We utilize a practical decision-making procedure modeled after techniques utilized by successful business owners when making difficult, strategic decisions, and designed to keep you in control of the process, the solutions, and the timing of implementation.
Determine your core planning team. Who is essential to a successful decision? Your spouse? Your son who is being groomed to succeed you in the business? Your business partner? The CPA, attorney, financial advisor? Good decisions are made only after understanding the problem in some detail. Your team should attend all planning meetings and together develop a detailed understanding of the relevant issues impacting the decisions.
Define your core objectives. We ask, we probe, we brainstorm, and maybe we present a questionnaire. I find it helpful when defining objectives to look at each of the major areas of decision making for the business owner independently. See The Spheres of Business Succession: Family, Ownership Succession, and Management Succession for each of the professional disciplines found under the Business Succession tab. The only way for you to maintain control over the outcome is to first identify and prioritize your objectives prior to seeking solutions.
Look at your objectives in depth and prioritize. What are the decision constraints, concerns, sub or side issues, and secondary effects of a decision? What needs to be accomplished now and what can wait? What additional information is needed or additional professional consulted?
Fast track a solution, if possible. You are not doing this planning as an intellectual exercise, you want to get something done. Is there a facit of the plan that can be implemented immediately? Of course it would be dangerous to implement an irrevocable solution if the entire strategy has not been determined, but acting on a specific solution creates a sense of accomplishment, provides the consultants with fees for value added services rather than merely for a planning effort, enables the core planning team to address real life details of a plan rather than being limited to hypothetical facts and opinions, and engages the participants in active thinking rather than passive. Sometimes fast-tracking a basic revocable estate plan, or business contingency planning, such as a buy-sell agreement, is appropriate.
Implementation. Develop an implementation schedule tackling as much as is reasonable given the budget and client’s desires. Frequently, if the process is lengthy and complex, implementation is done in stages.
Revisit and adjust. After a period, begin again with steps 2-5. This allows the parties to recharge, assess various positions that have been taken, get in touch with emotions that may impact decisions, and allow for an incubation period to address unresolved issues.
We find that this process enables the client to control the process, engage professional support as needed, implement tasks that are pressing, look at the succession process holistically, and not become inundated with superfluous exercises. That is not to say, however, that the process is always an easy one, but neither was creating and maintaining a successful business.