Business Transitions: It is Hard to Let Go

LetGo_Sign

Marshall Goldsmith, the author and executive coach, wrote a little (in size only) book entitled Succession: Are You Ready? (Cambridge, Harvard Business Press, 2009).  In it, he talks about letting go and moving on.  His words should be taken to heart by many, if not most of us:

Almost all of the leaders who I have met assure me that they will be different.  They confidently assert that they will have no problems letting go. You are probably delusional enough to believe that you too will be different.  Take my word for it: while your desire for uniqueness may be theoretically possible, it is statistically unlikely.

How business owners address this question is vital to the success of business transitions, and it is one that too often receives scant attention.

One of the most difficult things to realize is that we all have to let go.  We have to let go of things throughout our lives in order to make room for newer and better things.  As individuals working in professions or companies, we have to let go by:

  • Doing things that others can do so that we have time to think and grow.  In Mercer Capital’s early years, I read every word of every report that left our shop.  I did that for too long, but finally realized that we had several highly trained and capable analysts who were perfectly capable of performing that review function for us.
  • Allowing and encouraging others to grow.  I’m reminded of a friend who was never able to grow his business beyond a small handful of people.  He actually believed he could do everything better than anyone else.  As a result, he tried to do everything.  He wore himself out and ran off good staff.  I’m not sure he ever learned that simple lesson.
  • Realizing that in any sizable business, no one can make all the decisions. This point relates to the previous one.  This can be a hard one for many business owners.  After our prior president retired, a younger generation of folks took over management of our business at Mercer Capital.  Shortly thereafter, we decided to move our offices for the first time in 20-plus years.  I was tempted to get involved.  Instead, I got smart.  Matt Crow, Mercer Capital’s president, and I decided on the budget for the move and the post-move ongoing rent expense that we would have.  I then stepped aside and his team create our now not-so-new, new (and award-winning) offices.  Come and see us!

Management transitions are difficult for many baby boomer business owners.  It is just difficult, sometimes, to imagine your company without you in charge.  But life is better on the other side.  You will transition, and, as Marshall Goldsmith notes, you will likely have problems letting go.

Ownership transitions are also difficult for many business owners.  Things like control, image, lifestyle, ego and on and on get in the way.  So we have to get over it.

We developed this Ownership Transfer Matrix as a way to help business owners think about these transitions.

Charts_2013-Ownership-Transfer-Matrix-(How-To)

If you take a few minutes to study the matrix above, you will note that there are really no ways out of the boxes above.  You will transfer your ownership interest in your business, either in part or in its entirety (or in bits along the way), and either voluntarily or involuntarily.  One of the reasons I’m writing this blog is to help business owners think about these inevitable transitions.

So you think you will be different and have no problems in letting go?  Well, “…your desire for uniqueness may be theoretically possible, but it is statistically unlikely.”  Continue the journey with us.

As always, please feel free to share your thought about this post.

And feel free to give me a call to discuss any management or ownership transition or valuation-related issued in confidence.

Until next time,

Chris

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Business Transitions: It is Hard to Let Go

  1. Great post Chris – so many otherwise excellent transition plans fall apart because the outgoing owner(s) just can’t let go – it has to be one of the first conversations you have with outgoing owners and you have to have it over and over and over.