The Seven Deadly Sins of Transition: A Series

By: John Hotson,
Business Transition Alliance Co-Founder

At Business Transition Alliance, we have worked with many successful owners who are dealing with some kind of transition of their business – be that exiting, stepping back from the day–to–day operations or perhaps dramatically expanding the company. All of these owners have been very good at building up their business. But as Albert Einstein once said:

The thinking that got you here won’t get you to where you need to be.

The things that once worked very well for growing the business will most likely not be what work as owners transition it. In fact, in most cases, continuing to do what you have always done will be the very thing that stands in the way of attaining a successful transition.

There are seven strong habits that owners have typically worked hard at developing in order to grow their business. Self-help books and management consultants have pounded these messages home effectively over the last 50 years. They are:

  1. Dream big
  2. Lead by example
  3. Stay with what you do well
  4. Know your customer
  5. Build a winning culture
  6. Walk before you run
  7. Practice hands-on management

Unfortunately, the things that drove the development of the business, have now become barriers to the process of transitioning – exit, step back or dramatically expand. What were at one time good habits have become The Seven Deadly Sins of Transition.

In this seven-part series, we will help owners rework each of the seven old habits that actually made them successful, and turn each of them into clear and disciplined processes that will help them attain the transition they want. As a business owner, it is essential that you rethink your role in the company, align it with your transition goals and change your habits – as well as those of your management team. We, at BTA, can help. Be sure to stay tuned for the whole series!

Deadly Sin #1: Dream Big

Dreaming big is essential as an owner when building your business. It is likely your big dream has swept others along and driven you to become a successful company. However, as you plan for your transition it is time to let others set the direction from here on. The next management team or owners need to start their own habits of dreaming big. It’s quite likely that they have not had the chance to develop these habits within themselves. So you now need to give them the chance to learn.

Think back to the goals that drove you when you started your business. Most likely they contained a certain level of risk – your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) as Jim Collins calls it. As you transition your business, new goals need to be set by the next generation leadership team so that they in turn can get comfortable with taking some risk. The key here is adapting a mindset that focuses on getting the small – and simple – details right, which will set you and your team on the path to achieve bigger goals.

Think Small–to Reach Big

Think Small To Reach Big

Preparing for your transition requires that your team needs to focus on smaller objectives and build up recognizable wins. Those wins will ultimately take the company to great heights that are achieved – not because they are based on your goals – but because they are driven and supported by the individuals who developed them.

Here are seven simple steps for your management team to follow that will help them get comfortable building a level of risk into their goal setting and thinking small to reach big.

  1. Set: choose the right goal for you that is just beyond your comfort level, set specific targets and break your long-term objective down into manageable steps.
  2. Plan: create simple rules and an actionable plan that links to your daily routine.
  3. Commit: make a commitment, write it down, make it public and appoint a commitment referee.
  4. Reward: put something meaningful at stake and use small rewards to stoke motivation, but beware of backfire effects.
  5. Share: draw on the help of others, tap into your social networks or form a group with a shared goal.
  6. Feedback: know how you’re tracking against your goal and seek out specific, actionable feedback.
  7. Stick: practice with focus, test different approaches and celebrate success.

Once you’ve gathered feedback and identified pain points, it’s time to test your brilliant solution on a small scale before rolling it out widely. This will allow you to take risks and tweak your solution as you see fit, without disrupting the entire business. Whether your solution is foolproof or needs some tweaking, you still win.

Next 30 days: Work with your senior management team to identify specific business targets and have them use the seven steps above to come up with specific recommendations that they will manage and report back to the team. Use this as a means of beginning the process of empowering management to make bigger and bigger decisions – gradually getting them to think big!

  • Reference:
    • Think Small – Service and Gallagher
    • How to Eat an Elephant – Nuttall
    • Nudge – Thaler and Sunstein

This is Deadly Sin of Transition #1. Stay tuned for #2-7 in the upcoming months or listen to all seven on our podcast at and do not hesitate to reach out to us at any point for further information.

About John Hotson:

John is a seasoned marketing and communications professional. He has worked as both a business owner and advisor to owners who are committed to improving the value of their business. John is a co-founder of The Business Transition Alliance.


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