A blueprint for succession planning for any size business owner
Business growth is good – but is it good at any cost? The answer – is no, not without a guide or a map for growth.
Ask yourself, are you growing the company you envisioned? Is it a business about which you can say you are proud? Will you be able to leave a legacy after you exit? To accomplish this task, set out now to design your future with an active, vision and strategy in place. Any plan can and will change over time. It may even be turned on its head depending on extrinsic circumstances – need I remind you of Covid – or in reaction to supply chain issues, labor issues, natural disasters, or any number of surprises. Still, having a growth plan in place is important to keep you focused on what matters most. A well-laid plan can be your lighthouse as you navigate growth and will serve as a blueprint for your success. And, notably, the same strategy that works for a small start-up company, can work just as effectively as you grow to 10, 20, 30, or more employees.
Create a Vision Document
When starting, chances are you will be operationally “small”, maybe even working with a few family members. At this juncture, you are probably talking to all your employees daily. Not too difficult to do when there is familiarity. Intimate working relationships in the early stages of your company will help you build as you transition from a one-or two-person operation to a healthy small business. However, as you grow, onboarding more employees, while there will be more revenue, there will also be more issues both with communication and retention.
It is important to have a map for your vision at the earliest stages. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever get there? And like a map, you can take several routes, but the destination is always the goal. That way when obstacles arise, you can look to your original plan for guidance.
This leads me to this vital first step – before you grow at any stage, you should create what I refer to as the “Vision Document”. It’s your written, tangible blueprint. But more than a business plan or mission, it should also be infused with aspirational ideas of your future business, and core values that act as a foundation on which your company is built.
Culture vs. Strategy
Your management team is vital for growth. Choose your managers well – onboard only those who see your vision and co-opt your position. A good leader should understand where you want to go and why it is valuable for them to be on your team. Sometimes it takes years to form this winning combination. Be patient and think long-term. It’s both important for them and you.
One note, it's been said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” – don’t fall into the trap of believing that if your employees are “happy”, you will therefore have a successful company. What drives your success are the members of your team, especially your senior leaders and managers. For it to work, they all must be invested in helping you design your company both in the present and projected outlook, and in the growth stages. And they must be willing to take on the responsibility and accountability as leaders and coaches.
Following are some suggestions to help grow the business, if growth by design is what you desire:
1. Create a Vision Document together. This should spell out what your company will look like in 3,5, or 10 years from today.
2. Get feedback from key members of your organization on the initial Vision Document. If you have a bigger company, run this Vision Document by several of your employees to get their feedback.
3. No matter what size your business is now, get to know the key people tasked with leadership responsibility. If these are the people that will accompany you on the mission, they should be members of a team you trust implicitly.
4. Educate EVERYONE in the organization about their roles in the integral phases of achieving the vision you laid out. Be sure to have a conversation with them about why their contribution matters not only to the company but also to them as individuals and to their families.
5. Pay all your people fairly and competitively.
6. Conduct frequent one-on-ones with all your associates. These can be formal or informal. This is one way you will keep all your employees engaged.
7. Do formal performance reviews more than once a year. In addition to the one on ones, people want to know where they stand, they want to know what the score is!
8. Do a strategic plan update annually, one that connects to your “Vision Document”.
9. Recruit carefully, following detailed plans for onboarding your new team members
10. Check in with new employees – 30, 60, and 90 days after their start date.
Build It to Sell
At Contractor Succession, we often talk about a “built to sell” way of building your business. The theory is – to develop your business with a long-term view in mind so it is valuable when you decide to exit or do some type of succession planning. What we share with our business owners, is that you should build a business so well from the foundation to growth, that it THRIVES whether you are there or not. If you do this now, later it will be deemed valuable which is smart business, even if you have no plans to exit for a long time.
Here are a few steps that will help you formulate a long-term strategy:
• Establish credibility. Your behavior in and outside of your business will begin the process of recruiting and retaining the best talent. How you treat ALL your stakeholders, employees, customers, and vendors will send a clear signal to your existing leadership team and to those special employees you want on your leadership team. And word travels. If you are a respected, credible leader, people will begin to seek you out.
• Involve your leadership team in some of your decisions. Ask them what they think about the new software, or about adding a new line of services like plumbing. You can get deep-rooted information if you ask. Learn about communication from sales or CSR to field service technicians or the team’s thoughts on the impending expansion into a new market.
• Listen carefully and respectfully and use the information to improve.
Building A Leadership Team That Supports A Growth Mindset
When we assess businesses either to help them grow or start the exit process, the leadership team is always the first important element. If a strong team does not exist, we typically make recommendations for the business owner to start developing (educating) a designated team of people – your senior team – who will be fundamental in helping you build that business you desire.
This team is also integral when selling – buyers take the management stability very seriously. In addition to strong finances, your leadership team is often the next thing a buyer will look at. If you work to establish credibility and trust, then you are more likely to retain (for the next few years at least) a small group of loyal leaders who are confident and aligned with your vision. And, it’s important to make sure they succeed, so you may want to offer an educational program.
Tips to grow your leaders as your company grows:
1. Find books that you can assign them and that everyone can read as a team.
2. Then, schedule meetings every two weeks to discuss the information you read. Have a regular discussion and get feedback on how this information might apply to your company and its processes.
3. Finally, offer brainstorming sessions and when appropriate, have managers go ahead and take the initiative to put the ideas into action.
Trust goes both ways. If your managers feel trusted and empowered to make decisions, then you will see them grow over time. If you work to be a trustworthy leader, one your management team wants to be around, learning will be an inspired process that provides the fuel for them to grow. The goal is to train them so well, that you could take off for three months and no one would notice!
Whether you are just starting your business, preparing an exit strategy, or somewhere in between, create a vision plan for your growth now. I hope you find some or all of this advice helpful!
Bonus: I’ve added a few books below that I think are great must-haves as you grow your business.
• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
• Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
• Trust & Inspire by Stephen M.R. Covey
• Lead From the Core by Jay Steinfeld
Marty Wolff is CEO of Marty Wolff Business Solutions, Founding Partner in Contractor Succession, Host of the “Business Builders Show with Marty Wolff” and Cohost of the “Contractor Succession Podcast”. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-815-1626.
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