Business Transition

Monday, September 22 2014

Imagine that you are climbing Mount Everest. You’ve done your homework, got the experience, read the maps, spent lavishly on your equipment, and pulled together a team that will follow where you lead. You battle bad weather; searing heat and bitter cold. You’ve endured injuries and lost team members along the way; finally, the summit is in sight. It appears to be just around the corner.

You push forward. “We’re almost there!” You round a corner and right before you is a huge crevasse. And a sign. The sign says: “Sorry. You can’t get there from here.” And in smaller letters, it mocks you, saying: “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book by that name. In it he explains how all the successful lessons and habits you’ve achieved at one level, will prevent you from getting to the next level of success. Just when you were getting comfortable, thinking that you’d learned all that you need to run and grow a company, you realize you must scale another level to successfully transition your business. Whether you plan to sell or enable a successor to take on more responsibilities, creating a sustainable business that runs without you is the summit.

Your current skills and knowledge probably can’t get you there from here.

You may scoff at this idea (or the sign). The whirling snow will obliterate the chasm and the offensive message, feeding you false hope. You’ll think that by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, regular use of positive affirmations and sheer bravado, you can ignore the facts before you. That’s another book; Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan.

But here’s the thing. Gravity doesn’t care what you tell yourself, how smart you were in the past, or how many times you’ve done something that is completely unlike the circumstances in front of you now. Even if you can’t see where you’re going, when you step out into the abyss, you’re going down.

What’s the alternative? Learn something new. Step back from the edge, reassess the situation, understand your personal limitations and ask for help. Read new books on the subject of transitioning your business. Take a course. Find someone who will guide you. Getting to the next level is unlike anything you’ve done before. And you may only have one shot at getting it right. Don’t blow it because you stopped learning.