For up-and-coming successor candidates in family businesses, oftentimes their evaluation is not altogether objective or even reasonable. Family member employees live in a fishbowl where nothing they do is seemingly ever good enough. The good stuff they do is seen simply as par for the course. And frankly, that’s often because no one in the organization gets a lot of affirmation for their hard work, so why should the “heir apparent.” Yet, the errors of successor candidates often become mountains rather than the molehills they are.

This reality is not fair. A major reason we end up facing significant challenges with successor candidates in family businesses is because they often come into the business with little to no communication about what’s expected of them. Expectations can cover everything from performance to attitude and behavior.

One client was in the process of promoting his son to a General Manager position and upon questioning what his expectations were of his son’s performance, the client said, “Simple… $3 million to the bottom line.” Now, depending on the circumstances, such a hard-and-fast expectation may be reasonable for an experienced leader. Whether it’s reasonable for a newly promoted leader, I’m not so sure.

The point here is that both the questioning of this business owner and his response indicate the reality that there are indeed expectations placed upon family successors. When those expectations aren’t fleshed out, debated, agreed upon, documented and communicated, landmines will be around every corner.

You owe it to yourself, your family successor candidates, and your key people to invest the time necessary to think through and develop a list of reasonable expectations that will provide a useful lens through which your successors can be evaluated. Trust me, it will go a long way toward alleviating, and potentially eliminating, emotionally and fiscally taxing circumstances for all involved.

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