The Family Business Partnership

How to start succession planning

How to start Succession Planning

In my last blog I looked at when to start your succession planning and the overwhelming conclusion (that I made) was that now was a pretty good time. There will be challenges, but the sooner you face them the sooner you will overcome them.

“That’s all very well” I hear you proclaim, “but it’s no good knowing when to start if we aren’t sure how to start!”

Well, fear not below I have summarised some ideas on how to start, I was going to cheat a bit and put the first point as Just Start! but that one’s obvious, isn’t it?

Understand what you want your succession planning to look like

Having an idea of what you want your succession to look like will help enormously with implementing the plan.

Now this may sound obvious, but often the thinking here is too shallow. An example of just one possible scenario can throw up a lot of secondary and tertiary matters that will need to be considered.

Let’s say you want to retain ownership of the business, but pass on the day to day management to someone else. This may sound like a plan but there is a lot going on in the background of this.

  • Who do you want to manage the business?
  • Do they possess the right skills?
  • Do they want to manage the business?
  • Will they expect ownership, now or in the future?
  • If you have earmarked a family member for the role, are they the best person for the job?
  • If you are passing on the day to day stuff, what will you do with your time?
  • Will this make you happy?
  • Can you afford to do the things you want to do?

Being really clear on what it is you want to achieve from the process means you will be able to articulate this to your advisers and they can help you plan for this.

A good starting point is to simply write down your thoughts, concerns, hopes and fears around this. Tricky initially, but once you start you may find it comes more easily, this can just simply be a brainstorm of words, it doesn’t have to be too detailed at this stage.

You might want to think about what do you want your legacy to be? What would you really like to do once you have moved away from the day to day work within the business?

What needs to be in place to allow you to have the retirement you want? If you can be clear about what it is you want to do, you can put a plan in place to achieve this.


Mismatched expectations are a potential tinder pot for dispute within a family business and so once you have started thinking about your succession it is a good idea to start communicating with your family and those within the business that this will affect.

The discussions need to be held in an environment that allows honest and open conversations, and everybody should feel free to express their views.

If you are anticipating a particular family member taking over your role, they need to understand fully what this means for them. It may be assumed that this is already understood but their expectations may differ from yours.

The balance between fairness and equality also needs to be considered. For example, you may have two children working within the business, one with the right skills and attitude to fill your shoes and one who may want, or only be capable of, their current role. Equality would dictate that they each have an equal share in the business and the same remuneration once the plan has been implemented.

Fairness would dictate that the more qualified sibling for your role would take this on and perhaps be rewarded accordingly, with the other maintaining their current role and remuneration.

Having this discussion early can avoid any feelings of resentment further down the track.

Involving everyone in these discussions also helps them feel they are part of the process rather than just implementing your plan.

It also means that if there is no one who is able or willing to take the business on, you can plan a sale well in advance and maximise the value of the business.

Appoint a ‘Leader’

This does not have to be you, in fact if you are the current ‘head’ of the family it may be beneficial not to appoint yourself as the leader.

When I say leader here we don’t mean that they get a throne or a reserved parking space or anything, just that they are responsible for ensuring that the right discussions are being held in the right way at the right time between the right people.

Depending on the size of your business you may need to appoint a ‘Succession Team’ rather than just having a single person responsible for driving the process.

They don’t even have to be from within the business, often having an objective third party in the mix can help to keep everyone, including any dominant voices, on track.

Using a consultant who specialises in this may cost you some money but they can save you time (your most valuable resource!) and save mistakes along the way.

This leader or team can help to identify what skills gaps there are, whether there needs to be any external recruitment, any mentoring or training that may be required.

There may be areas of governance (the framework around which decision making within the family and business is built) that require attention and the leader can ensure that the right people are bought in to sort this.

This may mean drafting new shareholders’ agreements or the introduction / revision of a family charter.

Document the plan

It is no good having all these discussions about succession planning, being clear with each other over your expectations, agreeing who is going to be doing what and when, without it being properly documented.

Writing it all down will allow you to plan affectively for what may need to happen to make the transition a success. You will be able to identify within the plan what governance needs to be in place, what training may be required and who is responsible for each element of the succession plan.

You can set out the timetable for the plan, how to resolve any potential disputes and the fact that it is written down for all to see will firstly make it more real, and secondly help to ratify its contents.

Communicate and maintain momentum

Once you have committed to a succession plan it is the responsibility of all involved to ensure that momentum is maintained and that progress is made.

You’ve overcome so many of the hurdles to get to this stage, don’t let the day to day stuff derail this.

Letting things drift can add years to a succession plan and that is bad news! Remember time is your most valuable resource and you can’t come back next time and do all the things you want to do!

Get Help

There are many professional advisers out there who would be able to help with each element of your succession plan including lawyers, accountants, financial planners and specialist family business advisers (like me!), that can help.

With so many to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start, but by following the above steps you will have a good idea of who you may need to bring in to deal with each element.

I hold the Advanced Certificate in Family Business Advising and I am able to help you with your succession planning from both the business and the individual level.

If you are looking for help, you can book a call with me to see if we are a good fit. No hard sale, just a conversation about what you want to do and how to get there. 

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When making the exciting decision to start a business with my husband, the complexities of working with family didn't cross my mind. Rather than deliver a positive change in lifestyle, we found ourselves bringing the marriage into the business and the business into the marriage! Working with Russ helped us define structure and boundaries between work and home, and create distinct roles that would enable us to work to our strengths while managing expectations of each other. We found the sessions fun and engaging, and learned as much about ourselves as we did each other.
Rachel and Sam
Business Owners
We have worked with Russ on a number of projects with our clients and within our own team as well. He has an incredible talent for creating an environment where it feels safe to respond to difficult questions.

Not only is this useful for resolving differences, but also for understanding why business processes are not working the way that they should. Russ’ keeps you focused on the reason why you are doing what you do.

Having him involved has given my team an incredibly powerful boost.
Business Owner