What the Show Succession Can Teach Family Businesses

Is your family business g2 ready

My husband and I have been captivated by the HBO series, Succession. While my husband is drawn to the clever writing and dark humor, I am fascinated by the family dynamic it showcases. Many family business owners I have spoken with have remarked how eerily accurate the satirical show is. While I am not suggesting any of our clients are like Logan Roy, I do think the dynamic between parent and children and between siblings in the show can offer some real-life succession lessons.

**May contain spoiler alerts!**

Here are three lessons we can glean from Succession’s dysfunctional Roy family to make sure your family business doesn’t fall into the same traps.

Have a defined process that uses data to determine your successor – not birth order, preference, or chance.

Succession is currently in its third season and we are still no closer to knowing who will take over for the founder. Trying to follow who is the heir-apparent is like following a bouncing ball, mainly because it changes based on who seems to be in favor at any given moment. This causes volatility for the company and the family.

When family businesses approach identifying a successor like hiring any other key stakeholder – namely, by having a defined process with clear objectives and using data to make informed decisions – they put themselves in a better position to preserve their reputation in the marketplace and largely avoid family turmoil. While this process can feel daunting, I have found that a talent optimization framework can help family businesses clearly see a path forward and make the decision feel more approachable. The framework provides leaders critical objective data and lightens the load of this otherwise heavy decision.

Once your decision is made, clearly communicate it.  

You know what they say about assuming. Unfortunately, there are a lot of assumptions made in Succession’s Roy family and almost all of the Roy children take turns positioning themselves as the successor. While it is still unclear who will be the fictional company’s next CEO, it doesn’t have to be that way in your family business.

Once you followed your defined process to determine your successor, make sure your decision is clearly communicated – not just to the successor, but to all members of the family. Many times, the family member who will be taking the leadership role knows it. However, strife and turmoil occurs among those who may think the tap on the shoulder is coming for them.

Being able to outline the process you followed and the data you used will provide the basis for these conversations, strengthen your reasoning, and provide clarity to everyone involved. You may even be surprised at the relief on some family members’ faces when they realize you are going to position them within the company so they enjoy what they are doing and are successful in their own right.

Start developing your successor EARLY.

One of the thickest plot lines in the show is that while any sibling could take over as CEO, none of them really seems ready to do so. That certainly makes for great TV, but unfortunately it can also be the case in real life family-owned businesses. For many founders, the moment of stepping back from the business feels like a lifetime away. Unfortunately, the days may be long, but the years are short. It can take 7 to 10 years to adequately prepare your successor to take over the reins.

Plus, while you may have “learned along the way” as your business has grown, your successor is coming into an established and successful organization. Learning how to keep the company in good financial health, manage and develop a workforce, and ensure strong corporate governance takes years of exposure and practice before mastery.

This development process does not have to fall on your shoulders alone. It is important to us that when the time comes your family business can transition to the next generation successfully and seamlessly. We work with many clients to ensure that their next generation has the information, education, network, and mentors to feel properly prepared to take the reins.

 

Your succession doesn’t have to look like the Roy family if you develop a defined process with clear objectives, leverage data to identify your successor, make that decision clear to everyone, and start the successor’s development early. Please reach out to me to learn more about how our Talent Advisory practice can help you create that process and start (or continue) the journey of developing your successor. An introductory call to assess your current needs is always complimentary.

Contact Bobbi Kelly, Director-in-Charge of Kreischer Miller’s Talent Advisory practice, at Email or 215.441.4600.

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