Power Players' Lounge: Transitioning your company to the 'next generation'

All companies reach a point in their lifecycle where significant management transition becomes inevitable, if not necessary. As the founders and senior managers of companies look to move on to new challenges, scale back workload or retire, companies often find themselves in a forced "transition mode." Many companies also face transition as business models evolve, competition increases and economic realities change. Outdoor industry companies are no different, as we've witnessed in the last decade. Unfortunately, companies often reach this point with no real plan or open dialog about the impending changes.
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors."

To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Today, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players' Lounge opens in SNEWS.

Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times.

We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge, and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.

This column was written by Jennifer Mull, CEO of Backwoods. (jmull@backwoods.com).

All companies reach a point in their lifecycle where significant management transition becomes inevitable, if not necessary. As the founders and/or senior managers of companies look to move on to new challenges, scale back workload or retire, companies often find themselves in a forced "transition mode." Many companies also face transition as business models evolve, competition increases and economic realities change. Outdoor industry companies are no different, as we've witnessed in the last decade. Unfortunately, companies often reach this point with no real plan or open dialog about the impending changes.

No matter the reason for a company's transition, having a plan, inviting candid discussion and recognizing the human impact due to transition can be the difference between success and ultimate failure. Research shows that two-thirds of companies with 100 employees or less -- the size of many companies in the outdoor industry -- have no transition plans in place at all before finding themselves in the midst of it. Research also shows that companies with a plan, and those that take into consideration the related human resource aspects of transition, make it through significant transitions in a much smoother, less disruptive way with five-times more likelihood of success.

While this article primarily focuses on the human resource considerations of transitioning a company from founder or long-term manager to the "next generation," many of these tips apply to almost any transition within a company. 

10 things to consider:

1.Talk openly about the transition. Gather all the stakeholders together as early as possible to discuss the timing and scope of the changes.






2.Realize transition often involves a "grief cycle" for those involved. Even when the transition is inevitable, for the best and agreed upon, it will likely bring up many emotions for those involved. Appreciate these emotions and encourage people to discuss them.

3.Communicating along the way -- and more than you think necessary -- is necessary. During transition, people often begin second-guessing themselves and the plan. As a result, they can become less confident in their position and importance to the company. Keeping people involved and informed will help to negate some of the fear. For example, during our major transition, we met for all-day sessions once a month for six months with all the management staff. This is time well spent.

4.Appreciate the past efforts of all. If changes are going to be made -- terrific -- but make certain "history" is not wiped away as if it doesn't matter. History is important, many people have done a lot "right," and respecting the past can go a long way toward progressing in the future.

5.Get people involved in the process. Giving them information is helpful, but getting their ideas and ultimate buy-in is even better. Ask the staff what changes they would like to see, what is going well, what the company could do better, what their ideas are for the future direction, etc.

6.Make certain there is clarity around the company's direction. Having "where you are going and how you are going to get there" defined and well laid out provides comfort to staff and builds the foundation for a solid future even amidst change in personnel.

7.Realize that there has (often) been one leader for many years that people respect, admire and have an allegiance. Make certain new leadership doesn't appear to disrespect this person or his/her ideas.

8.Give people a "get out of jail free card." Some people will not make the transition. Some people will not like the new leadership, new direction or new strategy. Articulate to all upfront that you understand some people may not choose to move forward with the company and if they don't, there will be no hard feelings.

9.Question everything while respecting the current people and processes. When asking, "Why is ABC being done in XYZ way?" you will find that too frequently the answer is, "Because that's how we do it," and that often the initial reason is no longer valid. I have often said, "The good news is we've been around since 1973, and the bad news is we've been around since 1973." All I mean by that is with age can come outdated processes and ideas alongside the benefits associated with stability and having a 35-year history.

10. Celebrate along the way! Get to know one another, build up the team, intentionally recognize progress and don't forget to have fun together. Transition is hard work and smiles and energy are important for success!

Nominate the next class of Power Players!–It's time for another set of outdoor industry Power Players to step forward in 2010. We're looking for nominations from you of the obvious, the up-and-comers or the under-the-radar leaders in any channel. This is a person who has power and makes a difference...and may not even know it. Do you know somebody like that? If so, SNEWS wants you to speak up, tap into our survey and name them by clicking here. Please respond by the evening of Oct. 1 to have your voice counted.

We have made this article public access, to ensure all may be able to read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you'll need your own SNEWS® subscription, which we've made really easy -- the SNEWS Freebie. Click here to activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.




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