By John Trewolla, MBA

You are going to leave your company. There are no exceptions.

One way is to leave your company voluntarily on your own terms. With preparation, you can do this gracefully without diminishing the value of your company.

The other way is to leave your company involuntarily due to death or disability. Again with preparation, a well-planned transition strategy will let your family, heirs and employees deal with your departure more gracefully.

Either way, a well-designed transition plan is essential. It continues the operations of your company, maintains leadership and preserves the value of the company.

So why doesn’t every business owner have a transition plan in place?

People give lots of reasons. Most of them are based upon fears, fantasies and fictions.

• I’m too busy to deal with it now. I’ll have more time later. (Fantasy)
• I’m healthy and will stay that way. (Fantasy)
• It’s too complicated. (Fear)
• It will be expensive. (Fear)
• It can be done quickly if it needs to be. (Fiction)
• My partner/spouse/team already knows what to do. (Fantasy)
• It’s already taken care of in my will/trust/estate/financial plans. (Fiction)
• It will be easier to do when we get further down the road. (Fiction)

The real reasons are usually none of the above.

Emotional issues are usually the real reason why most business owners do not have a good transition plan in place. They may not even be aware of what the issues are!

A good transition plan is responsive to the personal goals and priorities of the business owner. It can be difficult to discuss these values, hopes and fears and define them clearly.

Many business owners need help to resolve:

• Uncertainties about “What will I do, if I’m no longer at work every day?”
• Anxieties about “Who will I be, when I’m no longer the boss?”
• Concerns about “How will my spouse and/or family be affected?”
• Worries about “Will these changes destabilize my relationship with _______?”
• Apprehensions about “How will the company survive if I’m not there?”
• Uneasiness about “Is my next-in-line leader up to the job?”

Family-owned businesses are especially complex.

Many difficult and sensitive issues can be triggered by developing a good transition plan:

• Long-standing and/or latent conflicts between partners and/or family.
• Disagreements about goals and agendas.
• Habitual and persistent resentments.
• Fantasies about what is possible or desirable.
• Hurt feelings between loved ones.
• Choices where every option has bad consequences.

To move ahead so you can rest easy… 

  1. Recognize that the emotional components of transition planning must be dealt with first. It is nearly impossible to make any real progress otherwise.
  2. Get help from a qualified transition coach. Especially in family-owned businesses, an outsider can be essential to reframing and resolving long-standing conflicts.
  3. Engage a transition coach equipped with the special knowledge and tools needed to construct and execute a comprehensive exit transition plan.
  4. Act today. Transition strategies take time to develop and implement. They are useful only when they are completed and active. Whether your transition will be voluntary or not, delay is dangerous.