Peter Drucker, the late dean of modern business management, advised that it’s “not what [the] organization should do tomorrow. It is what do we have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow.”
Too many businesses stall in their growth or maturity stages. As hard as it is to start and grow a new business, it’s even harder to “future-proof” an existing one. Failures of companies are often due to failure of leadership to change with the times and prepare for the future, instead resting on their previous successes and (perhaps outdated) methods, products, or focus. The thinking is commonly: “We’ve done it this way for 30 years and built a successful business. Why should we change?”
The answer is simple: What was done in the previous 30 years may not be applicable to the next 30 years, or even today. But change is scary and managing change is even scarier. People naturally avoid it, in fear of “sinking the boat.”
Self-assessment is challenging, but necessary, for business owners. It is difficult to realize that, after starting and building a successful enterprise, they may not be the right person to take it into the future…and/or the leadership team around them may also not be up to the changing tasks.
Owners must put emotions and discomfort aside and anticipate the moments in a business life cycle when different skills and experiences are needed to advance the enterprise that will outlive them. And they need to have the presence of mind to plan an effective strategy for a rewarding ownership transition or exit, knowing that they have already created their legacies.
The power is in the hands of the owner or CEO to make the tough decision to get ready for tomorrow, today. Therein lies their legacy.
Greg Mickelson is a Principal of Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.