Navigating Tough Terrain with the Right Road map

When stepping into leadership as the “next generation” in a family business, you quickly recognize the big shoes you are expected to fill. After years in the organization, you know there’s room for improvement and you’re poised to push the business forward and drive growth.  However, as the new leadership team migrates in and the old one passes on a legacy, it’s easy to get lost—either in the excitement of limitless possibilities or by becoming entrenched in a solitary end goal and how to achieve it. Whatever your vision of business success, there typically are various ways to obtain that goal. Just like when preparing for a road trip vacation, there needs to be a bit of planning to decide which route to take to your destination. Additionally, there are lots of maps out there to tell you the “best” way to travel.

Problems can arise; however, if the map you are using doesn’t fit with the vehicle you are driving. That little compact 4-cylinder car may be great on gas mileage, but how well will it navigate mountains or more rugged roadways? Sometimes in business we travel without a road map or choose one that makes little sense for the terrain that lies ahead. And sometimes we encounter unexpected obstacles in the road that stop us in our tracks and cause division within the team.

So, as leaders, how can you make sure you’re moving forward together with a road map that leads everyone straight to success?

Establishing Expectations Over Emotions

One of the most challenging examples of passing the torch and still maintaining the flame is often seen in family-owned businesses where boundaries may be ignored, benchmarks voided, roles blurred, and logic replaced by emotion that interferes with pragmatic business decisions.

I worked with the retired owners of a training and development firm who feared their legacy was being destroyed by interpersonal conflicts between siblings entrusted to take over the family businesses. The siblings’ high-conflict partnership was on its way to eroding the company, threatening the owners’ retirement, and stunting the stability and growth of the organization. The owners’ son (the company’s President) and daughter (the Executive Vice President) had opposing visions for the company’s growth. Their tensions dated back to childhood when the younger son was cared for by his older sister who now held a lesser position in the organization. In effect, upon retirement, the parent owners had reversed the long-held family roles occupied by these siblings.  Now the parents were called to settle the squabbling and they needed help with how to do this.

Obviously, “out with the old and in with the new” was not going to be as simple as it sounded. My initial recommendation for this family included a joint problem-solving session with all family members. During this session, we utilized a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to assess the state of the business and the options for moving forward.

Mapping the Route

Utilizing results of the SWOT analysis, we began to outline a strategic plan to reduce conflict, smooth out daily operations, and establish what the “finish line” looked like for this company. The retired owners evaluated proposed solutions, and quickly made a unilateral decision to bring in a trusted, outside resource to oversee day-to-day business functioning. He was charged with working with the President and EVP on evaluating the success of their divergent, yet potentially complementary visions. With the solid foundation of a strategic plan with concrete action items, the family business was able to move forward with intention, equipped with a road map to success. The original owners, who had worked tirelessly to build the business, were able to return to a more peace-filled retirement.

As new leadership assumes the helm in a family-owned business, fresh eyes look around the business and need to chart a course to future success. Retiring owners can influence that process by clarifying how to define “success”—or more specifically, pinpointing the expected destination. If the destination is unclear, you’ll never be able to figure out where you need to go. When you utilize a SWOT analysis to find your destination and strategic planning to create your map, you can move forward to an exciting and rewarding journey.

To learn more about how SWOT analysis and strategic planning can be the building blocks of thriving organizations, see my related case studies: 

Please let me know if I can help you use these tools to move forward to success in your organization.