The succession planning process calls for the same passion and focus as the business and will have just as many challenges. It requires time, resources and scheduling—just as running the business does.
Succession continues to be a problem in Family Business. There are several difficulties even once you find someone who is truly interested and actually has the skills, or can learn the skills, it would take to work in the business. There’s also the shift from the charismatic leadership model to the more humble and enabling servant leader model with more emphasis than ever on interpersonal skills, and what may be the central issue–starting early enough (common opinion these days is 10 years).
Letting go is hard to do
The process of letting go when you hold the reins is usually not easy. The tendency is to leave it too late. If your work has been the main source of satisfaction, how are can you look forward to leaving? What transition process will be adequate?
It’s best to involve stakeholders (customers and suppliers) in the process that plans succession, not just the lawyers, accountants, and wealth management folks, as essential as they are.
Our CEO (who is now going to leave) is somehow supposed to be graceful, and understand that the time is approaching when he or she won’t be there. In worst case scenarios, no one works on succession until the CEO has already left. That can occur when illness forces the decision, or worse, when there is an unexpected death – something none of us plan for.
This successful creative person now is to move from the role of founder, or if second generation or later at least from a role where he or she has been presumed to have created value, and expected to participate in their own departure and do it wisely, gracefully and skillfully – well it’s usually not the case! As he/she moves from hero to golfer, from founder to retiree, much is required for our CEO to be happy.
The succession process requires structure
The succession process relies on appropriate structures for the planning process, and on the involvement of all those affected. It needs to be orchestrated in ways that maintain the health of the business, the harmony of the family, and the preservation and safeguarding of the owners earned shareholders capital. This planning process becomes a context in itself; within it are many planning goals, with roles for all stakeholders to play in maintaining the balance and integrity needed to move the business, the family, and wealth preservation forward in unison.
Succession is quite the task, yet because of the stakes and the complexity involved in achieving a successful outcome, a critical one that requires time, resources and scheduling, just as running the business does. The succession planning process calls for the same passion and focus as the business and will have just as many challenges. People issues will all be front and center and require skillful guidance to navigate the turbulence involved in real change. All this new activity needs to happen with already scare time and financial resources.
Don’t leave succession planning to the last minute
It’s good to start early, and have some good help; especially in handling the “soft stuff” of transition. We are creatures that like things to go along well, hopefully without too many interpersonal bumps.
Challenges in business are part of landscape, and although often daunting, when faced squarely they make the difference between potential problems and much satisfaction.
Back in the forties Kurt Lewin developed something called Force Field Analysis that asks what are the “driving forces” and what are the “restraining forces” when working toward the goal? In other words, what are the pluses and minus of what is going on? What is the cost/benefit of what is going on?
People often think that we just need to get more forces to push towards the goal, but there is always enough energy towards the goal. The issue is how do you modify the restraining forces, the negative things? How do you remove the stumbling blocks?
Things that are impediments are when people don’t feel heard or when they don’t want to be too specific about things because if they do, they might get attacked, or when they respond, we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work. As a facilitator you try to help people to not be quite as vague.
If you are part of the group, ask a person to tell you more about that, or “I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean” or “Can you say more about that”. People respond to those kinds of reactions and start to feel like somebody is actually interested.
If someone in the group just goes back to task and tries to minimize the interpersonal relationships or tries to figure out who they can talk to and only talks to them it creates a triangle which excludes the rest of the family or the group. If there is a confident who he or she agrees with and who there is enough similarity with, they create a sub-system, but it is private. In this situation in the larger group, it seems like have an agreement about something, but the sub-group is being compliant and then out of the room will voice their real thoughts.
Facilitation and Family Councils
There is a move in family business, and I have been trained in this, to develop a family counsel, a group which is set-up to hold family meetings. This can be particularly useful when considering succession. It begins with a meeting for the family to develop a code of conduct for the council.
What kind of language you are going to use?
Whether people are going to stay in the room and if they leave, how they will leave?
They may also develop a constitution for the family. There are various tools you can help the family develop.
For the facilitator or coach, the issue with a family council is to make sure that you are really noticing the phases of group development in that work. Otherwise people will be compliant to the facilitator and will go along with it because they are trying to be respectful or stay out of trouble; then they go out of the room and there is a blow up. The facilitator needs to be able to handle the intensity of what families can’t handle themselves; without somebody there to support them, these structures and systems and so forth, can get a little tattered. It does not matter if a group has met a thousand times before. You are always going to be dealing with the first stages of group formation for that meeting.
Some of the work is just helping family members to be able to get clearer and clearer about what they want out of the time together and having them be able to express some of the red zone language of what it is that they have been storing up that they never express.
As long as the facilitator can manage to keep them paying attention to their tendency to blame, attack and complain, and help them stay aware of tendencies to upset or to be vague, engage in fight/flight kind of behavior, any family can begin to change, and develop the skills needed to consider succession or other family business issues.
Conflict can be the gateway to change
At the beginning of the work, what looks like a fight is actually a way to distance as group members are still in flight. On the surface it looks like fight, but actually it is an avoidance of connection. The dynamics are that it isn’t safe enough to have a real fight so group members can complain, blame and do all sorts of things, but are not really going to connect.
If you can help the people to also have their turn to talk, it starts to happen that somebody will start to agree with something that somebody else says. People start to drop off the intensity, start to gradually connect with somebody else and then they don’t feel so isolated.
The facilitation work is to be able to go for whatever the length the meeting is, one hour, two hours, half day, a day, a weekend retreat, and for family members to be able to have more hope at the end than when they started.
Helping everyone feel supported
When I am called in, while on the surface it may look like everything is fine, underneath there are usually all sorts of ways the family knows where not to go because it didn’t work and it was very painful. These are the places where you feel like somehow you were not heard, not understood, or worse that somehow you were rejected. Not just for your opinions, but for something that is important to your values, to yourself.
As a facilitator the issue is how to support people in ways that help them get clearer about what kind of outcomes they want. Clearer about what the goal is for getting together. What is it that they really want? And then helping them to see how each individual is getting in the way of that without having people feel like they have done something wrong.
What intrudes are the losses of the past. “You did . . .” “When I tried . . .” “And, then you . . .” “And, you always . . . “
People are afraid it is never going to stop. They think that everything is going to get worse; that it is hopeless. They try to console themselves. “I am an intelligent person even if they don’t see it. You know, I tried hard and because he/she or them… You know I’ve done my best and it is not my fault.”
It is how they’ve learned to be together.
When it comes up in facilitated systems work, you don’t have to work alone. It is not about ganging up on somebody else. If it is a really small group, then the job is for the facilitator to validate their feelings and their upsets without taking sides against the rest of the people.
As the family comes together in a functioning family council, with some of the stumbling blocks to communication removed, they are better able to focus on the discussions needed for a viable succession plan.
We are all accustomed to speaking and reacting in certain ways, depending on the conversation, our history and our emotional state. When we learn to stop using common but unproductive ways of communicating, we open up real possibility for agreement and harmony.
Read the statements below and decide whether these kinds of actions would facilitate a profitable discussion, or bring one to a grinding halt:
Attacking or blaming others?
Responding to suggestions and ideas with “yes-but”
When these interactions occur it’s easy to find yourself feeling a consistent level of frustration with discussion.
Talk smarter. Get conversation SAVI
SAVI®, the abbreviation for the System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction, can help you move from frustration to satisfaction. Using SAVI® you can quickly train yourself to notice when the conversation is not heading towards a useful outcome. You would be able to listen to a conversation and know a lot of what a participant is feeling and thinking while they are actually interacting. SAVI® was co-developed by Dr. Anita Simon and Dr. Yvonne Agazarian.
The SAVI® model has language zones. Green zone language are things that are going to help communication move well. Yellow zone is for caution, and Red zone language suggests you stop—just like a stop light.
SAVI® is a wonderful system for helping people become aware of how their language contributes to getting stuck, not achieving useful outcomes and getting beyond old and more difficult patterns of relating. Whether the goal is the family working together, family members in the business working together, or the interrelationship between the two, SAVI® helps you move forward so that people feel satisfied with their communication and satisfied that the work gets done. SAVI® gives you an understanding of how everyone is working in the interpersonal realm within the family and the business.
SAVI® particularly looks at language. Most theories of communication have a lot of protocols, opinions, case studies, or examples, but they don’t really have a lot of research behind them. SAVI® does have research behind it, so it is more evidence based. The research has been done in organizational settings and work groups.
Learn to see communication in a whole new light
SAVI® helps us see how family members operate in their various roles in the family, whether working on something in the family, working on something in the business, or something that overlaps, we can tell how they operate by how they communicate. How individuals take leadership within their role, whether they are working in the business or are not working in the business, is revealed through language.
When you engage in the kind of communication listed at the start of the article, you are in the Red Zone.
SAVI worked for this CEO. It can work for you
One time I introduced SAVI® to a family business and gave them the model of this system both on paper and on a small DVD. These illustrated what happens when conversations don’t go well and what happens when you utilize the model. The CEO owner liked it so much that he wanted to practice it in meetings with the family. In a meeting that had a lot of intensity the CEO was about to say something, stopped himself, turned to me, and said, “I am going to say something that is in the red zone. Help me because that will not contribute to a good outcome for this meeting.” I said, “Well, you could ask a question about what other people’s opinions are, or about what is going on rather than putting your stamp on it.” He did and the meeting turned because he was getting more information into the discussion rather than driving it forward in the way he thought it should be. He caught that he could be part of the problem and he would have been. He would have created more reactivity rather than actually being interested in how other people saw the issue.
SAVI® is very easy to learn and there is a whole level of refinement and depth to it if people want to go further with it. Just getting started with it gives you an image to work with and lets you know that if you stay with this kind of language things will go better. Working with a facilitator can speed up the learning process.
You can take leadership in fostering productive interactions—in both the business and family domains—with these simple yet powerful communication techniques.
In a previous article, “
Do You Make These Meeting Mistakes?”, I introduced SAVI, the System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction, developed by Anita Simon and Yvonne Agazarian. There the focus was on Red Light and Yellow Light communication. This time we focus on Green Light communication, or the responses that help create resolutions and build group bonds.
The SAVI Grid separates communication into Person or Topic Centered and then separates topic centered into Factual and Orienting. In the Green Light section Personal responses are Resonating. Topic Responses are Responding, and Orienting Responses are Integrating.
Answering a feeling question
Mirroring Inner Experience
Making an affectionate joke
Answering a factual question
Clarifying your own answer with data
Giving corrective feedback
Building on another’s ideas or experiences
Making a work joke
SAVI’s contagious like a healthy virus. I’ve noticed in meetings that I’m in, where I feel like somebody is being outrageous or things are just not going in a way that I like or that feels fair, I start to feel stirred up. I begin to catch more and more that I’m more stirred up. What I need to do is to stay more in my executive functioning (prefrontal cortex) and to be able to actually think about slowing myself down. Do I just need to listen right now for a while, or if I do make an intervention, is it going to be a question? Is it going to be a statement about what is going on for me? How am I going to help the group orient to a healthy goal versus people getting reactive and more stirred up about what is going on with them?
Being a leader means managing yourself first
This is sharing the burden of leadership by taking up your leadership of managing yourself to make a contribution to the goal of the interaction. If the context of the interaction is business, that is one thing. If the context is just family, that is another. In family business, it is usually mixed and you can’t quite separate them out.
How are you contributing through your leadership of yourself in your role in the family, whether you are working in the business, are just a family member, or are a shareholder or a spouse? How do you help the whole system move? SAVI is very effective in being able to help the whole system move.
Exercise: Get into the zone
A training process I’ve seen used, and have been a part of, allows people to get a feeling for zone interactions. You have three people sit together. You give a card to one person to stay in the red zone, another person to stay in the yellow zone, and another person to stay in the green zone. Then you say, “Now you decide what movie you are going to see tonight” and watch what happens. Then the facilitator might change it by giving two of them a red zone card, and then take a red zone card out without letting the others know that one person still has a red zone card. Then the facilitator might give them either a yellow or a green and ask them to notice what’s happening with conversation. Notice how the process evolves as the communications change from red to yellow to green?
Once even one person is working with green communications, within ten minutes, they have decided where they are going to go and everybody feels okay. It transforms the systems because it transforms the transfer of information. You can see that the energy and information is not about the person. It is about how to handle interpersonal relationships in a way that is functional whatever the context, or the goal.
Shift your language, shift your result
To get started you can give people an image of the SAVI Grid and say, “If you stay in this kind of Green language things will go better.” Just keep the card in front of you and look at it. You can even get a pocket card and every time you get stirred up, take the card out and decide to make a choice about whether you want to be part of the problem and make it worse, or whether you want to actually be helpful. People get interested and they actually start to shift their language.
When you take the big picture view of the family and see it as an interconnected system, it becomes easier to transform conflict into connection.
Systems Centered Training, or SCT, is a tool I use all the time. SCT can actually tell you what phase of development the family is in. Systems Centered Training is about working with individuals, couples, families, business, organizations, social systems and being able to understand why it is that they are not moving forward in a way that they say they want to move forward. It sheds light on what’s happening that gets in the way of them realizing the goals they would like to actualize. It was developed by Dr. Yvonne Agazarian. I use it in couples work, with individuals, with family business members, and with other groups. I use it with families where they have absolutely kind of given up and feel maybe we can’t work all this out. We will all just go back to our silos, do our job and try and manage it. Let’s just not make it any worse.
In SCT, “the system” is in whatever particular context that you set. So, if it’s two siblings talking, that is a system and you can begin work there. They may rest in the larger system of the family, and the family may rest in the larger system of the family business. Each time you work, you assess the current boundaries of the system.
Change one part of a family dynamic, and the whole system adjusts accordingly
Systems are dynamic as any one part influences the rest. You can take one part of it, like the two siblings, and say it is part of a sub-system. It is a small group. However, they are influenced by the context in which they reside, which includes the rest of the siblings, the parents system, the extended family, the business and it all interrelations.
When you try and say the problem is all in the person you are in individual psychology. While Individual psychology can be helpful, we human beings are social animals so we reside within a system that influences us. We respond and react to that larger system. When we are in these systems, and something bothers us, and we feel like we are not heard, or we are irritated with something, or we are frustrated what usually happens is we drop into ourselves and we lose our membership power in the system. We just react to the system rather than deciding we can connect to the system.
SCT suggests these questions: What can I find in the discussion I am having that I can agree with?, or What part could I agree with? Once there is awareness the awareness, “maybe I can’t agree with everything, but something could be there”, then things start to change.
SCT came out of psychotherapy. The founders were thinking about how to teach other people since there are certain protocols that work and others that don’t work. SCT is about training people in what works. Just as you would go to a trainer to learn how to be safe in the gym and more effective in using the weights, or you would work with a coach to get ready for a marathon. There is a step function and phases in learning how to run well. So, you get a coach who paces you so you don’t injure yourself in getting ready for that marathon.
SCT is the same in that you are training people in how to form sub-groups. How can even two people function as a group? How can they form a “we” that honours the best of both of their intentions without getting stuck and polarizing about how the other person is “too different”—the business is too different to connect to; the parents are too different to connect to, or siblings are too different to connect to.
Coaching in SCT can help your family connect
Working with SCT, I help clients find some ways to connect that feel right to them. Once people feel that somebody is trying to connect with them, they start to drop some of their defenses and start to be interested in what’s going on; somebody is actually listening to them.
All groups, all families, come together for any conversation around a task with a certain degree of questioning:
What is required of me?
What is going on here?
They start in a conversation with some caution. Usually you can determine from the language what the pattern is:
Is this a group that is still a bit uncertain; a little anxious?
Is it safe here to express my opinion?
Are people listening?
Can we handle some difference?
Or, is it a group that has now moved into a different phase—fighting and arguing?
Finding out who in the group is interested, and what they are interested in requires communication. Each group member requires a conversation and how those conversations go determines whether you can have a successful outcome.
Often everybody wants to work towards agreement, toward collaboration, so there is a push to have agreement. As the facilitator you need to be careful and do the developmental building blocks. Finding what everyone wants; finding out the steps that each individual needs to go through to get on that team and have it feel like it is more important for them to be part of the team then to just be the superstar.
You don’t have to eliminate disagreements, but learn how to disagree constructively
SCT can be extremely functional in helping to handle group differences and teaching people to argue constructively. Constructive argument is about how the argument happens. Often, arguments happen with blame and attack with people telling other people, through implication or directly, how things should be. This stirs up someone up and then there is a counter argument made.
The need is get people to start to calm down and not be as reactive; the need is for someone to be able to say, “Well tell me more about what it is you are up to with this approach”.
When group members are responded to with inquiry instead of defensiveness or argument they feel more included and then feel they are respected for their opinion. Even if it is very different, you can somehow appreciate their difference. Every time somebody does is able to appreciate difference when they are arguing; they help that member have a voice in the group.
SCT finds that there is always somebody else in the group who feels somewhat similar to what is being said, but the other person is not speaking. When using SCT you would ask the person who is upset to get centered, to notice what it is like to be feeling very strongly about this, and then have them ask, “Is there anybody else in the family who has anything like my feelings”.
The chances are that 99.9% of the time there is somebody else in the room who agrees with part of it. Then the speaker knows he or she is not alone. In Systems Centered work, in family work and in running a business the danger is that people start to feel that they are working alone. It causes isolation, reactivity and scapegoating.
The SCT system of sub-grouping makes sure that somebody always has somebody else who agrees with them enough that they can feel like they are not alone. In this way you help whoever is in that small group to know who their allies are. At that point, people could easily criticize and say, “That small group is a clique. Now we have a clique in this thing. Now it is even worse!”
But it isn`t worse because once they feel like they have been able to say what they need to say, you can ask them, “is it okay for other people in the family or in the business, to be able to talk about what is different for them”. This forms another sub-group, and then as a facilitator, you can facilitate outside the group. Someone in the family with some skills can also facilitate.
As either an outside facilitator or an in group facilitator, you facilitate by joining with other people`s opinions, feelings, ideas, reactions and that group then starts feeling like they are not working alone.
As those conversations start happening, invariably somebody in the first group starts to get interested in the second group, and somebody in the second group gets interested in something in the first group.
After they have calmed down a little bit, you start getting the group working as a whole and it becomes functioning work group.