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Leave Your Contracting Company In Good Hands

March 20, 2024
Whether you’re near retirement, or a decade away, it’s never too early to start thinking about who should take your seat.

For contracting company owners looking to retire, succession planning can seem like a daunting process, but beginning the process early ensures a smooth transition to future leaders.

Whether you’re near retirement, or a decade away, it’s never too early to start thinking about who should take your seat. This guide delves into the current industry challenges as well as how to get started, to help you achieve an effective and successful exit.

What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is a strategic process used by organizations to identify and develop new leaders who can replace legacy leaders when they leave, retire, or pass away. This process ensures that businesses continue running without any interruption due to the sudden loss of key personnel.

For construction business owners answering the question of who should replace you, and how, can be difficult. In an industry with an aging workforce and recruitment challenges, effective succession planning is crucial for the sustainability and growth of the business.

Key Current Challenges

An Aging Construction Workforce

The construction industry faces a significant age-related challenge, with a workforce that's aging rapidly on one end and a noticeable lack of younger workers entering the field on the other. This imbalance poses risks to the industry's sustainability and growth, as experienced workers retire without enough younger talent to fill the gaps.

According to the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER), it's estimated that 41% of the current construction workforce will retire by 2031. This is a massive number of workers who will leave the industry. But who will replace them?

Recruitment Challenges

The labor shortage in construction has not seen significant improvement in years. In fact, as of December 2023 there are an estimated 449,000 construction job openings according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Construction companies and trade schools are trying to get creative about ways to recruit the next generation. Young adults can choose between college and alternative paths. There are ways to make careers in construction a popular path, but it’s an uphill battle.

With so many workers nearing retirement, along with a labor shortage, there is an urgent need for the construction industry to focus on workforce development and succession planning.

Importance of Early Planning

Recent surveys reveal that 60% of small businesses, including those in construction, lack a formal succession plan. This gap highlights a critical vulnerability, as nearly half of these businesses don't see the necessity of such planning.

Starting succession planning early is essential for the sustainability and smooth operation of any business. Here are the top 5 reasons why it's important to begin this process early:

  1. Smooth Transition: Early planning allows for a more gradual and less disruptive transition of leadership roles. It provides ample time for training and mentoring potential successors, ensuring they are fully prepared to take on their new responsibilities.

  2. Preparedness for Unexpected Events: Life is unpredictable, and early succession planning ensures that the business is prepared for sudden events, such as the illness or departure of a key leader, safeguarding business continuity.

  3. Retention and Motivation of Talent: Demonstrating a clear path for career advancement through succession planning helps in attracting, retaining, and motivating top talent. Employees are more likely to stay with a company that invests in their development and shows confidence in their potential to lead.

  4. Strategic Alignment and Growth: Integrating succession planning into the company’s strategic planning process ensures that future leadership is aligned with the company’s long-term goals and vision, facilitating sustained growth and success.

  5. Conflict Minimization: Early and clear succession planning helps in minimizing potential conflicts among family members in family-owned businesses or among stakeholders in non-family businesses by setting clear expectations and processes for leadership transition.

Neglecting this process can lead to several risks, including leadership vacuums that disrupt operations, confusion over direction and strategy, potential conflict among employees or family members over leadership roles, and a loss of confidence from stakeholders. These issues can severely impact the company's financial health, employee morale, and overall market position, potentially jeopardizing the business's longevity and success.

Proper planning not only addresses immediate leadership transitions but also prepares businesses for unforeseen events, ensuring that they remain competitive and sustainable in the long term.

Getting Started

Assessing Your Current Position

Understanding where your business stands in terms of financial health, operational efficiency, and market position is pivotal. This assessment forms the basis of your succession plan, helping you identify what you need in a successor to lead your company forward.

Consider running through an exercise where you evaluate each of these areas. 

  • Financial Health - Review cash flow, debt levels, and profitability.

  • Operational Review - Examine current business operations, project management efficiency, and customer satisfaction levels.

  • Workforce Evaluation - Identify potential leaders and assess employee skills and training needs.

  • Market Position - Analyze the company's competitive advantage and market demand for services.

  • Legal and Compliance Check - Ensure all regulatory, legal, and compliance aspects are in order, including contracts, licenses, and insurance policies.

You should use external firms such as consultants, CPAs or lawyers when needed. But it’s worth trying to do an internal evaluation first before bringing in other parties.

Looking at Internal Leaders

The obvious choice for who should take over your company is often someone already working there. You can look towards your leadership team, if your company is big enough. Or it might be a family member. In either case, you should evaluate each person thoroughly.

Considering internal leaders for succession planning involves a strategic evaluation of their skills, leadership qualities, and alignment with the company's future direction. It's essential to assess their track record in managing projects, leading teams, and contributing to the company's growth. This process helps identify individuals with the potential to drive the business forward.

Developing these leaders through targeted training and mentoring ensures they are prepared for future challenges. Providing opportunities for them to lead projects or initiatives can offer valuable insights into their capabilities and readiness for higher leadership roles.

Challenges With Family Members

Handing off a business to a family member, such as a son or daughter, comes with unique challenges. Emotional dynamics can complicate decision making processes, leading to potential conflicts between preserving family harmony and making the best choices for the business. 

There's also the issue of skill and interest alignment; the successor may not share the same passion or possess the necessary skills to drive the business forward. Moreover, there's the risk of perceived nepotism affecting employee morale and undermining the authority of the chosen successor, which can impact the overall functioning of the company.

These factors make it essential to approach succession planning with clear communication, objective assessment of capabilities, and professional development opportunities for the successor.

Looking at External Leaders

Evaluating external candidates for succession planning offers the advantage of bringing in fresh blood with experiences that can be pivotal for the company's innovation and growth. This process requires a comprehensive assessment strategy that includes understanding the candidate's leadership style, industry knowledge, and how well they align with the company's culture and values.

The integration of an external leader poses its own set of challenges, such as ensuring a smooth transition with existing team members and maintaining continuity in business operations. It's crucial to have a well thought out onboarding and transition plan that fosters acceptance and respect from current employees.

Success in external succession planning also hinges on transparent communication with all stakeholders, including family members in family-owned businesses, to mitigate any concerns or resistance. Establishing clear expectations and providing support during the transition phase are essential to facilitate the new leader's success and ensure the company's sustained growth and stability.

Writing and Communicating Your Plan

After you have assessed your company's current situation and have identified a possible successor, put your plan in writing and communicate it appropriately.

Writing and communicating a succession plan is an important process that requires thorough preparation and strategic thinking. Initially, the plan should be drafted with clarity, outlining the objectives, key roles, and the criteria for successor selection. It's essential to integrate input from various stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive approach that aligns with the company’s culture and long-term goals.

Communication of the plan should be deliberate and tailored to the audience. For internal stakeholders, focus on the plan's impact on the company's future and their roles within it. For family members in a family-owned business, address the emotional and relational aspects, emphasizing fairness and transparency to foster unity and support.

Implementing the plan involves regular updates and feedback sessions. As the business environment and the company’s objectives evolve, so too should the succession plan. This adaptability ensures that the plan remains relevant and can effectively guide the company through the transition when the time comes.

Finally, the use of clear, accessible language and the promise of support for those affected by the plan are crucial. Workshops, meetings, and one-on-one discussions can help clarify any uncertainties and build consensus around the plan, ensuring a smoother transition and the sustained success for your construction business.

Alexander Crosson is the founder and CEO of Brawn, a financial technology company building solutions for construction workers. Brawn can be contacted by visiting or emailing [email protected].

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