Think vision statements are hokey?
I’m with you. I have seen more useless vision statements than the average bear. But that doesn’t stop us from forcing the issue with our clients. Vision statements are important if you plan to get anyone to help you grow your company. They need to be clear and they need to be worthy of everyone’s best effort. In this post we aren’t going to go into a ton of detail on how to set a vision for your company. That isn’t necessary, because honestly it isn’t that complicated. It may not be easy, but it is pretty simple.
Your vision is where you want to go. It is the destination. The clearer you can’t paint me a picture of that destination the more useful that vision is going to be for both of us. When in doubt, put a number in your vision. Numbers drive out fuzziness and ambiguity. Your vision shouldn’t be to grow. Instead try “top 100 in our industry.” Your vision shouldn’t be industry leading quality. Instead try “win 5 Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Awards.” Get clear and paint a picture your people can get excited about.
For families struggling with how and when to hand the business off to the next generation there are few matters more important than vision. I think these families have two options. They can maintain the status quo, or they can build a STRATEGIC succession plan. That plan must address vision in two very explicit ways.
STEP 1: Determine the state of your current company vision. There are four possible scenarios here.
This is a situation where mom and dad had a clear vision for a long time and at some point in the recent past we were able to say “mission accomplished.” We checked the box and never really reset the vision for the next big endeavor.
We ran into one such company where the founder had spent 30 years building a very successful and large enterprise. For a long time the vision had been to build an organization that would outlive him. A masterful partnership deal had provided liquidity and capital that opened up all kinds of possibilities for the next generation. But no one had given any thought to where that next generation might want to take the business. Not surprisingly there was little urgency or excitement about the business or about the transition to a new generation of leadership.
This is probably the most favorable scenario. The previous generation set a worthy vision, the kids buy into it and momentum is maintained as the baton is handed from one generation to the next.
In these companies vision is talked about, it drives decisions, there are long term goals, there are usually plans to execute them. But there may have been some lapses in execution. The plans may not have always gotten the attention they deserve.
This is the time to take advantage of the honeymoon period afforded when new leadership is appointed. The transition from one generation to the next has the potential to not just maintain momentum but to greatly increase it if everyone can handle their new roles well. More on that later.
There never was a vision, and there isn’t one on the horizon. This is probably the most common situation. It is indicative of the status quo transition model where mom and dad say “just don’t screw it up.”
More than any other scenario this is the one where mom and dad really struggle to let go. And it’s not a surprise. Without any kind of strategic succession plan there is no way to gauge whether the kids are ready. There have been few situations to see them in action driving success in the plan or leading effectively. And without a vision mom and dad worry that the kids will make decisions and evaluate opportunities as well as they did. Essentially everyone is just hoping things work out.
Mom and dad have a vision, they have been pursuing it, they thought they had buy-in, but now that it is time for the kids to run the show everything is changing. What we find out in these situations is that usually mom and dad weren’t that intentional in communicating their vision for the company. They just kind of assumed that everyone knew where they were going and why. You can imagine that if their own kids didn’t know the likelihood that other employees have a clue.
There is a lot of potential here for the business to suffer if the two generations cannot agree on what comes next. Alternatively the kids may charge ahead after mom and dad let go and the relationship may suffer due to the perceived betrayal.
Having established which situation you are dealing with the next step has to deal with managing the roles of each generation.
Step 2: Get clear about who the new vision standard bearer will be
Like it or not the person who is championing the company’s vision will be perceived as the leader. If the kids don’t take up this new role as their own a crisis is looming. Sooner or later mom and dad won’t be able to continue in this role, and the resulting vacuum will cause everyone to doubt the next generation’s capacity to lead regardless of how good they are operationally.
A good strategic succession plan will put the kids front and center not just on executing the plan, but also on taking advantage of every opportunity to talk about where the plan is taking us.
It is this change in roles that ultimately determines whether the business gains momentum or hits a brick wall. It affects how many key players stick around and give the kids a chance to lead and how many look for other opportunities after mom and dad leave.
My final encouragement to you is this, there’s no such thing as maintaining the status quo. You are either growing or you are dying. The transition from one generation to the next will either be a good thing for the business or it will be bad. No one is going to say “Eh, they’re doing an OK job. Everything’s fine.”
Find out where you are and start building a strategic succession plan to put your kids in the best position possible for the future. If you need help call us.