Whether you like it or not, the future has a way of sneaking up on you. At some point you are going to be changing places. You will stop going to the office every day, and someone else will take over for you. You will find different ways to enjoy yourself, maybe even crossing items off of your personal bucket list.
In our book, Changing Places, Moss and I used true stories from our practice to bring to life both the potential problems faced by business owners and the practical solutions they have adopted. These “war stories” are my favorite parts of the book.
Chapter 4 has a great one. Here is Peter and Anne’s story.
One of our clients, Peter, heard about the work I was doing in the areas of leadership development and succession planning, and called to see if I could help him with succession in his business. In preparation for their first meeting, I sent Peter a list of questions to stimulate his thinking about succession planning and give him an idea of the scope of the topics we would discuss. Since a number of the questions dealt with personal issues that transcend the operation of the business, Peter thought it would be a good idea to share the questions with his wife Anne.
Anne read over the questions and suggested they both talk with me. “I want to be sure he knows where I stand on some of these issues,” she said. And that’s exactly what they did. Their very first meeting was a three-hour session, conducted over dinner in a private room at Peter’s club.
Anne began by explaining to me that Peter had a number of personal interests outside of his work. He had a strong spiritual side to his life, but he often passed up his Bible study group to take care of things at the office. Peter was a member at a wonderful country club, yet he only got out to play golf once a month or so, again because he chose to spend his time dealing with issues at work.
Anne then talked about their lovely second home in Palm Desert, which they used only a few weeks a year. She wanted to spend more time there but Peter, you guessed it,“couldn’t afford to take time away from the office.”
Anne’s concern was obvious. Peter was so devoted to his business, that whenever he had to choose between the business and doing something purely for himself, he inevitably favored the business. If he didn’t change that pattern of behavior, Peter would never be able to make the transition to a life where he could enjoy the fruits of his labor.
I asked Peter to visualize, in as much detail as possible, what a typical week in “retirement” might be like. Peter indicated he’d like to get to the gym several mornings a week. And if he could meet his Bible study group for breakfast every Tuesday, that would also be terrific. Golf at the club every Wednesday would help him lower his handicap as well as make some new Friends. And, of course, a few extended stays at the vacation home every year would be an essential part of the mix. Put that all together and they would both be happier.
Ready to Let Go?
Then I asked a tough question: “What is keeping you from doing all of these things right now, starting tomorrow?” Anne pounced on that one, “If I‘ve asked him that question once, I’ve asked it a thousand times,” she said.
It took a bit more probing to get to the core of the matter: Peter enjoyed his work, he wasn’t ready to give it up, and with the right kind of ongoing management support he could confidently turn over the reins, but not just yet.
Both Peter and Anne were clearheaded about one thing. As Peter said, “This company is our pension plan. We either sell it for a good price, or we need to have good managers earning a solid return, so we can live off of our share of the profits.”
By the time we all said goodnight, Peter and Anne still had a lot to think about. The most important thing to come out of the conversation was the realization that Peter and Anne had different visions about what Peter’s “retirement” from the business might mean. Peter and Anne’s succession and transition planning story has yet to be completed, but they are off to a strong start.
We have found Peter and Anne’s situation to be fairly typical. The spouse frequently anticipates a fairly clean break from the business, while the founder or current leader usually has a great deal of difficulty letting go of the reins. And, when faced with the many issues of concern, they appear to not be ready to discuss the issues.
Like Peter, you get to call the shots as the owner of your business. There may be a number of things you want to accomplish in your life, and they may not always be perfectly aligned and consistent with your spouse. Make sure you are both on the same page as to what is really important in the future for both of you.
Whatever your choice, it won’t simply happen by itself. You have to take charge and lay out the necessary action plans. This is your life and your journey. Think about what kind of future you want to make for yourself and your company, and start planning for it.
Don’t take a chance and leave it to chance.
Check it out: “Changing Places: Making a Success of Succession Planning for Entrepreneurs and Family Business Owners” (published by AuthorHouse). Feedback please to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Franzetta and Moss Jackson pen new action planning guide, Changing Places, for small business owners facing the conflict of generational leadership change.
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