I was doing an onsite meeting with Mike, the owner of a family run 100-year-old plumbing, heating, and cooling business on the East Coast. We had been working pretty hard all day and around 3 PM I insisted we stop and take a coffee break. Yes, I have a caffeine addiction which was even worse years ago.
Anyway, at the coffee shop, Mike expressed to me how relieved he was that what we were doing was working so well, and that things were finally starting to turn around for the better. I told him I thought that was great.
I sipped some coffee and then looked up at him and asked, “So, what do you want this business to look like when you’re done building it?”
He said, “Good thing you waited to ask me that question until after we started doing our work together. Al, as you know all too well, it was so taxing on me and all the others who work in the business that it took everything in all of us both physically and mentally to keep it all going. Thankfully today, things are as you promised, and I do feel we all have way less stress and we’re way more profitable than we ever have been.”
I said, “That’s so great! But… you still haven’t answered my question. What is your end game?”
Mike replied, “I have to admit, I’m not sure what you mean.”
I said, “What do you want this company to be when you’re all done? What will it look like and what will be happening in a good way? Will you still want to be working in the business or will you want to sell it or bring in the next generation to take over? Basically, what is your vision for what happens next?”
He laughed and then said, “Al, the only vision I’ve ever had for the future was working in the business until I die or become disabled, because that is exactly what both my dad and grandfather did.”
I took another sip of my coffee cup and then replied, “The work you’re doing now will create a lot more options than that. Question is, how will you know what option is right for you unless you allow yourself to think about how you’d like this all to turn out?
“You’ve got to be able to SEE what you want this all to be because until you can envision it, you’re not likely to attain it. And that takes figuring out what you really want your end game to be and then planning for it. Another way to say that is you have to figure out what you want and then reverse engineer the path to making that vision a reality.”
Mike drew a slow deep breath and sighed. “Maybe it would help if you laid out some potential outcomes for what the future could look like when I’m done building the business.”
I replied, “Sure. So, assuming the goal was not to close the doors and walk away, these are just the first four scenarios that come to mind.
- You fixed what’s wrong with your business and have fallen back in love with the work you do. You’ve organized it so that when the time comes you only go into the office a few days a week because the place really can run without you.
- You’ve transitioned the business to younger family members and/or a management team that’s homegrown who have taken the helm and you’re on your way out of the business and into whatever your second act is, which you’ve also envisioned, by the way.
- You’ve sold the business to a Private Equity group or a competitor and you’re off to the next thing, whether it be business, pleasure, or volunteering. Again, you will want to think long and hard about what would be fun and rewarding depending on what you need and want in your life ahead.
- You’ve sold the business to your employees and your management team is well-equipped to run it effectively because the business is systematic. You’ve worked out financing options and objective benchmarks, and everything has been meticulously planned so you don’t have to worry about getting dragged back in. Then you can think about how cool it is that those who have worked for you can begin to work for themselves as you head toward your next phase in life.
Mike then said, “Thanks, Al, that helps a lot. But I really don’t know what I’d do for a second act. I’ve been working in this business since I was 10 years old.”
I told him, “You don’t have to leave the business if you don’t want to. But, wouldn’t it be sweet to know you could?”
He replied, “Absolutely!”
Back at the office, I suggested he think about what he wanted his end game to be and then once that decision was made, I would help him break that goal down into a series of activities with due dates that, when completed, would allow him to achieve it all.
He said, “OK. But what if I change my mind?”
I answered, “You will adjust the plan to fit the new vision and goal. The oldest phrase that I love is, ‘Any road will do if you don’t care where you end up.' But if you commit to a road that is aligned with your vision, it’s the road you will want to take you where you want to end up and that’s powerful!
“The alternative to all of this if you don’t do this, you're quite likely to end up back on the same track as the two prior generations. And if that’s really what you want, that’s fine. Just make a choice. At the risk of repeating myself, the key is you have to start with the end in mind. You can’t build it if you can’t see it and you have to be able to imagine it before you can make it happen.
“Right now, it might seem like the only option you have is to work in the business forever, but I’m living proof that does not have to be the case.
“I sold my business to my brothers when I was 48 and I was able to do that because we’d hammered out how that could happen way ahead of time with a buy-sell agreement. Then, I gave three years notice which gave me enough time to get systems in place that would ensure they could run the business without me. And my brother Richie is still there, along with the 4th generation, my nephew, Michael. I was able to do that because I envisioned it, planned for it, and then executed on that plan with the blessing of my family to do so.”
Mike said, “Really? Tell me more about how you did that.”
I shared, “I’ve always been a planner and so when I was 45, I sat down at the end of the year to set my goals for the coming year. I had been working at my family’s contracting business full time for almost 23 years at that point. I realized I was ready for a new challenge and that would be to leave the family business and become a consultant to contractors so I could share what made such a positive impact on our company.”
Mike said, “So, this is your second act, which you envisioned while you were still working in your contracting business. Huh. I’m going to have to give this some thought.”
I’m pleased to report that in fact Mike gave it a lot of thought and the result was a great End Game where the next generation came in and leveraged all the systems and processes we put in place. They continue to this day to drive the company to greater and greater things. As for his second act, when not traveling the world with his wife, Mike splits his time between the grandkids and the golf course.
And that, my friends, is the power of “You Have to See It First”… to get what you want which ties into “Knowing Your End Game.”
It’s about taking the time to decide what you really want (and by when). Once you can “see” where you want to end up, planning out what needs to happen to get you there, backed up with a couple hours a week of consistent execution on the projects or tasks required, is the best and fastest way to get you there. So, get going!