Succession planning is about making sure that you have a collaborative culture in two places — your family and your business. So what do hamburgers and marshmallows have to do with implementing a successful succession plan? It all depends on what motivates you (and other family members).
Remember the old cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpy? Known by his good friends Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl simply as “Wimpy,” he had a great love of hamburgers, but very little self-control. Wimpy’s most famous line, which has also been used in TV programs like “Cheers” and more recently “The Office” is: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Which is where Wimpy’s motivation came into play. It reminds me a great deal of deferred compensation plans: “Give me what I want today (or this month or this quarter or this year), and I’ll give you what you want next. The challenge is that just as there is “no one size fits all” succession plan, neither is there a “one size fits all” form of motivation.
And that takes us to the marshmallows. Those who don’t live the business world that we do –like scientists — have plenty of time to experiment with different motivational models. They even have time to try some of these models out on children. For example, a group of psychologists discovered that offering a child a marshmallow and simultaneously promising if he/she doesn’t eat the marshmallow until the adult returns, then he (the adult) will give the child a second marshmallow; and then the child will have two!
Far more often than not, the second marshmallow stays in the bag, proving once again that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Many of you reading this are hard-driving, results-oriented people who have successful businesses. Are you puzzled by this apparent lack of discipline, this inability to defer compensation – in this case marshmallows – among your own adult children and staff members?
It’s really pretty simple. What motivates you doesn’t necessarily motivate other people. Most of us get this, at least in theory, but there’s a disconnect between what we know and how we put that knowledge into practice. We can’t quite bring ourselves to believe that our map of reality is not the only map of reality. What that means from a practical standpoint is that everyone is motivated differently.
And that’s where creating a collaborative culture pays dividends, whether it’s with family or non-family executives within your organization. Like many of you, I grew up believing it’s important to honor my father and mother. Parents who are really effective in leading their families also believe that it’s important to honor their daughters and sons.
So how does a business owner facing succession challenges go about honoring daughters and sons who don’t want to become involved in the business? He gives them a way out — and that’s only possible through collaboration. And collaboration may well be more difficult than teamwork. Here’s why.
Collaboration is one of five basic systems for resolving interpersonal conflict, the kind that occurs in families and businesses. It requires a combination of assertiveness — standing firm for what you want – and cooperation – helping the other person get what she or he wants. It’s the classic definition of win/win.
Other forms of conflict resolution – competition, accommodation, and avoidance – turn out to be zero sum games: there’s a winner and there’s a loser. And then there’s the fifth form, compromise, which produces no winners and multiple losers. There is a time and place for those; but right now, let’s stay focused on how collaboration trumps them all, especially with regard to succession success.
Collaboration is an art form. It requires an awareness of what one person considers non-negotiable with an awareness of what someone else considers equally non-negotiable. In short, two different parties seek two different outcomes. For example, the different generations may be in conflict over timing of stock transfers and control of the company. In another case, siblings within the same generation may be in conflict because everything was divided equally; and no one carries enough sway to get the business out of a rut.
In either example, the possible, probable, and predictable outcomes are not pretty. The best and possibly most effective way to avoid permanent damage to personal relationships among family and key managers is to work through the difference by following these steps:
1. Check your understanding of the other person’s position.
Do this in person or use a form of media that allows you to see the other person. Words alone account for only seven percent of the communication process. They are simply tools that have been around since the beginning of time. Once heard, words create pictures that trigger attitudes and habits. If you use only words (email, text, Twitter, for example), you lose 93 percent of what makes for good communications (body language, tone, etc). In a situation like this, you must listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
It’s also entirely possible that you’ve been listening with the intent to respond rather than to understand. In preparing your rebuttal, you’ve more than likely imposed your view of the world on the other person. If that’s the case, you’ve missed an opportunity to move from what appears to be mutually exclusive positions (not principles) to mutually inclusive positions. Whatever generation you’re part of, that probably comes across as manipulation rather than motivation. Remember, the meaning of your communication is in the response you get.
2. Suggest and invite alternatives.
You have a map that guides you on a daily basis. However, yours is not the only map, and showing respect for other maps helps establish rapport, and that is crucial in reducing or eliminating resistance. Being sure is not the same thing as being right. There is no downside in listening to others with the intent of understanding. It sounds relatively simple, but it isn’t easy. View the discussion as feedback rather than failure. That helps to keep you in an open frame of mind.
3. State what’s important to you, and check what’s important to the other person.
This step cuts to the chase and probably violates some principles of effective negotiations. However, discussions about outcomes with family members and key managers really get dysfunctional when viewed as some form of bargaining. Everyone has an opportunity to advance the ball when what happens in this step really involves a genuine effort to understand what is motivating the other person. This is where you can learn whether they want hamburgers, marshmallows, or something far more important.
4. Temporarily remove restrictions.
The barriers blocking moving ahead are often self-imposed. Ask yourself and others involved these four questions:
a. What would happen if we do this?
b. What would happen if we do not do this?
c. What would not happen if we do this?
d. What would not happen if we do not do this?
You may find that exploring these questions opens up possibilities that no one had previously considered; and it could help avoid unintentional consequences of taking whatever action finally occurs.
5. End the discussion and indicate the decision.
Andrew Jackson, the US General/President on the twenty-dollar bill, once said “Always take all the time to reflect (and discuss) that circumstances permit, but when the time for action has come, stop thinking.”
If a collaborative agreement can’t be reached as yet, you may have to use organizational power and control to move on. Generally, that means you’ve left a ghost out there somewhere that will probably come back to haunt you. It could be a daughter, son, father, mother, sibling, or a key manager. Leave as few of these as possible.
Family dynamics, working towards a transition of leadership, or transferring the reigns, as many of you already know, can be a grueling process. It can also be a tremendous opportunity for you. To minimize conflict and move towards creating opportunity, identify what motivates you, what motivates others, and work to develop a collaborative environment for communication.