Two weeks ago I received a phone call from a business reporter who writes mostly for and about one specific industry.  The reporter reads the blogs that my partners and I write, which are about succession planning; and he/she wanted to talk with one or more of us for background information on a story being written about succession planning for families in the industry.

After the usual exchange of pleasantries, we got to the article.  The first question was really quite typical:  How much succession planning experience do you have in this industry (i.e., how many industry clients)?  In a way, this is simply a variation on the wicked queen’s “Mirror, mirror on the wall” question from the Snow White fairy tale.

Only this time the question is not about who is the fairest in the land; it is about who has the toughest, most competitive, most difficult to understand business in all the land. It seems to be part of our natural self-serving bias to believe that no business, no occupation, no family situation could possibly be as complicated or complex as our own personal set of circumstances.  That is all part of the human need to be unique.

Truth be told, it really does not matter.  If you are stumped about what to do next with your succession planning, then no matter how simple or difficult the business is, you are still stumped.  Fortunately, we are not that much different from one another; and the problems that split families and businesses centuries ago are the same ones splitting them apart today.

If the problems are the same, then the solutions are also going to be pretty much the same, regardless of the industry.  Unfortunately, too many people begin solving a problem by attacking the symptoms rather than the cause.  The wicked queen’s problem was not Snow White.  It was the queen herself.   She simply could not handle the reality that it was time for her to step down as the fairest in the land.  Her greed, vanity, or whatever human shortcoming you want to put into the story, was the root cause of the problem.

To reach succession success, the story is much the same.  Before you can become a problem solver, you must first be a problem finder or identifier.  For many of us, that takes a level of objectivity that is difficult to come by unless you have a trusted advisor available to you.

When it comes to succession, the issue involves more than the level of industry complexity or degree of difficulty.  The issue is best framed around the ten interdependent factors related to succession success.  In the next posting, we will begin addressing the problems most likely to recognize or admit.  As in the queen’s case, they begin with family.

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