Outside of close day-to-day interactions with family members, one of the top challenges that family-run businesses face is succession planning.
It usually goes something like this:
Paul Parent has spent decades growing his hardware store the old-fashioned way -- elbow grease, keeping a watchful eye on the bottom-line, and service with a smile. He’s no millionaire but the business has provided for his family in strong times and lean, and when he looks back on it, Paul’s pretty proud of what he’s been able to accomplish. But, a new day is dawning: Paul wants to retire and wants Doris Daughter to take over the family business. Paul approaches Doris and tells her of his plans to finally retire from the family business and expresses his desire for her to take the helm in a year or so. Doris carefully considers her father’s offer and decides to take him up on it. They make plans to start to discuss the details at their monthly family dinner.
Great so far, right?
The dinner meeting starts with Doris presenting a list of improvements -- a networked digital cash register system and a Facebook fan page -- and ends with Paul’s swift and overwhelmingly negative reaction. A stalemate ensues and progress drifts further and further from the horizon.
This scenario plays out across scores of family-owned businesses and if everyone would follow the four rules below, tons of heartache and feelings can be spared.
1. Learn the ropes, first. If you are the successor, don’t walk into the very first meeting with a litany of technology upgrades and additions. Get to know the business first. Understand how the business operates. Remember, as is said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
2. Keep an open mind. If you are the retiree, you’ve probably had your head down running the business. Be open to the fact that there may be a technological advancement or two that you’ve probably missed that just might boost sales or expand the brand you’ve worked so hard to build.
3. Communicate. Talk about what each party’s vision of the business’ future looks like. Explain what the new technology -- including online marketing -- would do for the business in terms that everyone can understand. Don’t categorically reject any new idea. And, don’t focus solely on your differing points of view; brainstorm about how you can solidify similarities.
4. Baby steps. If a change or improvement is mutually agreed upon, don’t buy the latest and greatest software and take some time to integrate any social media tools into the company’s existing marketing approach. Start small and monitor effectiveness. You can always reconvene and upgrade if necessary.
The “new guard” should take time to understand that it might be a bit difficult for the “old guard” to step down. And doing a deep dive into social media might be taken as, “You’ve been doing this wrong all along."
Similarly, the team that’s passing the torch needs to recognize that times have changed and so have the ways and means of marketing. I’m sure the first international order through the Facebook fan page may be enough to soothe any bruised egos.