit.  It takes perseverance and determination, but it will prove to be worth the effort.  Here is the “six step reframe” that can increase your effectiveness when dealing with the difficult to deal with issues that come up in succession planning. 

    1. Separate behavior from intention.  Whatever your or someone else’s behavior toward succession planning might have been, the intention was good.  It might not have played out that way, but it most certainly began as a “good thing” from someone’s perspective, even if it was only good for that particular individual.  

      Recall the last time succession planning anxiety occurred.  When did you realize “it’s happening again” and think about your feelings at that specific moment.  This will help you identify the “triggering” events that can make you more or less effective in dealing with succession.

    2. Ask yourself, “What is the positive intention behind my (their) behavior?”  Typically, the positive intention is at a higher level than the behavior itself.  It could be financial security, development, personal satisfaction, conflict avoidance, collaboration, etc.

    3. Explore alternative ways of achieving what you and others want to have happen.  This requires opening up to the way others see the world.  Your map (world view) may be very different from the map of those you are concerned about.  Your way is simply “a way” and not “the way”.

    4. Accept responsibility for implementing whatever alternative you come up with to accomplish the good intention.  If you attach conditions to the alternative, then you increase the likelihood that the new habit of succession planning and implementation will be short lived.

    5. Look for the good intention to be reflected in the new behavior.  If it doesn’t, then the new habit will be a greater struggle than you’re probably willing to endure. 

Finally, give the habit a chance to work.  It takes time to develop good habits. The bad ones are born in an instant.  Remind yourself to check your succession planning on a regular basis (quarterly) because we tend to begin to stray about every 90 days or so.  Check your goals and action plans at least that often to help yourself stay on track.

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