So many advisors spend so much time talking to their family business clients about the importance of succession planning. Many of us are guilty of over-using the term to the point of rendering it nearly meaningless.
I hereby implore everyone to just STOP. I am not saying that we should not talk about how to get the business, the family, and the ownership from where they are today, to where they will need to be some time in the future, because those are are still very relevant and important. But can we please stop using the term “succession planning”?
My feeling is that when clients hear anyone talk about the importance of succession planning, what goes on in their minds is some sort of replay of their mother telling them to eat their vegetables. Yes, Mom, I know I should eat my vegetables, thanks for the reminder. But I’m an adult now with kids of my own, so please back off. There is only so much you can take.
Then there are the advisors who use the term succession planning in their own way, turning it into something that they will help their clients get through painlessly, with very clear benefits. Just put together this little tax-minimizing strategy now, and then you can go on doing what you were doing before, knowing that your succession plan has been taken care of.
These advisors have hijacked the fact that clients realize that they must do something that can be called succession planning so that they can check that box off and tell everyone, “don’t bother me with that, I already did it”, as if “it” is a one-shot deal.
But it feels good to do that, because not only have your advisors shown you exactly how much you will save in taxes with their plan (down to the penny!) but you can get on with your life knowing that you have taken care of this important issue. This is like your Aunt Bea, who shows you how to drown your broccoli in a thick cheese sauce so that eating your vegetables is somehow palatable, despite the fact that the overall benefit is questionable at best.
I think that the main reason people hesitate to open themselves to discussing succession is that it focuses on change, and it is the kind of change that has them moving from a good position now, to a worse position later. Most people will try to delay dealing with questions about when THEY will retire, and when THEY will die. And if Grandpa hated to talk about it, and Dad hated to talk about it, why should I enjoy talking about it?
So if I am suggesting that you say goodbye to talking about succession planning, what I am I offering instead? Welcome to the world of Continuity Planning. Now I understand that you may be sceptical about the benefits of changing one single word, but let’s look at some of the ways that continuity is a better label.
Rather than focussing on change, like succession does, continuity focusses instead on what remains the same. I want my business to continue, I want my family to continue, and I need to figure out the best way for the ownership to allow the other two to continue.
In essence, the continuity plan is the long-range plan, the overarching plan, the big picture plan. Within the continuity plan, there are indeed a number of succession issues that need to be dealt with,
But when we start by stepping back, and concentrate on all of the things that we want to have continue, long after we are out of the picture, the succession issues become a lot smaller in that context.
When people can better grasp WHY they are doing something, as part of a larger whole, better results are almost assured.