Congratulations, You Own It. Now What?
Over the past year, I’ve been working with Rebecca, the second-generation member of a family business.
Rebecca’s father started the business 25 years ago. When he passed away in 2010, he left 100 percent ownership of it to his wife (Rebecca’s mother), who has relished “being involved” with the business. However, Rebecca has been the one handling 95 percent of the business operations, and she—not her mother—has successfully grown the business year over year since her father’s passing.
Despite all of her hard work, Rebecca never owned the business and Mom had not been receptive to a transfer. After Rebecca and I worked together throughout 2018 (a story in its own right), we positioned her to acquire the business from her mother in January 2019. The legal transfer was flawlessly executed, but when Rebecca and I met around that time to discuss next steps, something wasn’t quite right.
Now that the business was 100 percent hers, Rebecca was excited to begin executing upon all of the deferred strategic items we had previously mapped out. However, as we discussed them, she began to express some contingencies and caveats, which quickly began to pile up. The conversation went a bit like this: “We can do this if…, and we can do this when…but not before this, this, and this.”
Rebecca was using her contingency strategy as a buffer from taking action—and I called her on it. As soon as I did, a look of realization appeared on her face. She knew continuing with that strategy would have resulted in many future months of planning and spinning her wheels.
Rebecca stands as an example of what happens with many entrepreneurs. They can’t wait to roll up their sleeves and start breaking things in the name of progress. In the case of family businesses, though, there’s often a sense of obligation, responsibility, and legacy that acts as a self-governor and holds back the family member. This often manifests most acutely around the time of the ownership transfer. I’ve found the absolute best way to address it is through perspective and time.
The owner must first become aware of the behavior and the underlying cause for it. The first part involves getting an external perspective. But there’s more to it than that, and that’s where the need for time comes into the formula. The owner needs time to adopt the external perspective as his or her own.
Instead of spending months devising plans and contingencies, Rebecca will now focus on moving forward, as she simultaneously becomes comfortable in her new role as 100 percent owner. Her self-awareness of her attempt to wrap herself in a cozy blanket of plans, facts, figures, and metrics instead of taking action will enable her to use her time more productively.
I’m a big fan of marrying tactical actions to an overall strategy, but waiting until the stars are perfectly aligned and all plans are fully laid out is not a good enough reason to defer action.
I’m happy to report that Rebecca is well on her way to an exciting new era for her business, one with abundant growth, opportunities, challenges, and rewards. Now that she’s aware of what was holding her back from taking action, she will arrive there even faster.
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