Is it time to have “The Talk”? Oh no, not the awkward conversation we all have as we enter adolescence but the one about death. Conversations around death have always been taboo in our society but that stigma prevents us from having important discussions regarding significant decisions. 90% of people recognize the importance of the conversation and yet only 27% of people actually end up having it. Denying the mortality reality of family members and business leaders leaves both vulnerable. Whether you are a parent talking with your children or a founder talking with your business partners, there are some things to keep in mind as you broach this most sensitive topic.
Parents to Kids
Surprisingly most parents are far more comfortable discussing end of life decisions than their children. No child, whether ten years old or 50 years old, wants to consider facing life without a parent. But, like the conversation during their adolescence, a parent must insist that the awkward conversation happen. You are more comfortable discussing end of life because it is your life, and you have perspective of time, something your children do not. By leading the conversation and showing your children that you are comfortable discussing it then they will follow your leadership. Take time to acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings, and perhaps even sadness, but stay focused on the task at hand.
Kids to Parents
Broaching the topic of your parent’s death can feel like a tacky subject to bring up, a greedy insistence, and entitlement to information, as if you can’t wait for them to die, or it might be a reality that you do not want to face. Regardless of age, facing a world without a parent can seem scary. In reality you are initiating a conversation because you love them and want to make sure their own desires for end of life, family relationships, and business continuation are fulfilled. A little preparation goes a long way. Develop a specific list of questions you want to discuss. This list might include anything from funeral details to decisions of medical care. Power of attorney, shareholder operating agreements, and other directives need to be created. Remember, you are not here to hasten their demise but instead to help bring peace of mind and clarity to important family and business matters.
Founder to Business
It is even more important to have “The Talk” early when a family business must be accounted for. Nobody can deliver the conversation directing the future of the business except the leader of the business. Instilling calm, reducing organizational anxiety and providing clarity about the future leadership will help the organization remain focused and productive when a transition takes place. As a founder it is difficult and yet important to recognize that your position as founder and CEO will come to an end, whether you have planned for it or not. Planning before a crisis or event can provide you peace of mind as well as for your employees and your business. 65% of Founders believe their business will survive beyond them, 88% will die in office. You can see the immediate conflict this creates.
When preparing for a transition, it is as important to know what you are moving toward as it is to know what you are moving from. You will not be the first person to say, “this transition is the hardest thing I’ve done in my whole life.” Do you plan to migrate to a Board role or completely retire? What will your next chapter look like? Pursuing a different business venture? Board service? How will you identify and prepare your successor? Somebody will need to lead the business. Planning and training that person will make the transition smoother and leave you feeling more comfortable and give everyone greater confidence and peace of mind.
For many this conversation is difficult. Having an outside guide can make a big difference in the productivity and outcomes. “The Talk” can be a positive experience, one that unifies your family and business. At REGENERATION we have spent decades helping families and businesses with “The Talk” and the planning and implementation of succession. Don’t let Mortality Reality fears keep you from taking these important steps for your family business. We’re here to help.