You’ve sorted through the ranks and found the perfect person to take over the family business . Unfortunately, they’re not so convinced. You’ve done everything you could—sweet talk, flattery, and so on—but they’re not budging. They simply do not want to own or manage the business.

What is a family business owner supposed to do?

It’s important to consider potential reasons why this person may not want the job:

  1. Lack of preparation. This person does not share your rosy assessment of their abilities and would rather not harm the company (or themselves).
  2. Lack of ambition. This employee may love the company and their job but prefer not to take on the additional responsibility.
  3. Abundance of risk. This person sees some ethical, legal, or professional risk in taking over leadership and would rather not put themselves in that position.

Each of these scenarios is going to require a different response. Unprepared successors will need a development plan that bridges the gap between their current position and future aspirations by providing opportunities for development. Unambitious employees can be reassigned to positions that make good use of their skills without allowing them to slip into complacency. Employees worried about risk need to be heard and concerns addressed as much as possible.

Short answer: the what of your response will depend on the why of your employee’s denial. And the only way to sort out that why is by sitting down and talking about it.

Has your chosen successor declined the position? Do you understand the motivation behind their denial? Without clear communication, you’ll end up making assumptions that serve neither the company nor its employees. For example, you may mistake an unprepared successor for one who lacks ambition. Consequently, you might put that employee in a dead-end position rather than on a path to leadership development. In the end, you’ll be left with frustration on the employee’s part as well as mismanagement of a valuable resource.

In contrast, all it takes is an honest conversation and careful thinking to leverage your successor’s denial into an opportunity for learning and human resource optimization.

By the way, if you’re struggling with how to have the conversation, this step-by-step conversation guide from a psychologist could help. Check it out.

succession strength logo Succession Strength, Inc helps entrepreneurs and family business owners pass the business smoothly from owner to heir. Take the free survey today to assess your succession readiness.