The Business Transition Blog

Learning Organizations Make Succession Easier

Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs.[1]

In 1990, Peter Senge published The Fifth Discipline, a seminal work that outlined the critical importance of developing learning organizations. Senge maintained that organizations which don’t learn, adapt and grow will fail. This prediction is even more relevant today.

But organizations don’t learn. People do. It is individuals who seek out new ideas, information and insights and apply them to their organizations in order to improve. To create a vibrant learning organization, we must first employ individuals who love to learn.

If you’re thinking of transitioning or selling your business, there are powerful reasons why this would be important to you now:

  • It adds value to your business.
  • It makes it easier to bring about a planned transition.
  • It increases your chance of successfully enabling your employees to take on more responsibility, freeing up your time to do more of the things that you’d rather be doing.

Consider the challenges you would face if you employed:

  • An IT manager who resists learning a new operating system.
  • A marketing manager who isn’t interested in social media.
  • A production manager who doesn’t want to learn better leadership skills and how to deal more effectively with employees from different generations or diverse backgrounds.
  • A vice-president who avoids learning about succession planning, strategic planning, process development, or open book management.
  • A HR manager who refrains from learning about new employment laws, hiring practices or assessment tools that would improve employee retention.
  • Any salesperson who refuses to learn about Customer Relationship Management programs or better ways to prospect.

Would you put such employees on the asset or liability side of the ledger? When employees don’t like to learn, they devalue your business. If they succumb to their fears, they sabotage any attempts at succession planning.

What about you? Have you set an example for your employees? Do you invest in business books, courses, seminars, professional development and coaching? Have you offered your employees learning opportunities?

When you look at the companies on the list of “best employers to work for” you’ll notice that one of the traits that makes them attractive is their support of continuous learning. If your people aren’t learning, you don’t have a learning organization and your attempts to transition are likely to fail.

[1]Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 1990: p. 139

Start With Small Steps

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-Tzu

If you were to advise the next generation as they enter the workforce, you would probably tell them that real life is very different than school. It’s possible to cram for exams, pull an all-nighter and get a reasonable pass on the test. But life isn’t like that. Steady, intelligent effort over time builds a business.

And yet, when it comes to selling their business, many entrepreneurs – even those in their sixties – think that it’s too early to plan. Perhaps they are thinking they can cram for the big event.

Business owners generally find that day-to-day activities and urgent tasks tend to consume the bulk of their time, leaving little opportunity for focused thought and planning. Then the less important but urgent tasks take over, forcing you to cram on the big issues.

It’s easier to tackle a huge job like selling your business if you take it one small step at a time. Can you find two or three hours per week to begin the journey? Surely for something this important, you could. But you need to slot it into your calendar.

What can you accomplish in only three hours per week? Not much if you only give yourself six months. But a great deal if you give yourself four or five years.

Start with these steps:

  1. Take a day or a weekend away from the business. Reflect on what’s important to you. Visualize what your world would look like in five years if everything was going perfectly. Capture that vision in words or pictures and find a way to look at it every day. This is your motivation – the vision you are moving towards and the reward that will keep you going if you get tired on the journey.
  2. Set some specific long-term goals that, when accomplished, will help make your vision a reality. For example, “By January 1, 2018, I will have created a Due Diligence binder that could be given to a prospective new partner or owner, enabling him/her to clearly understand the value of the business, the advantages we have over our competition and all the data required to make a confident decision to purchase my business.”
  3. Break your long-term goals into smaller, short-term goals. For example, “In the next 90 days my team will have committed to working on the Due Diligence Checklist and will be able to report at least 10 items have been accomplished.
  4. Commit to completing or making progress on one item on the Due Diligence Checklist every week.

One small step a week adds up to 250 steps in five years. That’s a manageable way to get your business ready!

For a free download of a Due Diligence Checklist, go here.