(as originally appeared at FamilyBusinessEducation.com)
When I decided to launch my family business advising/coaching firm, I knew exactly what I wanted for my logo – our national bird: the distinctive bald eagle. I started collecting eagle paraphernalia back in 1983. It was the standard item used for awards when recognizing achievement. The eagle, full of the spirit of freedom, strong and powerful in his might, stood for the opportunity for a full and free existence and boundless opportunities. It signified vision, tenacity and a fearless character. I believe the successful family businesses and entrepreneurs exemplify those same characteristics.
“The founding fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength of freedom of America.” — John F. Kennedy
Trait #1: A Keen Vision
The bald eagle is best known for its acute vision. Its eyes are specially designed for long-distance focus and clarity. The bird’s eyes on the side of his face allow the animal to have an extreme field of view, extending nearly all the way around his head. Eagle vision is sharper and estimated to be about 20/5 (20/20 is the human norm). This means that an object you see sharply at 5 feet away; the eagle would see sharply at 20 feet away.
Can you relate to this characteristic? I am sure you can. Search the stories of successful family businesses and chances are, you’ll find they have the same characteristic – VISION! Many businesses have created their values, mission and vision statements (20/20 vision); family businesses need to take their vision even further. They need to focus on their transition and succession vision-a step too many family business leaders fail to take.
You must have a vision that guides and leads your family and your business team towards your succession goals. The vision must be big, but focused. A big, focused vision will produce big results. I found Creating a Company Vision a great guideline. I adopted it for the family business transition vision work.
STEP 1: CREATE A FAMILY BUSINESS SUCCESSION VISION.
Many companies have created their values, mission and vision statements as it refers to how they do business. If you are serious about successfully transitioning your business to your next generation, then take your visioning work to the next level. All too often, we find family business leaders avoid this most critical step, waiting until they are ready to retire and then not having the time to prepare both the family and the business for a successful transition. Your first step is to make the commitment to completing this vision!
STEP 2: PICK YOUR TIME FRAME
Start with the date that you see yourself fully retired from the business. Again, a vision is not a plan…. it’s your perfect dream! What’s happening with your family relationships and what does the leadership of the business look like? There’s no right answer, but visioning works best if you go far out enough to get beyond present-day problems but not so far out that you have no sense at all of actually getting there.
STEP 3: IDENTIFY YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Again, remember to identify your family and business accomplishments. Don’t worry about what other’s might think, write from your heart. What are you proud of when it comes to your family and your business? We build on our successes and this step will help you focus on the positives, not the present problems.
STEP 4: WRITE IT DOWN!
Use whatever writing style suits you, just do it! This first document is your DRAFT. Make sure you identify it as such. You will be seeking input from others and you want their complete honesty!
Don’t hold back – go for your wildest dreams! Go for things that are big but also specific, scary but also exciting. This is YOUR vision; it belongs to you. Approach it with the attitude that nothing is impossible. Write as if you are living in the future that you’re envisioning-write as if it’s really happened. Find a quiet, comfortable spot and spend no more than 30 minutes. Don’t go back and change anything – you’ll find your initial thoughts are the ones that mean the most to you.
STEP 5: REVIEW AND REWRITE
Let your draft sit for several days and then go back and reread it. Make sure you keep a copy of your first draft before you start any editing. As you are reading your draft, ask yourself “does this vision excite me, is this vision inspiring?” As you do your first edit, provide as much detail as possible. Avoid general statements like “our family gets along;” instead, identify what it is your family is doing together. “I want to be financially independent of the business” is a great vision, but what are the key financial numbers that define what you need to be independent of the business? Limit yourself to no more than four edits and call it DONE.
STEP 6: ASK FOR OTHER’S INPUT
Ask others who have similar experiences, insight and expertise relevant to your vision. Maybe it’s some of your advisors, other family business leaders who have successfully transitioned their business, spiritual leaders or educators. Make sure they are people you trust and respect.
Regardless of the input, it’s still your vision. Ask your colleagues to let you know what they think – what excites them, what worries them, etc. Listen carefully to their response. This is INPUT – it does not mean you change any of your vision, it simply helps you clarify your written vision. Some input you will act on; others you will ignore.
STEP 7: SHARE THE VISION
Finally, it’s time to share the vision with everyone who will be involved in implementing it. When you roll out your vision to the bigger group, it’s inevitable that people will ask questions about how you intend to achieve the vision. They’re asking you about the how. The vision, however, is the what. It’s totally fine if you don’t know how you’re going to get there. Later, you will figure out the how.
Now, it’s time to get to work! Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, guided his country through the most devastating experience in its natural history, the Civil War. He had a vision, to save the union and free the slaves.
What is your vision? Set aside some time and begin envisioning your success. Don’t wait until it’s too late!