If you’re preparing to take over the family business, you’ll want to achieve as seamless a transition as possible. Naturally, you and your staff will experience a few growing pains. Most changes require some period of adjustment, though you’ll want to do your best to shield your customers from any interruptions or service glitches.
Here are some basic rules to follow as you step into the role of leadership:
- Use the succession plan. One of the reasons you’ve gotten to this point is probably due to the diligent preparation of your company’s succession plan. Don’t waste the brain trust that contributed to putting this plan together. It’s a blueprint that’s intended to guide you forward with a minimal amount of conflict.
- Be patient. Even if you adhere to the succession plan, you may still encounter some resistance from the generation letting go. For some, letting go can occur overnight; for others, it’s a process that can take time. A successful handoff depends not only on a good plan but on goodwill, too. If the old guard is having difficulty with your new role, practice compassion if you can. Ask questions, find out what’s wrong, and then try to take steps to correct the situation. Imagine yourself handing over your own business. On the other hand, establishing some distance between one generation and the next is essential, too.
- Assess your skills. Succession planning and the actual transition are time-consuming. In between all the meetings and the extra work you’ve probably taken on, you might have overlooked your own education. Some company owners require that the next generation obtain advanced degrees like an MBA to augment the new leaders’ accounting and financial expertise. Formal business training may make the difference between success and failure.
- Take care of company culture. Even when a successful succession takes place, people worry. Will the company be the same? Will the new boss be like his or her predecessor? What kinds of changes are coming? As the new leader it’s your job to create a culture that fosters creativity, cooperation, and overall success. As you ease your employees into the changes that succession brings, don’t take people’s good work for granted. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts, especially in light of the changes.
- Maintain your credibility. You probably had to work very hard to take over your family’s business. Now that you’re at the helm, you need to maintain your reputation as a hard worker. If you relax (too much), employees may come to resent you and what you represent.
- Keep the peace. In addition to running the business, the generation before you probably worked hard to maintain good relationships between family members. It might not be part of your job description but you should, nonetheless, be prepared to become the new peacemaker. It’s part of a leader’s job to create an environment in which conflicts can be worked out in civil and solutions-oriented ways.
- Consider the advice of your peers. Next generation groups can offer support and advice that you can’t get elsewhere, particularly within the insular environment of your own family business. Peer-to-peer meetings can help you work out situations that have either already occurred or are likely to arise. Hearing other people air their complaints lets you know that you’re not alone. You may pick up useful tips on lowering health insurance costs, how to form a board of directors or an advisory council, and employee development. Check your local chamber of commerce for information about next generation groups. Colleges and universities also sponsor such groups. The idea is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are experiencing similar issues, but you must make a commitment to attend the meetings. Your input is essential, too.