It’s All About the Journey
Succession planning involves a journey or a process rather than simply sitting down and writing a plan. Often the plan itself is really just a formal confirmation of the outcomes of hours of discussions and negotiations addressing all the issues that form part of a successful succession planning exercise. As much as we are dealing with businesses and assets, we are dealing with people and families and relationships here that are often considerably more difficult to resolve successfully than business management and asset ownership structures.
This process typically follows a number of steps or stages. Each one of these can take some time and effort before moving on. A succession planning exercise is rarely easy and often fraught with frustrations and hurdles to be overcome along the way. The key to success is to keep focusing on the issues and the desired outcome, and not personal frustrations. In sporting terms, make sure we “play the ball and not the man”, even though this is sometimes easier said than done.
What then are these steps or stages in the process?
- Firstly all members of the family need to work through a process of awareness and education so that they understand what is involved. One key factor is understanding that we need to separate management succession and ownership succession. That is, resolve who, when and how the enterprise will be managed going forward separately from when and how and to who, assets will be transitioned.
- We need to undertake a needs review of all stakeholders. That is, we need to understand the needs, frustrations, desires and ambitions of all the current owners and the future successors. This needs to be done individually to allow everyone to speak their mind openly and free from the pressures of a group meeting.
- The next step can sometimes be one of the most challenging. Discussing and negotiating through a process to arrive at a position of alignment and agreement in principle. This process can take some time and often involves some “give and take” from all stakeholders. This is usually not something that will be resolved in just one meeting.
- Having worked through this process the next stage is to formulate the plan into a formal document or documents. To do this we are likely to need some advice and input from your accountant and solicitor. Dealing with any potential tax issues is important as is structuring something that is legally robust and also integrates with your wills and estate plans. Your wills and estate plans may need to be updated as part of the process.
- Finally we need ongoing improvement and support. As our plan is implemented adjustments may need to be made to accommodate changes in circumstances, and some form of ongoing support will often be needed to ensure the plan is actually successfully implemented. Having come this far it is often all too easy to fall back into old habits or “business as usual” without some form of external or independent support.
If you are the current owners and/or parents in a family enterprise, succession planning is really important. Even though the process is not always easy it is worth the effort. Leaving it to your kids to “fight it out” after you are gone is not the answer in my view. It is as much about organising and planning your own future as it is about providing some certainty and a future for your kids. This is a challenge but also an opportunity that needs to be grasped with both hands. Putting it off usually doesn’t resolve anything, but can add to intergenerational frustrations and a breakdown in relationships.