Succession Planning in a Family Owned Business

I came across this article about Chicago based Home Run Inn and how this family owned business is working towards making a seamless transition when it is time for the next generation to take over. I applaud the pizza business as so many family owned businesses really do not think this far ahead.
Succession planning in any business takes time, finesse and vigilance. Ensuring that the right people are in place to step into a position when a predecessor leaves involves more than just having a body there. They have to be ready.
In a family owned business, the dynamic can be very different and a bit more challenging for HR to navigate. The reason I love the article is because not only was the current leader taking steps to ensure proper succession, he was seeking outside counsel. Sometimes getting leaders in a family owned business to allow someone outside the family to offer advice is like pulling teeth.
An HR practitioner in a family owned business can assist the owner in succession planning in a few different ways. In my experience, the sooner you start to have the conversations, even if the owner is not planning on leaving for a long time, the better. The conversations could be few and far between initially, just enough that the thought is out there. Over time the conversations increase until it is time for the real planning to begin.
Once in the midst of actual planning, being an un-biased voice regarding who is capable of taking over, who actually wants to take over (skill AND will really matters here) and the development needed to get them ready can help a leader work through the nuts and bolts of this very important decision. The conversations may not always be pleasant as some family leaders assume their children will take over and their reality is that the kids do not want to or do not have the skill. In other situations it may take getting a leader to realize that there really is not anyone currently employed at the company ready to step in and measures are going to be taken to find and develop that person. In this case, you are asking them to hire their replacement which can be quite a shot to the ego.
Pleasant or not the conversations must occur and if the leader is not taking it upon themselves, then HR can give them that gentle nudge. In the long run, it is about the continuity of the company and there are not too many entrepreneurs who started businesses just to see them thrive in their lifetime. Most want their business to be a legacy that is passed down for generations to come.
Have you ever had to help with succession planning in a family owned business? What measures did you take? Was it difficult or was the leader on board with it? I’d love to hear your story.
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