10 Signs an Owner is Past His Prime

How to See it’s time for Change at the Top

10 Signs to Get Owners to LeaveChange is difficult for most people. Most of all, perhaps for those who are used to being in control. Change can cause anxiety and stress and when faced with a significant amount of change, many – even those who appear to thrive on it – will chose to avoid it.

One group used to being in charge and likely to avoid the pain of change is business owners who are past-due to exit their businesses. The business may be their creation or was handed down from a previous generation; but the outcome is the same, the resistance to step down or hand the business over to the next generation or a new owner is huge.

To many, it’s obvious change is needed, yet business owners delay their succession. They erroneously believe they still have much to contribute to the company through their wisdom and age-related insights and knowledge that others don’t possess. Unfortunately for the company and its supporters, owners think they are the only ones who can deliver the greatest benefit and leadership to steer things in the proper direction; others can’t do it as well.

The time for an owner’s exit can be glaringly evident from the management perspective when innovation and technology are seen by the owner to be adequate, research into new methods stalls and other operational areas are not considered a priority to the owner. Employees or family members who recognize the need for the owner’s departure may use subtle signs to send messages to owners that it is time for them to leave.

In my work with companies that have owners in denial, I have witnessed some of these subtle signs by frustrated employees and family members:

  1. Hello?
    Owners who once enjoyed regular interactions with employees now come and go without being acknowledged or even greeted.
  1. They aren’t tired
    Staff can become so frustrated with the lack of change and innovation they won’t say anything but instead express their feelings through heavy sighs.
  1. No invitations
    Meetings continue to occur but the owner is no longer being invited, included or consulted.
  1. Déjà vu conversations
    There isn’t anything new or different to discuss with the owner so staff say the same things to owners at every interaction.
  1. We’ve got this
    During times of challenge or pressure employees try to politely get owners out of the way with statements like “we can handle this”.
  1. You deserve more time to yourself
    Work discussions are replaced with hints to take the afternoon off or leave early for the day/week.
  1. Change occurs without owners
    Small yet significant changes are authorised and implemented without any involvement from the owner and often seem hidden.
  1. Their face says it all
    Employees resist saying what they feel but interesting facial expressions send clear messages of the owner’s past-due timing.
  1. Compliments laced with sarcasm
    People are fairly skilled sending underlying messages such as, “You are doing great still working at your age”
  1. Fly under the radar
    Owners are on site working for many hours but they can come and go without being noticed or recognized by staff.

Of course, there are many other things seen in work places where staff are frustrated with a past-due owner. Not surprisingly, employees and families will get more obvious and hurtful when their frustrations and resentments rise.

And rise they will. Whether the owner is oblivious or just downright resistant to leaving, everyone will become increasingly irritated or fed up as time continues to pass with no improvement or change in the situation. They see the logic and natural progression of the business but without any control a solution can seem miles away when status quo rules.

The result of this waiting game is a spiral which quickly gets out of control because of an ongoing struggle for power. The owner doesn’t want to give it up or doesn’t trust anyone to take the company over and the employees just want to move forward with new ideas and progressive thinking rather than continuing in the same way or operations based on the past.

The situation starts out subtly but quickly grows in transparency over time. After a while communication completely breaks down and the battle to retain or take control goes silent and adversarial. This is when family-owned businesses go sideways because often the strategy to win includes each side gathering as many key people as possible to support their stance.

This is usually when my phone rings, though my preference would be for the call to come earlier – when communication is still possible and families and staff aren’t divided. An exit strategy and succession plan are far easier to create and implement when interaction and collaboration are still possible.

Instead of trying to use subtle signs and risking escalation to silence and adversarial relationships, stop the innuendos and power struggles. Try these three strategies to create positive change and enhance communication:

  1. Resist us versus you behaviours
    Identify and acknowledge the differences of opinions with the owner and ask for outside help
  2. It’s not personal
    Reassure the owner of his great contributions in setting the company up for success. Remind him that change, although not always welcome, is inevitable and will contribute to future business success
  3. Stop business talk at home
    Save business conversations about succession and transition for the office where the owner and an exit consultant will work without family involvement

Avoid the signs of frustration and discomfort by guiding a past-due owner to transition out of the business. Give everyone what they need by helping to create an exit plan that will benefit the owner, the company and all its people.

If you witness these signs in your workplace and want to help your owner make plans for the future check out our Exit Success Program or contact us at 604-349-8660 or pam@strategytoexit.com.  We can work with your owner to create a personal exit strategy and business succession plan.

This entry was posted by Pam Paquet and is filed under Business Owners, Exit Strategies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.