Finding Jon Snow isn’t easy for a business owner—and for the chosen successor, neither is being Jon Snow. That’s a reference to the “Game of Thrones” character known for his integrity and honor.
Regardless of whether you’re familiar with or a fan of the show, you know from your years in business that great leaders are hard to come by. When you find one you believe in and click with, your exit becomes that much more attainable—and the emotions, that much more manageable, knowing your business will be in good hands. Still, it will take time, effort, and a purposeful approach to see the transition through. While it won’t necessarily make the process easier, following these steps can make your exit less daunting.
1. Identify Your Win
What do you want out of your exit and in your next chapter to follow? For most business owners, the answer to that question includes a desire to see the business continue and succeed under new ownership. You want what’s best for you and your family, but you’d also like to know that your years of hard work are symbolized in a legacy business that gives people jobs and puts good into the world. For that to happen, you need not only a successor you trust, but one who understands your vision. The only way that person can understand your vision is for you to identify and articulate it to them. What is your Win, and with it, your goal for the transition?
2. Assemble Your Leadership Team
There may be only one true successor, but a scalable and successful business needs a well-rounded leadership team encompassing finance, operations, sales, marketing, business development, and other areas. So, in addition to finding the right successor, you’re also on the search for other key players who mesh as a team and complement each other. Put the right people around you. This can take some trial and error, meaning you won’t always find the right fit on the first try, but it will ultimately enable your exit.
3. Strengthen Your Relationships
A transition isn’t as simple as picking someone who seems capable, showing them the ropes, and handing them the keys. The business is near and dear to your heart. You need to truly and fully trust your successor. Work alongside each other for a specified time and make a point of spending time together outside of work as well. Learn each other’s triggers. Know each other’s cues. Don’t avoid difficult conversations; embrace them as opportunities to strengthen the relationship. The same goes with the rest of your leadership team who will eventually be the ones to uphold and further mold the company culture.
4. Be Open to Change
During the long process of transitioning leadership, circumstances arise. The situation may evolve. The target may move. Your exit could be delayed—or the right time to make the transition could arise sooner than you expected. Planning is important but so is accepting that plans sometimes change. Use the Win, not necessarily the plan, as your North Star to guide your decisions.
5. Collaborate and Communicate
Every transition has an element of friction. The internal announcement, therefore, is pivotal. You, your successor, and your leadership team should be in alignment before communicating the transition to the rest of your employees. Recognize the ripple effects, anticipate concerns, and address them in the announcement. It cannot come off as “old guard out, new guard in.” It must be meaningful, insightful, and above all, enlivening. It’s everything you’ve worked for and everything your team will continue to march toward.