Family Business – Preparing to Step Back

May 20, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

For anyone who has created their family business, deciding on the time to do less and leave it to others can be a daunting prospect. Yet there are some simple ways to ensure that stepping back is less painful than at first it might appear.

After the years of eating, breathing and (sometimes) sleeping the business, letting go of that level of involvement can be quite a challenge. For owners of family businesses, the responsibility carried for years to develop and sustain the livelihood of those around you, can mean that there simply is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Yet it’s a course of action that is so necessary for you, the generation that follows and the health of the business too. Remember, nobody on their death-bed ever said they wish they had spent more time at the office.

So, to ensure that the figurehead of the business can feel able to start the road to retirement (if, of course, that’s what they want), here are 9 easy courses of action that can be taken to ease the change and still feel that the best is being done to preserve what has already been achieved.

  1. Prepare Early – by creating an internal vision of what it will be like to step back you will start to appreciate the possibilities well in advance. Family businesses, like no other, hold emotional ties, so by having an exit strategy early on, it will start to shape thinking and decision-making from the word go.
  2. Have a Plan – having a vision is no good if you don’t have a plan to achieve it. True, plans don’t always work out, but if you have one with a goal in mind for you and the family business, then at least your thinking will be clear. Ensure it has precise milestones and timescales and then tweak (but be aware of prevaricating or changing plans for the wrong reasons).
  3. Be Objective – because there are two dynamics working against objectivity, you’ll have to work hard at this, bringing outside help in the form of a coach or consultant as necessary. The two forces? Well, it’s your business – your ‘baby’ – and so is chock-full of emotional ties to that. And to make matters worse, it’s a family business, so you will have emotions around that too. Get help to see through all that clutter. Get someone who will not hold back, but will ask the questions you don’t want to ask yourself.
  4. Use Delegation – by letting go gradually of the areas of your own expertise, you can build your own confidence that others will be able to do just as well (if not better) than you. This may be family members being groomed to take over from the next generation and it can be non-family members too. Delegate to a framework that appeals to you and creates confidence too. Take your time over an extended period, if you like – and make progress too.
  5. Accept Less Than Perfect – when others do tasks that you would normally do, it’s vital to allow some tolerances in their output. For those times where they don’t quite do things the way you would, they will add much more value in the contributions they make that you simply would not have seen. It’s swings and roundabouts and you can quickly learn to appreciate the value of others’ ways of doing things.
  6. Listen to Others – by listening, you will create confidence and self-belief that will be critical as you start to do less and less. Others can and will do at least as good a job as you do, so relax and listen to their ideas and congratulate on contribution. If things don’t always go to plan then accept this and help them learn to be ‘even better next time’, through asking valuable questions and then listen some more.
  7. Shift Responsibilities – slowly but surely, the delegation stream becomes more than that. You need to shift to full accountability for outcomes and responsibility for the actions taken. Measure as though you simply aren’t there and how would they do. In fact when you aren’t there, it will almost be easier for them. Although in a family business, with out-of-the-business stakeholders still showing an interest in performance, there will always be some to question how the business is doing and be demanding with that.
  8. Mentor – this is a great activity to start and you can do it as early as you like. Mentoring is about ensuring there is a ‘wise old owl’ about who has been there and done it. The tricky bit is to accept that the individual(s) who are being mentored are allowed to be themselves and bring the value they add, without insisting that they are simply clones of you. It’s about sharing the best of you for them to consider and then freeing them to add the best of them.
  9. ‘Smell the Roses’ – hey, we said this was about stepping back, so do it! Take more days off; more vacations; go home early and more. Garden a bit; play more golf. Leave the next generation in charge – after all, it is a ‘family’ business and not just about you.

Stepping back from hands-on management of a business is challenging enough. When it’s a family business, then it’s likely to be even more daunting. Yet, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the later years of your life. You also owe it to those who follow to have a plan to get out of their way and trust them to do the business while you are still around to advise and support when they ask. Then your business will survive and prosper into the future.

And you need to start right now.

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