If you are a business owner, key manager or employee of a company going through an organizational transition, such as a merger or leadership change, it is likely you will experience performance disruption caused by confusing messages, speculation or lack of information. And you are not alone.
Often the planning for these important events happens behind closed doors with only the owners and advisers, leaving everyone else to speculate about the future.
Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, managing partner for Mosaic Family Business Center, says business owners can avoid these challenges by being more transparent about upcoming changes and engaging everyone in the process.
“The key is communication, communication, communication. It’s important to identify what you can control and learn how to be flexible with all the rest. When you’re getting ready for a transition or succession, you might feel like you’re surfing a tidal wave. There’s an art to keeping your balance in an ever-changing world,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Victorio about how to prepare yourself and your company for major business transitions.
What are the most common stumbling blocks that occur when a company is heading for change?
The most common stumbling blocks typically center on communication. Today’s older generation grew up learning to keep financial affairs close to the vest. So sometimes even a spouse doesn’t get involved in the planning until asked to sign papers.
Other times, people don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns during shareholder meetings because they’re afraid of disrupting the artificial harmony that’s been established. They may have private conversations outside of the boardroom, but during meetings there’s often a fear of disrupting the delicate balance.
Further, business owners involved in a transition can be so overwhelmed by either the fear of confrontation or the lack of planning, the project begins to loom large and they’re stopped in their tracks. They feel as if there’s no way they can get through it; it becomes so daunting they often just hope it goes away.
How can these stumbling blocks be avoided?
Instead of keeping all conversations behind closed doors, when appropriate include key players such as family members, managers and those who will be most involved in the strategic design of the transition plan before you start actually planning. In these conversations, ask the group, ‘If we could do anything without worry of failure or confrontation, what would be best for our family and company?’ At this stage, there should be no pressure of commitment; it’s just brainstorming and idea building.
Engaging a succession coach can help facilitate dialogues that are creative, innovative and energizing, and potentially serve as the foundation of solutions to what might seem like an impossible endeavor.
Once you have a vision, you can develop an implementation plan. Break it down into a timetable and get key players involved to determine who spearheads specific initiatives and what the outcomes should be. Document the vision and itemize each step to be executed on a schedule for all involved.
Owners and other decision makers in a business likely won’t find it easy to facilitate these discussions, so consider using an experienced adviser to guide and focus the conversations and break the task into manageable segments. It can be difficult and even intimidating for groups to internally identify and discuss their own problems, but it’s helpful to have someone from the outside keep discussions open, comfortable and inclusive.
It’s also important to reach out to the overall organization, including employees, clients, customers, franchisers and vendors to communicate the vision of the plan — not the intricacies, but the expectation of the fulfillment of the plan and how it affects each party. This will help clarify what each can expect and what their roles will be.
What are the red flags that tell you a transition is going badly or not as planned?
Confusion or dysfunction within the management team is one of a few signs of difficulty that typically arise during a transition. Often it’s revealed that management is unsure where the company is going or what the plan is. Additionally, departments that are not cooperating well with each other — also called ‘silos’ — can typify dysfunction.
If management isn’t confident that the transition will include them, their productivity will slow and they’ll likely start looking around for something more stable and secure as a backup plan. A high level of turnover in management might prompt others to start abandoning ship.
When is a good time to seek outside counsel?
The best time is when you know or others are imploring you to consider that it’s time to begin succession planning. For any business owner between the ages of 45 and 75, if you have a business that is worth perpetuating, you need a long-term strategic succession plan and a short-term contingency plan to protect it. It’s worth bringing in an adviser who can help you with both kinds of plans. You’ve got to think beyond your own needs because your business has so many people tied to it who count on its success.
All of the planning responsibility doesn’t have to be on you. You can pull people into the transition process and get them enrolled so you’re no longer alone in the endeavor. If or when you do step aside, you can do so knowing you have people there to maintain and even grow the business. The hearts of those involved in the company might be broken when a founder passes or moves on, but that creation, built lovingly, does not have to crumble.
Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, is managing partner for Mosaic Family Business Center. Reach her at (415) 788-1952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Wealth Management & Family Business Consulting is brought to you by Mosaic Financial Partners
Business executives wear many hats. Just a few of their roles include strategist, financial manager, process improvement engineer and team leader. Many executives will agree that much of their time is devoted to people. The management guru, Peter Drucker, made the point that as one progresses up the organizational hierarchy, the more important people skills become and the less important specific functional skills are.
Executives need to be leaders and this requires articulating a vision and defining a strategy. One of the next roles, however, is to serve as a coach to help subordinates to fulfill objectives and to develop to take on bigger challenges and consequently to make more significant contributions to the company.
“The problem is that executives are educated in business functions and only acquire coaching skills on an experiential, trial-by-error basis,” says Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, vice president consulting services at Executive Career Services. “Knowing something of coaching skills, roles and procedures can provide the executive with the necessary framework for helping their subordinates develop.”
Smart Business spoke to O’Hara for more on how to improve coaching skills and empower your best employees in the process.
What is the benefit of becoming a better coach?
Let’s begin by taking a look at the benefits of coaching. In a recent study by The Work Foundation (a UK research group) the most common reason for coaching, given by 52 percent of respondents, was to motivate the employee. In a similar vein, respondents indicated that coaching was helpful in showing interest and investment in an employee and also fully leveraging a high potential’s skills and abilities. Interestingly, the study showed that coaching for poor performance was a relatively infrequent reason (garnering a ‘yes’ from only 24 percent). One of the lessons in this study is to keep in mind the two key elements of performance: motivation and skill. If motivation appears to be the issue, then coaching is in order. Skill deficiencies are better addressed through training and development initiatives.
What are the most important elements of being a good coach?
As previously mentioned, business executives typically have skills for management and leadership; they may need to complement this set with coaching skills. First and foremost is relationship building and, in particular, creating trust. Would anyone respond positively to a coach he or she doesn’t trust? Probably not. It is ill-advised to begin any sort of coaching initiative without first establishing a level of trust so that the person to be coached knows you have their best interest in mind.
A second important coaching skill is listening, which is unfortunately not often in the repertoire of many executives. Business leaders are typically verbally expressive and not often patient enough to listen to what others have to say. Unless the person being coached feels they have been heard, they are unlikely to put forth the effort to change. Remember the Covey Principle: seek first to understand before being understood. I encourage executives to actively listen — to what the underlying message is, what isn’t being said and what the person’s body language is conveying about the verbal message.
Another vital coaching skill is proper questioning. While one doesn’t need to be as artful as Socrates, questions can help the coachee to find solutions for themselves. Questions can help the individual explore options as well as understand the motivation and consequences of their behavior. Questioning can be used to put the behavior of concern ‘on the person’s radar screen,’ and as a result foster ownership and commitment to change.
Once the topic of concern has been explored, the coach/leader will want to shift into a goal setting mode. This is the positive and creative phase of coaching where both parties collaborate in identifying new behaviors to develop alternative problem-solving approaches, or enhanced communication techniques. Goal setting works when the goals are challenging, but not unrealistic.
Make your goals SMART. Smart is an acronym to help you remember that behavioral goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time bound. Make sure that you gain commitment, or recommitment as the case may be at the end of each coaching meeting.
How can executives help to ensure a successful coaching initiative?
A final, capstone skill for coaching is the ability to provide feedback and support. How hard is it to change? Very! Nothing will extinguish new behavior quicker than ignoring it. The leader/coach needs to be mindful of recognizing new behavior and providing encouragement. Be specific; vague feedback is not usually very helpful developmentally. Your feedback should also be non-judgmental. Remember, the adage to praise in public and criticize in private. Behavioral psychology has demonstrated that all of us respond to positive encouragement in making a change far better than we respond to punishment.
Also consider the behavior change from a system’s perspective. Who are the other coworkers and colleagues who interact with the individual? How is their behavior influencing the person? Conducting a stakeholder analysis to understand how the environment supports or interferes with the attempted behavior change should not be underestimated.
Business executives have a lot on their plate, so adding one more concern can be treacherous. On the other hand, watching for coaching opportunities, adopting mentees and developing high potentials are all ways to leverage your own skills and free up time for more strategic pursuits. Helping others to change — to eliminate counter-productive behaviors or better utilize skills — is not usually easy, but it isn’t rocket science either. It requires basic human understanding, a caring attitude and a willingness to invest yourself in helping someone else become a better employee and a better person.
Kirk O’Hara, PsyD, is vice president consulting services at Executive Career Services. Reach him at KirkOhara@ecscpi.com.
Insights Human Capital Solutions is brought to you by Executive Career Services
The beginning of a new year often comes with a sense of endless time and possibilities. We often make aggressive business plans for many months out and then wait to execute because we have so much time.
Every small business owner knows time can easily get consumed by the daily running of the business, leaving you with a well thought out plan that never materializes. As you start the year, now is the time to schedule business coaching sessions with someone who will energize you into action or renewed action on a regular basis. To get the most out of your coach:
Identify the right coach for you. Successful business owners focus on continual innovation to remain competitive. They often seek out and rely on advice from others who are more knowledgeable than they are. Similarly, you should seek a coach who has experienced what you are facing and who has triumphed. In business, they are often outspoken, leaders in industry and trade associations or policy researchers in government and university settings. In life, they are frequently counselors, pastors,and retired volunteers in non-profits organizations. By selecting a coach that fits your need, you are more assured your coach will impart guidance that is based on real business experiences.
Set a goal for each coaching session. Good mentors are invaluable and often in high demand. Decide which one to two items you want to address for each meeting. Determine what one key question you want answered on each topic in advance of the meeting. By being prepared, you will show your coach that you value his or her opinion and time, and you will find your coaching sessions are more productive and useful to your own business plans.
Reach out before you face a crisis. The best way to avoid a calamity is to head it off when possible. Call your coach as you see potential changes developing to strategize on how you might handle the changes, if necessary. Some of the best new ideas come from free-flowing discussions and debate about possible solutions when there’s no pressure to show immediate results.
Periodically reassess your coach. As seasons change, so do family, work and professional relationships. A good coaching relationship offers ongoing useful guidance. If your coach has provided all the support he or she can and seems to be recycling the same messages, consider whether you need to pay closer attention to your coach or if it is time to find a new advisor.
A successful coaching relationship requires careful preparation and opening yourself to critiques. But it is an investment that can help steer your business to greater profitability, exposure and success in 2012.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s 2011 Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women magazine’s 2011 Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s 2011 Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zeitgeistwellnessgroup.com.