Some planning software products begin with a comprehensive survey of the owner’s impressions of readiness. Note that we say “impressions.” A Likert scale questionnaire that asks a client to rate their understanding of a statement and its possible implications with questions like “How confident are you that you know the value of your business?” and a ranking from “no understanding” to “extremely well” often creates more questions than answers.
If an owner chooses “Fairly well,” for instance, does that mean he knows the value, or that he is fairly confident that he thinks he knows the value, or that he is really confident that he knows an approximate value? Nonetheless, some advisors will begin to build a plan around such subjective answers.
In fact, many systems take these subjective answers and use them to produce a score and a subsequent evaluation with a dollar figure for the presumed worth of the business. Regardless of the accuracy of the owner’s responses, they have created a line in the sand regarding value.
The next step is often to assess different areas of operations. Depending on the expertise of the advisor, this may focus on operating efficiencies, sales processes, marketing approaches, financial record keeping or product and customer mix. Then the advisor runs a second evaluation, presuming that these areas have a higher score.
All this is intended to lead to one question. “Would you rather sell your business for $7,000,000 or for $12,000,000?” I know very few owners who would have the temerity to choose the first option, whether they have personal enthusiasm for embarking on a reorganization of their business or not.
The methodology is legitimate. There is ample evidence that improved operations and greater profitability lead to a higher selling price. It may, however, create a scenario where the owner is boxed into the strategy that works best for the advisor, regardless of whether it matches the client’s objectives (“Get out as soon as possible,” for example) or the company’s capabilities.
Delegation and Depth
The first issue, an owner’s objectives, should be addressed by deeper discovery. That is what we preach and teach with our ExitMap® tools. The second, company readiness, is more a matter of delegation and depth.
No business can embark on a comprehensive improvement process without a management team to implement it. That’s why we address Owner Centricity™ as the only area of company readiness that matters in the discovery phase of every engagement. If the client is already overwhelmed with personal responsibilities, new initiatives will just add more to an already over-full agenda. That’s a recipe for failure.
We map out the management team starting with the owner’s responsibilities. Then we add those employees who are next in line for those duties, along with a 1, 2 or 3 score. One indicates that the employee is fully ready to assume the day-to-day activities of the job. A two means that the employee is generally familiar with the area, but not ready to assume primary responsibility. A three indicates that there is no knowledge or capability for this area. A 3 is also used when there just isn’t anyone available to train.
Diagramming the management team in such a depth chart permits a far more comprehensive look at which improvements are possible now, and which will require additional training or recruiting. It also gives the advisor a better understanding of the areas the owner will have to delegate to make the business more saleable.
In operational analysis, the capabilities of the management team are the principal determinant of the company’s readiness to grow.
The owner’s willingness to discuss such delegation is by far the best indicator of his or her preparedness for any value enhancement efforts.
This article was originally published by John F. Dini, CBEC, CExP, CEPA on awakeat2oclock.com. John develops transition and succession strategies that allow business owners to exit their companies on their own schedule, with the proceeds they seek and complete control over the process. He takes a coaching approach to client engagements, focusing on helping owners of companies with $1M to $250M in revenue achieve both their desired lifestyles and legacies.