Been having a lot of discussion lately about what the next generation of the business will look like. Who will run it, who will work in it, what kind of work we’ll be doing, and how we’re going to adapt to stay current. Wondering if you have any recommendations on what to consider, and how to go about planning for the future.

Thoughts of the Day: Thinking about the future is critical to ensuring success. Do a critical needs analysis. Make a plan that describes where the business goes next, and how it gets there. What problems are people trying to solve and how can you make things easier? Deal with the reality of limited workforce availability. Consider ESOP as a model for future ownership, if your company is strong enough.

Many times, small business owners get stuck with their heads down, focused on making things work well inside the business.

Long term success comes from learning how to play well at the Owners Game. And that includes designing the future of the business and then implementing that design. It can be tempting to say that the next generation will have to worry about the future. The opportunity exists for you, as head of the company now, to set the course and lead the way into the future.

Ask your team to present an assessment of where the company is and what needs to change. Don’t get defensive. Get curious.

Ask for recommendations on how best to tackle challenges. Future includes everything from who does the company do business with, to governance, intellectual capital and structure for executing work. Get employees to think about how they create value by turning problems into opportunities. Be unique.

Teach people to respect differences and support each other as they tackle the unknown.

Looking at your company’s most profitable work, you’ll probably find it comes from getting ahead of customers’ issues, providing solutions that are relatively easy to implement. Get your team thinking about what tomorrow’s customers will need, and how to meet or exceed customers’ future expectations.

With a declining birthrate, the retirement of baby boomers and continuing political conflict over the role of immigration, the small business workforce is shrinking.

While small businesses are often the first, and last, employers, we lose talent to larger corporate entities in the middle years, as our employees gain skills and get wooed away by promises of high earnings and great growth opportunities. Use every advantage you can think of to customize your work environment to the needs of an empowered workforce. Appeal to employee groups who want growth opportunity but often find themselves left out, minimalized or otherwise overlooked.

Figure out what your employees want and then design ways to give them exactly that. Ask your employees to explore their networks; be on the lookout for good candidates who are interested your company’s mission.

  • Offer flexible hours,
  • work from home,
  • shared office space.
Develop a reputation as a great employer, use that to bring in and retain the best and the brightest.

You don’t want to try to govern the company past the time you’re no longer involved.

Set up a structure for governance that ensures balance and encourages teamwork. Avoid the temptation to build future governance on the model you’re probably familiar with – one person at the top making all the decisions – the weakest governance model.

Get people involved on teams, looking at problems and solutions from multiple points of view. Encourage employees to respect and appreciate different points of view, debate with respect. They’ll learn governance skills that will serve them well in the future.

Learn about ESOPs. They take work and planning to build. They are a tool to keep ownership inside the company and provide retirement value. With 40% higher productivity vs. non-ESOP companies, they’re a great tool to reward and motivate.

Looking for a good book? Luck is not a plan for your Future: Design Your Tomorrow Today, by Leslie Gallery-Dilworth.