Zombie Succession… Are the Walking Dead Eating The Brains of Your business?
This in the first in a series of articles I’m going to be sharing on the ‘modern mythological characters’ that may have taken up residence in your business.
You never know when they will stagger through the front door, the back door or any available entrance of your business—their dead eyes fixed on your cash register; their greedy hands outstretched. It’s impossible to communicate with them—or stop them. It seems like the best you can do is give them what they want. And what they want are all the perks and profits of your business without any effort on their part.
They are the Zombie Successors and without careful planning, every family-owned business has the potential to fall victim to their destruction. The hard fact is that many family-owned businesses don’t last beyond the third generation. Why is that? By the time the third generation comes along the Zombies Successor have likely consumed all the living flesh and brains of the business.
The reason, once you see it, is obvious. The first generation is vibrant and filled with enthusiasm about the business, its success and its future. The founding generation is willing to do whatever it takes to make the business a success—including the sacrifice of time and money. With good guidance and mentoring the succeeding generation will share at least some of the founder’s passion and continue to make the business a priority.
By the third generation, much if not most of the original enthusiasm and passion has eroded and this generation sees, not the opportunity for hard work, but the trappings of success—money, prestige, and an easy life. This happens because there’s a good chance that the second generation were carriers of the virus they unwittingly infected the third generation with.
The moment I meet Michael liked him. However, within 15 minutes of us sitting together it became evident why he was a potential Zombie Successor. Michael was supposed to be stepping into a senior leadership role with view to becoming the organizations top man over the next five to eight years, but both his mother and father were very cautious about him doing so. Corporately Michael was lazy, missed meetings and even though he was newly married had a playboy attitude about many things especially with regard to money and treating people like they were disposable.
You maybe asking; why did I instantly like him?
The answer is fairly simple: I could see that all that behaviour wasn’t a reflection of who he truly was at the ‘core’ of his being. Not only did I instantly like him we built a very quick bond. Like Michael said within that first hour; “you get me”, and I did. Michael hadn’t started out wanting to be a Zombie Successor he had just become one over time. Going to the office was painful for him, not because he was an entitled brat (even though that was what his behaviour looked like) but because as he said; he knew what to do, he just had no idea why it mattered beyond his dad’s constant ‘nagging’ about the family legacy, which to Michael just meant more money. As a result, Michael would walk around the office, or sit behind his desk with the door close doing anything he could to cope with feeling ‘brain dead’.
Once infected the Zombie Successors want everything, but because they are infected they have no desire to work for what they want. They are the Zombie Successors!
Killing off Succession Zombies, just like “real-life” zombies, will be difficult, if not impossible to eliminate. They often are so deeply entrenched in the business (or at least in the finances of the business), killing them off could mean killing off the business itself. That’s the bad news.
The better news is that Zombie Succession isn’t inevitable. However, it takes proactive work on the part of the first and second generations. What that entails is developing a healthy family dynamic that facilitates succession. And that only happens when the family and the teams in that culture are bonded as a unit.
For your family business members (and employees) to be fully engaged and fiercely loyal, there must be a deep emotional bond. That bond is not only the superglue that allows transition and succession to take place successfully, it is one-half of the vaccine that will immunize your people from becoming zombies.
With a healthy deep-seated emotion bond, conflicts can be resolved and there can be a return to the essence of what cements both the family and the Family Business. Without such a bond it’s easy to hit an impasse and owners can be tempted to sell their shares and leave.
Creating a Super Bond
How to eliminate zombie successors from your organization:
- Do not unconsciously infect the next generation with the Zombie virus! You are likely asking; what is this virus that turns the next generation in to the walking dead? The Zombie virus seems to have reached epidemic proportions not just in the Family Business environment (where it is simply easier to spot) but also in the general population. The reason it has become an epidemic is because so many parents are in denial of the fact that they (even though they themselves may have been immune) are the ones spreading the virus known as G.G.E.D2 (Generalized and Globalized Entitlement Disorder). The parent unconsciously does this by infecting their children from a young age with the mindset that they are ‘special’ and mindset that as it grows can open the recipient to a weaken sense of ‘work ethic’. Work ethic on it’s own does not protect a child (or adult child) fromG.G.E.D2 however, it can assist in fighting off the virus in it’s early stages.
- A Purpose Driven Environment. One of the two dominant factors of a G.G.E.D2 growth environment is when an environment is void of (or even weak in) having a driving purpose. As described above if the next generation does not get what the true (originating) purpose of the organization is, it will see its purpose merely as that of being a cash machine. Succession Zombies will consume the cash flow of any organization fast than the walking dead feast on the brains wounded man in the moonlight.
- A Deep Emotional Bond. The second of the two dominant factors of a G.G.E.D2 growth environment is when the environment is an emotional void. In an environment where the next generation do not feel a deep (non-obligational) bond to the generation before them, and or their own generation they are easily infected with G.G.E.D2
In Summary: To create a successful Zombie free succession plan:
Stop teaching and preaching that your children are ‘special’…They are Not. Unique? Yes, but there again we are all unique. Stop writing checks and patting them on the back just for showing up at the office.
Secondly ask yourself: What was the originating purpose that this organization was built on? If you don’t know, find out and if you can’t find out dig deep and create one! (Because if it’s just profit you are creating a breeding ground for G.G.E.D2)
And finally, stop feeling guilty for not being an attentive enough parent! There’s a very good chance that you weren’t attentive enough, it’s a job that on some level we all fail at. So, stop trying to make up for what wasn’t emotionally given by giving more money and stuff, it doesn’t work and it’s catalyzer of G.G.E.D2.
Whatever, kind of parent you were (you might have been great, you might have been terrible or anything in the middle). However, me give you the formula for part of the inoculation. All children (including adult children) just want to have certainty (to feel) that you want to know who they really are, and what really matters to them.
P.S. Michael (not his real name) Now runs a very successful division of the Family Business and loves what he’s doing. Moreover, his folks are delighted that the Family Business legacy is still very solid.
Remember as zombie you must escape the misery:
I trust that you found this valuable if so feel free to send this to your friends. I eagerly anticipate your feedback and comments. Please “like,” “share”, and comment below!
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