Relationships First or Business First? How to Set and Keep Priorities 

If you were asked by a young entrepreneur to identify the three most important lessons you’ve learned over the course of your career, how many of the three would have to do with the logistics of a product launch, mechanics of installing cyber-security measures or mastering the intricacies of the Federal Tax Code? 

All are certainly major accomplishments, but most successful entrepreneurs cite lessons learned that involve people; specifically, how to spot talent and trust our guts, how to draw out the best in others, how to build relationships, and how to mentor skillfully.  

We’ve found that these lessons serve owners well as they begin to think about, plan, and implement the transition of their businesses to successors. In fact, we’ve found that the most successful transitions are created by owners who draw on these lessons and put relationships first (just behind business). 

That’s a primary reason we made “Put Relationships First” the first of the Seven Guiding Principles (click to download) for the process we use to help owners craft business transitions. 

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. 

If you transfer your business in a way that damages or destroys your relationships with the people you care about, what have you gained? For many owners, just the possibility of damaging relationships is the reason they hesitate to (or do not) create succession plans.  

And there is good reason to think carefully about “relationship questions,” such as: How will the capable employee who has always dreamed of owning your business react when your daughter becomes the new owner? How will your other children (and spouse) react when your daughter becomes the sole new owner? 

The fear of damaging relationships is understandable, but we assure you that there is a way to prioritize and protect your relationships during the transition of your business. In fact, the owners we work with tell us that their succession journey not only did not damage their relationships, but the journey actually strengthened them. 

Five Relationship-Building Behaviors 

We’ve observed five behaviors in owners who will settle for nothing less than succession plans that keep their most important relationships intact. 

1. Communicate your feelings (including fear) and desires with others. We don’t mean to say that you share every feeling with every person. Instead, acknowledge what you are feeling and find a trusted person in whom you can confide. 

2. Listen to the feelings (including fear) of others. Successors have fears and aspirations of their own.  

3. Become a champion fisherman. Long before you put you finalize your transition plans, we encourage you to go fishing. Test the waters to see what others are thinking with questions like, “I’ve been thinking lately about my future and the company’s future. What direction do you see the company going as I get older?” 

4. Make no promises. It can be tempting, especially when celebrating a win, to make offhand remarks like, “If I ever decide to leave, I want you to have part of what I’ve built.” None of us knows what will happen in the future so keep your options open. 

5. Accept reality. There are no perfect business successions. Great ones, to be sure, but none perfect. At the core of every great transition is an owner who has set goals, prioritized them and acted according to a set of guiding principles—including putting relationships first. 

We hope that these tips, behaviors and strategies helps you to put people as one of the highest priorities in your business and keep them there. 

For more insights and guidance, download your complimentary guide “7 Principles of Successful Business Succession Planning” here