How come succession planning can be so difficult?

Business Leader Post, February 19, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

I am sure that everyone understands that there are emotional issues attached to the succession process. The decisions involved can be very difficult for a number of reasons.

Anytime one plans for the distribution of “gifts,” i.e., assets, to family members, the notion of trying to be balanced, equal and fair can seem impossible. Deciding on how to have the business managed by the next generation is also a daunting task that requires tough decisions; the reality is that somebody is probably going to feel slighted.  In addition, parents don’t always agree. The parent who has been involved in running the business may have different criteria for resolving the dilemma than the parent who thinks only about what is best for their adult children and grandchildren. And then there’s the issue of addressing one’s mortality.

Who wants to jump into those issues? People race to addressing those issues as much as they look forward to going to the dentist for a root canal.

Frequently, there is also another powerful dynamic that is occurring simultaneously with the above issues. That dynamic lives in the unconscious and is related to the many traumas that have existed in the family’s and the individual’s history. When one is pushed into dealing with emotions, the emotion is not confined just to that existing issue.

Emotion has a way of expanding and spreading and deepening. When that begins to happen, we become uncomfortable not only with the emotion; but also with the feeling of losing control as the emotion attaches itself to one historical memory after another. The escalation can be scary and uncomfortable. The logical response is to shut down on the issue that has triggered all that discomfort. Consequently, the succession process stops—most people just shut it down or do the bare minimum. The brave and more courageous, however, fight through it in the same way that they have fought through all their previous uncomfortable challenges.

Which one are you?