Transitioning the business from one generation to the next can be an awkward and confusing time for everyone involved. As the next generation takes over, successors and employees alike find themselves struggling to feel their way to a new sense of equilibrium in the workplace.
Often, outgoing owners sense this tension and take it as their cue to stick around longer than they should, presumably to help the new leader get up on his or her feet.
What they could end up doing, however, is making things worse.
Employees aren’t sure how to process the mixed signals they receive from leadership: “We know Frank likes things a certain way, but we know his father doesn’t and, by the way, he drops in to see us every morning. Who’s really the boss here?”
While this can be frustrating for a successor, it can be downright maddening for employees who may feel pulled between two poles. This confusion could ultimately lead to decreases in employee responsiveness, productivity, and overall work quality.
In our work helping family businesses transition, we’ve found that the best time to solve this problem is long before the transition ever begins.
Have you talked through a plan for your eventual departure? As part of their preparation, outgoing owners must hammer out with their successors a well-defined plan and timeline for their departure. A comprehensive plan will remove ambiguity and lay out the precise conditions under which the outgoing owner could step out and the successor can step into the fullness of his or her new responsibility.
Best of all, such a plan will prevent the successor from being put in the impossibly awkward position of having to try and eject an outgoing owner from their own company.
One more thing, if you need help with this tricky conversation, this step-by-step guide from a psychologist breaks things down nicely. Check it out.