A New Year’s Resolution For Your Family Business

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

Happy New Year!

About half of us will make New Year’s resolutions this year, and they will be related to diet and exercise—activities that make us healthier and will help us live longer. Consider that good succession planning for our family business does the same thing: keeps the family business healthier and alive much longer than if we don’t have one.

Recently a non-family executive of a flourishing family business that has been around for many generations posed this hypothetical question to me: “Wouldn’t it be great if both the older and the younger generations made it their New Year’s resolutions to do succession planning and to communicate what their plans are to each other as well as to those of us who work with them?” It was a novel approach—both generations working on their own plans before coming to the table to work on a succession plan together. What I really liked was the idea that both generations would be planning for the future, devising strategies for keeping the business alive and the family involved for another generation regardless of how the discussion starts. Of course I agreed it would be a wonderful resolution.

You could argue that if you wanted to start to do something you could do it at any time, not an arbitrary time like the first of the year. And yet as human beings, there seem to be things we are hardwired to do. We clear things out at the end of the year and start new things at the beginning of a new year. Why not use this natural rhythm, this excuse of the New Year if you will, to start doing what you know you need to do?

Have you and your family been talking about creating a succession plan, but you just don’t get around to it? Perhaps you’ve been discussing meeting for the purpose of ensuring that your family business lasts well into the next generation for years, but you haven’t even set up the first meeting. Having no plan for the future becomes the elephant in the room, the problem everyone is aware of but no one wants to talk about. Statesman John Foster Dulles once said: “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” Is talking about the future of your family business the same problem you had last year?

If you haven’t begun serious conversations about plans for the next ten years as well as your wishes for the future of your family business, use the beginning of this new year as a good reason to set up a meeting with your family members soon. After all, you do not want to have the same problem again next year.


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