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In a recent presentation at the University of St. Thomas Center for Family Enterprise Family Business Forum, John Davis, a family-business consultant, researcher, and educator, commented that their clients already know everything that consultants like himself teach. But to be successful, clients need to confront or deal with the obstacles inherent in family-business succession planning.
Of course, my first question was: What are those issues? As I looked back over my practice, I began to identify some common obstacles. But before I name these obstacles for discussion, I will describe the context in which I work with my clients.
In my work with family-business clients, the basic goal is to help the B.O.S.S. be successful. I begin my work with clients by helping them realize that they have to help the B.O.S.S. be successful so that they can successfully navigate the obstacles and deal with their issues.
At the initial client meeting, when I introduce this concept (which comes from Collaborative Team Skills, written by Miller and Miller, 1994), all heads turn toward the father. I announce to the father that he has just been demoted, and that the real boss around here is the four constituencies that make up the acronym. The B stands for the Business and what the business needs to be successful. The O, which is the most important part of the B.O.S.S. acronym, stands for the Other. What do you want for the Other and what does the Other want? In the context of succession planning, each member of the family has to know that the others are committed to help each other be successful--it's a bilateral, mutual process. I use the common family vision to assist in this area. The first S is for self: What do I want for mySelf? This is the one area about which people are generally most concerned--themselves. To be successful, clients need to understand the systemic nature of family-owned businesses and that if they are t o achieve personal goals (the S), they must create a win-win success for all four constituencies. The final S stands for the Stakeholders, a group that usually includes the whole family, the employees, the customers, the vendors, and anyone else who is connected with the family business.
The ten obstacles described below are derived from my observations of client situations. These obstacles became stumbling blocks and obstructed the clients' ability to move from their current state to successfully navigate the succession planning process. I begin with Number 10, the most easily overcome obstacle:
10. The Tenth Obstacle Is Poor …