The Real “Succession”

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Pattern

The hit show is fiction, but it’s guided by reality

A major part of my work as a family business consultant is to help family run businesses create succession plans. And as you’d imagine, I’ve been asked a lot about the HBO hit show Succession. “Is it real? Does that really happen?” My answer is yes—and no. While the often-bombastic misadventures of the Roy family are made-for-TV drama, there are underlying truths to what you see on screen. Succession planning is complicated. When there are many people involved in the process, as there often are, you’re going to have a lot of different viewpoints as to how the succession should go. There are real life Roy families—though most don’t own multi-national media corporations. But they do struggle with the same issues and complications. What is real about Succession is that personal relationships can be damaged when siblings and other family members are vying for the future control of the company. On TV, this is inevitable (it wouldn’t be good drama if it all worked out easily). But in real life, it can be avoided. In real life, my goal is to save both business and family—I want my clients to feel like a family and run like a business.  It’s all about trust, transparency, and communication amongst family members. But that’s easier said than done. You must have a plan. I believe there are five major points that must be considered for family businesses when they are starting to plan for succession.

Leaders Must Commit to the Process

The business leader must see the value in the planning process, and fully commit to it. Buy-in is essential, and it starts at the top. This is one of the biggest roadblocks I see in succession planning. Whether it’s the business leader not feeling quite ready to let go or feeling like everything will just work out without help, it can be tough to secure buy-in from the top. And if it doesn’t come from the top, no one else will buy in. The best way to deal with this is to start the process early—I tell my clients to start the process five years in advance. That might seem like a long time, but it goes by quickly and it’s really how long it takes to be successful.

The Next Generation Must Engage

Just like the business leader must buy into the process, the next generation must buy in and engage with it. This will ensure that siblings like the Roy’s don’t go their own way and start stabbing each other in the back! The process works—IF everyone engages with it. The next generation needs to feel heard, and the process will make that happen. It’s all about honesty and communication.

Include Non-Family Leaders in the Process

Most family businesses have executives who are not part of the family but are a big part of the business. These leaders must be included in the process as well and will likely have a unique perspective that differs from family members. Assuming these people are integral parts of the business going forward, their engagement in the process is imperative. And more, they need to buy into the process and feel comfortable with the new leadership, or you’ll risk losing them—and risk hurting your business. Succession plans aren’t family plans, they are company plans.

Conduct 360-Degree Assessments

You should include as many employees into the assessment process as you can. Their opinions are important, and like non-family business leaders, they will have a unique take on the process. They’ll help you learn how certain family members perform, and how they think those family members would fare in leadership. Involving these people will also help them buy into the succession plans and keep the company running smoothly as the plan happens.

Be Patient

Successful succession planning takes time. Plans must be fluid because things change—especially over a five-year period. Those involved in the planning—including family business consultants like me—must be fluid in their approach. Speed and rigidity are the enemies of a good succession plan. You must let things play out, let people be heard, and let the process work. If you do, you’ll be amazed at how unlike the Roy family your family business really is.

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