How to ensure business success during a transition

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Transitions occur after we sell a business, have a team member leave us, or we are retiring

David FullerAs a distraction from business, I competed in triathlons for a number of years. While I was never really competitive, one of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I climbed out of the water after the swim at a Triathlon and in front of all the spectators: I threw up on James Sexton’s shoes. His kids cheered me on!

I then moved on to the transition zone where I quickly got on my bike and away from the laughing crowd!

The transition zone in a triathlon is the area where athletes prepare for the next event. They change their clothes, put on shoes, grab a snack and move on to the next stage of the race.

In business, we have transitions too. This usually occurs after we sell a business, have a team member leave us, or we are retiring. Transitions give us time to prepare for the next stage and help those who are left to ensure they have everything they need to continue running the marathon.

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Learning from the pros

When business owners sell a business, there are several things they need to ensure happen if they want to leave behind a functioning, viable business. These include

  1. Identifying the perfect outcome: Understanding the goal and end point and making that clear to all involved can ensure that everybody is on the same page and establish measurements for the transition.
  2. Decision Making: Who will make decisions during the transition period? Are you clear about who is now in charge and what their authority level is?
  3. Accountability: Who will be responsible for what in the transition period? Once you have established the expected ideal outcome, it is essential to communicate a timeline with responsibilities attached to members outside the transition team. Your employees and stakeholders need to be kept in the loop to enable them to understand the process and avoid unnecessary fear and worry.
  4. Measure Progress: Having a way to communicate and measure progress is essential in having an ideal transition. Once you are clear on the steps needed for the transition and a communication process in place, there is typically less stress for your team as the leader progresses to the exit.
  5. Have a clear set of operating procedures to enable the next leader and your team to know what needs to be done and the processes or systems you have in place for everyone to follow for each step of the business.

Be prepared for change: in the transition zone, many people are moving forward. You have a vision for your business, and new leaders will have an idea of what they want to do in the future. This is often hard for outgoing leaders who have put their blood, sweat and tears into their baby. While the new owners will have a strategy to grow the business, the outgoing owners need to be able to share the vision of what strategies are in place and how to execute them.

Buying a business is like starting a marathon or triathlon; hopefully, the new owners are ready to run the race. Like any racers, there is always that nervousness when starting, but fears go away when the buyers get stuck into the day-to-day operations. Too much change too quickly can cause a thriving business to stumble and fall. Starting slow and ramping up the speed is always a great idea when moving from the transition zone.

When an owner sells a business, they need to understand that, while they are leaving, their employees are left behind. This can be stressful. Outgoing owners need to realize and communicate their gratitude to that dedicated team.

Having sold a few businesses myself and helped many others transition, I have experienced firsthand some of the stresses involved, not only for the owners but also for the employees left behind. If you are thinking of selling, reach out and get help from professionals to ensure that everyone is taken care of.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning business coach and a partner with Pivotleader Inc.

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