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Talent Development
Succession Planning

Succession Planning Tips From The Family Business

Family owned and operated for (insert impressive number of) years certainly has an appealing ring to it. Business owners who’ve worked hard to develop and maintain a healthy organization want to see that business continue to strive when turned over to the relative successor.

Family owned and operated for (insert impressive number of) years certainly has an appealing ring to it. Business owners who’ve worked hard to develop and maintain a healthy organization want to see that business continue to strive when turned over to the relative successor.

Unfortunately, like any organization, succession planning is not simple and transitions are not seamless. Approximately 30% of family businesses survive the second generation; only 12% remain viable through the third generation, and a mere 3% survive the fourth. These numbers are not optimistic.

A recent study done by Smith and Gesteland, a CPA and business consultancy firm, suggests a few best practices for family business succession that are equally applicable to all organizations looking to firm up their succession planning strategy.

The study included 20 different businesses that were on their second generation of family owners across a variety of industries and found the top two most important factors of a successful transition were communication and advance planning.


Simply put, advanced planning is just giving succession planning or future leadership development some thought before the transition, but in this case, the more the better. One year is not adequate time to prepare for a transition. We’re talking more like 10 to 12 years in advance. Once that successor is chosen, communicating that decision is essential.

Part of succession planning is discussing the succession, both with the successor and others in the company. It’s essential to have everyone on the same page for years out to ensure the successor has the proper training and time to prepare for the leadership role. Further, making the plan clear and discussing it keeps other potential successors from fighting for the role when the time to transition comes. Being open allows you to manage conflict or negativity from others who felt they might be next in line and ensure that when the time comes, the transition is smooth.

Other interesting takeaways from the study include:

  • The best time to transition leadership is when the business is strong, not when it’s failing.
  • Even when the business is in the family, when it comes to succession, it’s best to leave the family out of the decision process and focus on making sound business decisions. The same could be said for those who may be too close to the decision. For example, if you routinely hear, “this is how we’ve always done it” in your association meetings, you may want to make sure you have personal feelings aside when it comes to succession planning and leadership development.
  • You need to be confident that the next generation will be more successful than you have been; let them do it their way because industries change and so should leadership.
  • Succession planning creates stability because everyone can see there is a future and what it is.

Succession planning decisions need to be based on skills and putting the right person in the job whether it’s a family business, an association or a large corporation. Be prepared to accept the dark horse. Leaders don’t necessarily look like they used to, but then, I bet neither does your industry.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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