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Wyoming Business Tips for July 10-16

July 1, 2011

A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Leonard Holler, WSBDC regional director

"How do you plan for a sudden loss of leadership?" Alfred, Cody

With a family-owned business, along with grief of a loved one, the subject arises suddenly and unexpectedly: What do you do about vacant leadership in the business?  At some point following a tragedy, thoughts must focus back on the business. What needs to be done, who will do it and how and when will it get done.

We don't want to think about the possibility of a sudden death, but unexpected things happen such as when my father suffered a debilitating stroke. Our employees, customers and our father's legacy depended on maintaining the operations of his manufacturing business. Even before his death, bills needed to be paid, work needed to be completed, payroll had to be met and plans had to be made regarding where the business was going in the future.

Through careful planning, you can help your associates and family members cope with an unforeseen event of this nature. You can protect and strengthen the business in the process. Annual strategic planning sessions which cover future business planning is an excellent opportunity to address leadership succession.

Three areas of leadership to consider in succession planning -- leadership roles, successor selection and what it will take to survive:

Leadership roles -- What business functions does leadership perform? If you or one of your key employees died, would anyone know where to pick up where they left off and are there written job descriptions for others to follow? As an owner, consider your specific roles and responsibilities as the business manager. Those might include banking, budgeting, risk management, hiring, training, product development and also setting the direction and goals for the business.

Leadership succession -- Who will perform these duties? After determining what the leaders do in your business, decide who will assume those duties if it becomes necessary. Tasks and key responsibilities should be assigned to specific positions rather than to individuals. Transition planning rarely goes smoothly when a company tries to replace leaders with individuals. There usually is no such person who can fill their shoes.

If you are the one in charge, chances are no one could replace you. Family members might inherit ownership, but may not want to or be capable of handling the day-to-day operations of the business.  These tasks should be delegated to those who have the skills and abilities to perform them. Others may take leadership in setting the overall direction for the company's future.

What leadership needs for success -- What is needed for the business to succeed? Identify what each leader might need to perform the tasks. Heirs could potentially assume responsibility and control the business without knowing everything you do, but consider training them now. Survivors will certainly have financial concerns as well -- do some financial planning for the future. Teach future owners how to make better financial decisions, resolve their differences and how to collaborate. Head off issues with trusts, wills, shareholder agreements or buy-sell agreements.

Balance what the operation needs with what the owners want from the business. Balance the interests of both the owners and managers to head off potential problems and power struggles. With regard to management, now is the time to identify and train individuals to take responsibility on short notice. How would their roles change, what skills would they need that the business could help them develop now and would it help to succeed.

Planning for leadership succession will be time consuming and will not be completed overnight, but it will be time well spent.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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