The importance of shared values when choosing a successor

When it comes to successful succession planning, one crucial aspect that often goes unnoticed is the alignment of values between the founder, successor, and their business. In this article, we will explore why values alignment plays a vital role in the seamless transition of founders.

What founding stories can tell us about founders’ values

During my research interviews, I delved into the founding stories of various organisations and the circumstances that led to their inception. What stood out was how founders described their motivations for creating their initiatives. They all emphasised the alignment of their own needs and those of their customers, which propelled them to seek solutions and embark on their entrepreneurial journey. By creating businesses that catered to these aligned needs, founders fulfilled their own desires while addressing market demands.

Take Anna, for example, a young mother who had relocated to a new city in Germany. She found herself without a network and had a strong urge to reconnect and meet people. Recognising the lack of support for mothers wanting to start their own businesses, Anna saw an opportunity to create a network for entrepreneurial mothers. This endeavour allowed her to merge her personal and professional needs, creating a community where she could connect with others while supporting mothers in business.

Shared values and strong relationships facilitate easy transitions

As Anna considered passing on her initiative, finding a successor who shared her values, needs, and vision became paramount. When she did find her successor, she commented on their shared values:

“It’s like she was really the perfect person to be the successor. With the same values and with the same direction of vision.”

In other examples in my research – those founders and successors who developed strong relationships characterised by love, care, and friendship were ultimately the ones to succeeded. Take Regina for example, who took over her father’s logistics company, who expressed her deep appreciation and admiration for her father, highlighting the fantastic relationship they shared. Or Pedro, the founder of a Christian faith charity, who emphasised the importance of a close relationship with his successor, Nigel, as they both shared the same vision and values for the initiative.

Values and vision alignment between founder, successor and their initiative was one of the facilitating factors of succession and finding a ‘match’ enabled a natural flow of exchange between them. In both cases, the founders described how much they trusted their successors and their good relationship was a key facilitating factor for successful transition. Respect and great fit were also mentioned among the descriptors of a great relationship, which enabled them to have open and honest conversations about the transition.

What about unsuccessful transitions?

Conversely, an examination of unsuccessful successions revealed intriguing insights into the impact of founder values. In the case of Ervin’s grandfather, Louis, who served in World War I, whose values were based on fear, control, manipulation, and lack of trust emerged as constraining factors. Louis employed divisive leadership strategies, which led to discord within the family and ultimately hindered the succession process. I explore the role love and flow plays in successful transitions in my previous article.

It was clear that the type of founder’s values had a significant impact on succession outcomes. Founder values that were negative, potentially limiting, or based on fear, did not help the founder to prepare a succession plan and hand over their business to anyone. Behaviours based on lack of trust created blocks in energy exchange among the founder and his possible successors, becoming constraining factors.

Recognising the importance of values alignment and the detrimental effects of fear-based values, I recommend that founders work with coaches or mentors who can support them in further developing their self- and social awareness. By addressing their own values and fostering a positive organisational culture, founders can better prepare for succession and ensure a smooth transfer of leadership.

This article is part of a series where I delve deeper into each factor, exploring how coaching can support the succession planning process and where HR can ensure a seamless transfer of leadership. See below a list of articles in this series for more insights on navigating successful founder transitions in organisations.

If you would like to explore how I can support you and your organisation in leadership transitions, please get in touch.

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