Procrastinating or Preparing?

Most weeks I write my blog post on Saturday, and sometimes even on Friday. I am just starting to write this post on Sunday, and the late NFL games are already on, so I am clearly behind schedule.

The title of this piece is “borrowed” from the name of a report that EY (Ernst & Young) just published, but I changed the order of the words.

It would be nice if I could honestly say that I put off writing this in order to really “feel” the procrastinating part, but that would be disingenuous on my part. I just plain did not feel inspired, and I had other things to take care of. I even went and visited my mother.

Why is it always so easy to put off doing important things? Well lots of times it’s because we are too busy doing things that seem more urgent. It really is an easy trap to fall into.

Hey, my Mom’s computer mouse died, and I am kind of her go-to tech guy, and she deserves to be able to use her computer whenever she wants to, so I had to go and install a new mouse for her, like, today.

Back to the EY report, which is called “Preparing or Procrastinating” and which is all about “How the world’s largest family businesses undertake successful successions”, as the secondary title says.

They surveyed over 500 of the largest family businesses in a total of over 20 countries and asked them how they handle the important task of succession. They worked with researchers from Kennesaw State University, who have a strong reputation in Family Business.

From their survey results, they have compiled a number of separate reports, and they are all available on their website. They have really been doing a nice job in this space with great content lately. I guess that with over 200,000 employees worldwide, it should not be unexpected that they put out high quality stuff.

This report talks about some of the things that successful families are doing to make sure that the generational transfer of the business is done well.

They list four main things that their survey respondents had in common, the assumption being that if these big family businesses did these things, and succeeded in becoming big businesses, then a lot of smaller family companies could benefit from following in their footsteps and emulating them.

I won’t get into all four of their points, but want to highlight the first one: Clearly define who is responsible for succession.

This is my favourite because it is not that obvious. If you don’t think that succession is YOUR responsibility, then you really aren’t procrastinating, you’re just being ignorant or oblivious.

But succession doesn’t just happen by itself, and it is not an event, it is a process. And ideally a long process. And someone needs to make sure that the proper preparation takes place.

It turns out that Board of Directors, at 44%, came out on top in the survey, as far as succession responsibility is concerned. This was followed by “owners/family council” at 23%, and the CEO at 22%. “Other” was at 11%.

Now I know that just about every family business, no matter how big or small, has a CEO, even if they don’t use that title. But how many have a board of directors, or a family council? A lot fewer.

Preparing for succession, which I actually prefer to call “Continuity Planning”, is important, and it takes time. The longer you wait to start, the harder it is to pull off properly.

If you don’t have a board or a family council, and you are the majority owner, the person responsible for succession is probably the person you see in the mirror.

Oh, and you may be overdue to at least call your mother.

Click here for EY’s Preparing or Procrastinating