A friend who’s never been a client periodically calls me to ask my opinion about how he can implement the change he needs in his organization.  He usually ends the conversation with some slight variation of this comment:  “I don’t care what you say, how many times you say it, or how loud you say it.  People can’t and don’t change.”  

Many of my colleagues might agree with him; and he – and they – may be right.  And I would concede that human nature doesn’t change.  Individual people, however, can and do change.  And on a fairly regular basis.  It’s one of the reasons the human race continues to more or less master the planet earth.  The truth is, as a species we are incredibly adaptable.

If I’m correct (and I am!), then what are these great misperceptions about change and where do they come from?  Let’s look at them one at a time, beginning with this one:

Misperception # 1:  People fear and resist change. What people fear is the unknown; and what they resist is the promise of change never fulfilled. In our work with succession planning, there is an awful lot of unknown spread around an awful lot of people:  What will I do after I turn over control?  Has the next generation of owners and leaders matured, or are they the same immature kids I watched grow up?  Are Mom and Dad really going to let go, or will I always be subject to their whims?

Each of these questions – and these are just a sampling – has a different answer. But the way to remove fear surrounding succession is to begin talking about the process early and with increasing frequency as the time becomes more relevant. With respect to the business, let them know what will happen; why it will happen; and who the key players will be in the process.  

Direct, face to face communication is better in most instances.  If that’s just neither practical nor possible, then rely on video messaging.  And if you don’t feel comfortable using video messaging, then use the old-fashioned written word.  Just remember that words alone are more often the source of confusion than clarification, at least the first time around. 

Misperception # 2:  Change is optional.  In my experience, this is the number one reason most change efforts fail. Succession is not optional; it will occur in one fashion or another:  sale, gift, or walk off.

A scenario I’ve seen many times is those at the top gather behind closed doors, identify the things they believe people will be most concerned about, and then they craft the message to the stakeholders.  Usually, somewhere in their delivery, they say something along the lines of “Here’s what we’re going to try to do . . .”

At best, that’s a mixed message; and it leaves people thinking “We can outlast this one too.”  In the words of Yoda, the Jedi Master, “There is no try.  There is only do.”  So, the implication for succession planning with this myth is relatively simple. Talk to those involved, determine their interest in helping shape the change (they’ll be a part of the change regardless of their role), lay out a plan, execute the plan, and walk slowly through the tall grass.

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