In the home improvement industry, many operations are family businesses with several generations of tradition impacting decision-making. When it’s time for the previous generation to pass the baton to the next, sometimes tradition and discomfort about change can get in the way of starting conversations about the future.
In this installment of Hardware Retailing’s succession planning series, retail communications consultant Courtney Ramsey explains the importance of succession planning for retailers and how to get over the hurdle of starting the conversation.
“While change is necessary, almost everyone hates it,” Ramsey says. “Change brings out our biggest fears, and in the case of a small family business or even a larger company with a strong culture, employees may be worried that the business’s identity will be lost in the transition.”
Ramsey says core issues impacting small businesses, like succession planning, shouldn’t be delayed because of someone’s unwillingness to have the conversation.
“Coaching leaders to success in communication all boils down to one thing: Getting them to actually have the conversation,” she says. “Finding the courage to initiate the conversation is often the hardest part.”
Take the next step on your succession plan by reviewing Ramsey’s tips to communicate effectively during the process. Don’t be afraid to dig into upcoming challenging conversations to achieve the best results for everyone involved.
- Be Vulnerable
Begin tough conversations by sharing your intent. It helps the other person understand where you’re coming from and can prevent a lot of miscommunication. State your true feelings about the situation and why you want to have a conversation. Avoid combative or accusatory conversation starters. Invite the person to a conversation instead of telling them they are going to talk to you. Say something like, “Dad, something’s been weighing on me for a while now and I’ve been scared to talk to you about it. I know I’ll get the honor of running this business one day, but we never talk about when or how. Will you talk with me about how you see that happening?”
- Start Discussions Early
Realize that you’ll never feel ready. No one wakes up one day with a new sense of confidence or feels ready to bring up these topics. You’ll always question the timing, but you have to take the first step and initiate the conversation. A lot goes into succession planning when it’s done well. Ideally, the person taking over truly wants the role and is properly prepared for it. The longer you wait, the less time you have to do it right. Take time to decide if the person you’ve chosen is actually the right choice. As an exercise following the initial conversation, have both parties create a calendar highlighting milestones or goals throughout the succession planning process. Find a sample calendar at TheRedT.com/succession.
- Know Your Audience
When it comes to having a difficult conversation, be aware that what the other person says could set off your emotions. Set a plan to maintain your composure if that happens. Be sure to also consider the other party’s feelings and be prepared to mitigate disagreements. If things get heated, it’s okay to take a break and return to the conversation once emotions have subsided. If you anticipate the conversation being difficult, suggest meeting in a neutral place where there won’t be professional or personal distractions, such as a coffee shop or a local park. Serious conversations can happen in any atmosphere, as long as everyone involved feels comfortable.
- Focus On Commonalities
While you and the other party who is working through the succession plan may initially disagree on how it will come to fruition, discovering the common goals and strategies you each have for the business is a strong first step to smoothing out challenges. Have each person who will have a primary role in the succession plan create a list of five long-term goals for the business. Then, compare your lists and see where there may be commonalities to start the conversation about executing your succession strategy. If you have different priorities, make a plan to talk about why those components are important to you.