Very carefully! There is a great deal riding on this decision. Some of you have children actively involved in your business and, thus, naturally feel the above question does not apply to you. For a small minority of you, this may be true. You may indeed be blessed with a passionate, capable and committed successor. However, the vast majority should think again!
Approximately ten years ago, I met John Smith (fictitious name), a successful business owner, who was the proud father of three children. His oldest son, Harry, was active in his business. Unfortunately, Harry was not well respected by managers and employees in the organization. A logical question you may be asking is, why? Good question.
You see, John brought Harry into his business immediately after college and paved the way for his son to advance through the ranks of the company quite quickly, regardless of whether or not he was successful in each position along the way. In John’s eyes, he was grooming his successor by exposing him to various aspects of his business. While, on the surface, John’s intentions and motives were pure, he effectively enabled his son by allowing him to “take the elevator to the executive suite.” Harry reported directly to his father, who, like many other fathers, had difficulty holding Harry accountable for performance like he would non-family member employees. While Harry appeared to be engaged in the business from the outside, on the inside he was flat out miserable! Truth be told, John’s eldest son was not passionate about the business nor building a career in the family business. He was merely trying to win his father’s approval. As a business owner or a family member engaged in your family business, does any of this sound familiar?
As you address your succession planning circumstances, it is important to be honest with each other. As I stated above, there is a great deal riding on selecting a successor for your business. Just because your child shares your last name does not automatically qualify him/her to be your successor. Having worked with diverse, unique families for the past thirteen years, I appreciate how difficult being honest and having forthright discussions with family can be, which is why some situations require outside facilitation by a qualified succession planner. Your family relationships and life’s work could be at stake if you make a poor selection. I encourage you to develop a leadership continuity plan that is in the best interest of the business, your family and your employees! Sometimes the most qualified and capable successor is from outside of the family. Think about it!
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