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  • Miki Ackermann

Navigating Succession: Key Considerations for Business Owners

Updated: Apr 11

April 3, 2024.


Experienced business woman speaking in a meeting.

Succession planning is a critical aspect of ensuring the longevity and prosperity of a business. For business owners, the transition from being actively involved in day-to-day operations to passing the torch to a successor can be both daunting and crucial for the continued success of the enterprise.


In this article, we'll explore key items that business owners should consider when planning for a successful transition to a successor.


Early Planning: Succession planning should ideally begin years before the actual transition takes place. This planning is not a one-time event or meeting; it is a process that unfolds over time. Starting early allows for an orderly transition thorough evaluation, selection, and grooming of potential successors. It also provides ample time to address any gaps in skills or experience that the successor may have.


Another challenge to consider, as per Carly Hickey from Advance Care and Emergency Planning, a firm specializing in helping families prepare for medical advanced care, is medical emergencies. If the founder is diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness, planning should begin immediately after diagnosis to allow for the development of the best options for the business owner and the company.


Identifying Potential Successors: Whether it's a family member, a key employee, or an external candidate, identifying and nurturing potential successors is vital. Consider factors such as leadership qualities, business acumen, alignment with the company culture, and long-term commitment when evaluating candidates.


Internal candidates have the advantage of knowing the company, its operations, history, client base, and both internal and external relationships have been established. If the succession plan includes family members, it may be accompanied by emotional baggage that needs to be carefully navigated and managed.

In comparison, an external candidate will have to learn about the company and build up trust and relationships inside and outside of the company. External candidates may also bring a fresh set of skills and knowledge to the company.


Whether internal or external, a change in the top leadership role will always bring certain levels of concerns which require change management techniques, communication, and transparency (as outlined below). Whoever is chosen, it helps to remember the goal is not to duplicate the current owner, President, or CEO. The focus should be on what the business currently requires.


Training and Development: It is crucial to invest in the training and development of potential successors to ensure they are equipped with the necessary competencies, skills, and knowledge to lead the business effectively. This may involve providing opportunities for mentorship, formal education, or exposure to various aspects of the business. Before this, you may wish to use assessment tools to assess the potential successor’s skills and competencies.


As noted earlier, the ideal candidate should be groomed on what the business currently requires. As such, prior to developing the required training plan, identify the required competencies, skills, and knowledge. Knowing these essentials beforehand makes the candidate selection criteria easier as well.


Documenting Processes and Procedures: Determine how candidates will be identified, based on the required knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies identified above. Documenting key processes, procedures, and institutional knowledge is crucial for continuity during the transition. Create comprehensive manuals, guidelines, and documentation to facilitate a seamless handover of responsibilities to the successor. This includes the criteria for selection, based on the competencies and skills discussed above.


Communication and Transparency: Open communication with stakeholders, including business partners, family members, and employees is essential throughout the succession planning process. Determine the appropriate level of transparency for the business, and then communicate items such as the timeline, criteria for selecting a successor, and the high-level plan; this helps alleviate uncertainty and fosters trust.


Preserving Company Culture: The company's culture plays a significant role in its success and should be preserved during the transition. Ensure the successor is well orientated on the values, vision, guiding principles, and ethos of the business.


Contingency Planning: Prepare for unforeseen circumstances by developing contingency plans for the succession process. This may involve identifying backup successors, establishing emergency protocols, and ensuring continuity of operations in the event of unexpected challenges or events such as medical diagnosis or accidents. As per a friend, Hugh Latif, “a surprising health issue or accident can happen anytime and have serious negative influence on the business. Being ready with a qualified and ready successor, even for a transitionary period of 30, 60, 90 days, can achieve stability until a successor is appointed.”


Evaluating Progress and Adjusting Strategies: Continuously evaluate the progress of the succession plan and be prepared to adjust strategies as needed. Regularly review goals, milestones, and performance metrics to ensure alignment with the overall vision and objectives of the business and planning process.


Financial Considerations: Different and apart from finding the “right” succession candidate, there is a need to assess the financial implications of the succession plan, including tax implications, estate planning, and funding for the transition. Consulting with financial advisors and legal experts can help navigate complex financial matters and ensure a smooth transfer of ownership.


Seeking Professional Guidance: Engage the services of experienced advisors, such as legal experts and HR/OD consultants with succession planning experience to navigate the complexities of succession planning. Their expertise can provide invaluable insights and guidance throughout the process.


Keep in mind, succession planning is a multifaceted process that requires careful consideration and strategic foresight. It does not happen overnight. Every business is different and unique, and as such, the succession planning needs to reflect the unique characteristics of your business.


If you need help navigating through succession planning, reach out. We are here to help.

If you need help with medical advanced planning, reach out to Carly Hickey, at https://www.aceplanningco.com.

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