David Levine

The aging workforce and retirement of an increasing number of baby boomer business owners is creating a pressing need for new leaders and transitions of ownership among the family and private-owned business sectors.

This is an issue that has been easily pushed off before, but it has become an important reality for a number of businesses. Waiting is no longer an option. The topic of succession planning has become a trend as organizations become more proactive in their growth and sustainability.

A constantly changing business environment also has businesses re-evaluating processes and procedures to remain relevant in their industries. Organizations are realizing the importance of establishing a clear, realistic vision and direction to drive change and growth.

These are topics that are especially important to the family and privately owned business communities as change and leadership development can be very complex from generation to generation of ownership.

Only one-third of second-generation businesses are successful, while an even slimmer one-eighth of third generation owners maintain their predecessor’s success rate. Characteristics such as effective communication, leadership development and driving change play an interesting role in these organizations as well. Lack of formality and standardization in these areas, which are critical to succession planning, can plague progress.

The lean philosophy creates and capitalizes on a sense of urgency for change, preventing a reactive crisis mode, and taking an organized, efficient approach to process improvement.

Although lean is perhaps most recognized for its application in the manufacturing world, the principles in process improvement apply across many industries. Working on a bottom-up model driven by the frontline, lean models address the three E’s essential to every business — education, execution and evolution.


Lean is not about layoffs or downsizing, but about eliminating wasteful activities in a collaborative learning environment. Through value stream mapping, the lean process empowers employees to identify opportunities for growth in daily operations first hand.

Problem solvers and leaders, who are crucial to growth, stand out in the lean process and allow for an easier transition of responsibilities from one generation to the next.


Most often success falls flat not in planning, but in the failure of executing an otherwise good plan. By removing ambiguity in teaching an organization to structure and standardize its activities on realistic terms, execution becomes an integral part of operations.

Lean methods are based in reinforcing and working on a system by helping people, not only identify problems, but solve problems through new applications.


The final and perhaps most important success factor is sustainability. Constantly setting the vision and ideal state creates healthy tension in the business, always working toward the next goal. Lean processes use benchmarks and future-state thinking to drive change and maintain the practice of new learning through application, application, application.

When it comes to tackling a task that affects multiple departments, business leaders need to take a broader look at how the change will impact the operations and productivity companywide. For example, in developing the next generation of organizational leaders, succession planning is often only a small component of the real transition that needs to be executed.

Instilling processes that drive change and promote growth in an organization, no matter how large or small, by identifying true problem solvers can ensure healthier succeeding generations of family and privately owned businesses. ●


David Levine is executive vice president of consulting services at TechSolve, which helps small to midsized companies implement process improvement and business growth solutions through a combination of programs with expertise in advanced machining, aerospace, defense and healthcare. You can reach him at Levine@TechSolve.org. For more information, visit www.TechSolve.org.