Meet Tom.

Tom graduated with his M.B.A. 10 years ago. Since then, he’s been hard at work managing operations for his family’s construction business.

Meet Helen.

Helen is Tom’s mother. An architect by training, she inherited her father’s company when he passed away unexpectedly 20 years ago. Helen is rapidly approaching retirement age and is eager to pass control of the company off to her son.

This all seems straightforward enough, but there’s a potential fly in the ointment.

For the past decade, Tom has been the go-to guy for all things related to daily business operations, whereas Helen has worked more on the creative side of things. Since she was the one in charge, aesthetic judgments often trumped purely administrative concerns.

Now that Helen is leaving and Tom is sliding into the top slot, the company’s priorities will surely transform. Tom is going to have to bring in someone else to replace Helen. In an inevitable shift of emphasis, aesthetics will take a back seat to operations.

This flip-flop will reverberate throughout the entire organization, upsetting previous communication norms and challenging the status quo. People don’t like change, and an organizational earthquake like this one might rub many employees the wrong way.

All of this, however, can be avoided through proactive communication.

Tom and Helen come from different worlds, and it’s important that they sit down to map out the mechanics of transition. Moreover, they need to involve key stakeholders so that employees know about changes in advance and are given ample time to adjust.

With enough preparation, owners and successors from different backgrounds can align themselves before the transition. If they do, they’ll head off a great deal of friction in the process.Have you and your successor reconciled your differences in background and expertise?

Before I forget, if you’re wondering how to have the conversation, this step-by-step guide from a psychologist will help. Check it out.


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