Published on: September 3, 2019
by Michael Sansolo
It’s the cliche plot in countless horror movies: the enemy is inside the house.
During the brief MNB hiatus I was on a family trip to Vienna, Austria, where I saw something similar. Vienna is encircled by a wide boulevard, the Ringstrasse. Apparently in the mid-1800s the Austro-Hungarian emperor decided to tear down the protective wall around the city and replace it with the boulevard.
His reasoning was simple. At the time, Europe was aflame with internal revolts from peasants sick of the income and life inequalities of their monarchies. The wall was designed to defend against external enemies, but did nothing to address internal problems; the Vienna Ring Road symbolically created a greater sense of inclusion (and in fact did enable smoother traffic and more efficient commerce).
The metaphor for business today is pretty clear. We all focus laser-like on the external problems of new competitors and technologies, but too often we overlook the problems within that can be incredibly corrosive and just as fatal as those outside.
Start with complacency, an issue found in too many businesses. Company leadership talks of the need to play at a whole new level, but honestly, does front line staff have the same message and purpose. If they don’t, the best strategy never works.
Then there’s inertia, the desire to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. It’s equally fatal at a time when changing tools and needs are requiring companies to step up to a new level. The past is past, it’s time to move on.
But the last problem is succession, which I fear is frequently overlooked. With so many of us boomers hitting, passing or closing in on retirement, the issue is especially critical now. Who is going to take over? Have the key decisions been made?
I thought of this because of an article in the New York Times about the incredible challenges family businesses face thanks to poor succession planning. The Times article highlighted how families whose businesses didn’t survive lost their cohesion and purpose, and struggle on a personal level.
Sadly, I have known too many family businesses where the difficult decisions of succession caused enormous business challenges. Great companies fell apart and, possible worse, families fell apart in bickering and arguing.
But the problem, I think, goes far further than that and isn’t limited to privately held family firms. Given the simple demographics of so many aging boomers occupying so many critical management slots, it seems an existential necessity to ensure succession plans at every level of an organization.
These are difficult decisions that always create the risk of new forms of dissension, but the risk of doing nothing seems even greater. Sadly, none of us know the exact date when we will no longer operate at full capacity for our companies, teams or whomever. Better to have a plan in place ahead of time than run the risk of chaos in the wake of whatever happens.
Sure, there are countless problems outside the walls of our companies and we cannot ignore those. But certainly we can address the problems inside the walls and do it proactively while we have time. After all, time is the enemy even emperors couldn’t ever conquer or avoid.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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