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The Reality of Mortality: Uncovering Structural Weaknesses

By September 1, 2023September 14th, 2023Succession Planning3 min read

A simple way to determine if a barrel has a hole is to fill it with water. The water will naturally seep through any structural weaknesses. Similarly, external pressures can reveal underlying issues, much like a newborn can highlight or exacerbate marital problems. Beginning in 2020, families and businesses have faced unprecedented pressure, stress, and challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many family businesses, this period highlighted structural weaknesses or ‘holes’ within the organization, leadership, or family dynamics, including succession planning.

Navigating Power Dynamics

In recent years, family-owned businesses have had no choice but to prioritize the health of senior family members. This necessity may have led to unexpected power dynamics, with founders and senior leadership team members, who were at high risk, being sidelined. Consequently, junior, younger family members may have been thrust into leadership roles. This shift in power dynamics could have revealed trust issues, succession planning challenges, and training inadequacies.

The trials of 2020 and beyond, revealed the ‘leaks’ that founders had been patching up. A harsh reality for any family business is that the senior generation (e.g., Founder, Chairman, President) will eventually pass on. Over the past year, did the senior generation feel confident that the younger generation could sustain the business while others quarantined at home? Did the older generation attempt to lead remotely? Were there instances of criticism, blame, or undermining behavior? Were real-time decisions later questioned? A son criticized for his judgment calls may not only feel insecure in his career but may also feel that his father does not trust him. This dynamic can cause lasting damage to both the business and personal relationships. Moreover, the ‘leaking holes’ reveal weaknesses in leadership and future ownership plans.

While most family businesses have felt the economic impact of the pandemic and had to reduce staff, leaving family members to run the business, it is crucial to commend the younger generation for stepping up, making tough decisions, and leading in unexpected ways. Instead of criticizing their mistakes, acknowledge that everyone makes errors in business, and view these as opportunities for improvement and areas for training. Rather than turning on each other, use this as a moment to foster teamwork and collaboration.

Addressing the Emotional Impact

Arguably, the most significant toll revealed during the pandemic was the uncertainty of life and the suddenness with which it can be taken away. COVID-19 does not discriminate – it affects fathers, mothers, siblings, executives, middle management, and line workers alike. The emotional strain of living with anxiety, being separated from loved ones, grieving in isolation, and struggling to keep businesses open are just a few of the stressors endured. In a family business, all these matters are interconnected. When Sally from HR loses her husband, the entire organization mourns. When there is an outbreak, and business grinds to a halt, everyone feels the anxiety. When a father tests positive, and his daughter assumes the responsibilities of family, business, and community, along with her emotional burden, the ‘holes’ indicate where help may be needed.

Whether the struggles of the past few years have revealed weaknesses in your business, strained family relationships, or gaps in your family business succession planning, REGENERATION can help. With decades of experience assisting family businesses in navigating relationship conflicts and designing long-term succession plans, we can help you prepare for the next storm your family business may face with greater confidence in your ship’s strength. Let us help.

Don’t let the challenges of the past define your future. Contact REGENERATION today and let us guide you towards a stronger, more resilient future for your family business. Together, we can weather any storm.