The softer side of business when process trumps outcome


“If the relationships matter, then process trumps outcome.” — Greg McCann

Greg McCann, a nationally recognized family business consultant, spoke these words at a Family Business Alliance event this past May. He was addressing the issue of succession planning for family businesses and the need to refocus on what he called the “softer side” of succession.

He shared the story of a business owner who worked through all the financial and legal aspects of his succession plan with the goal of filing it to be shared and executed after he died. McCann asked the owner, “Have you gotten any input from your wife or two sons?” The man answered, “No, but the plan is done.” McCann shared his experience of the damage done to relationships where outcome trumps process.

This is a great example of how easy it is to jump to the outcome, the plan, the measure, the contract, while forgetting who will be impacted and what their input could mean to the ultimate outcome. Several key processes in business are critical in building the relationships that matter, and will ultimately benefit leaders beyond measurable outcomes.

Where process trumps outcome

Here are four key leadership habits in which a focus on process will build social capital for leaders and organizations:

Succession planning

This is a difficult conversation, because it’s about leaving or dying. It’s also not a conversation that seems critical to the company today, and could take several years to refine and a decade before it is used. As a result, only 35 percent of CEOs have succession plans.

There are several keys to successful succession planning. Start the conversation with two questions: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years, and who could step into your role if you weren’t there? Use the answers to these questions to create a plan. Be patient. It will take several years to create a solid plan and three to five years to get comfortable with the conversation.

Why do only 33 percent of family businesses make it to the second generation? A failure to focus on deliberate, proactive succession planning is a major contributor to the challenge of passing on our businesses.


Nothing says “you are valuable” more than giving someone your time. In contrast to succession planning, this conversation isn’t delayed because it’s hard to do; it gets overlooked because leaders feel too busy to sit down with their people.

Keys to effective one-on-one meetings are keeping it simple and assigning ownership to the individual. Be wary of making this time with your people all about a mix of buzz words like “traction,” “synergy” or “alignment” to highlight the importance of the effort. Resist also making it about Leadership 101 goals of accountability and management.

The tougher goal for most leaders is taking a deep breath and shifting the focus to building relationships of trust and creating momentum.

When a leader’s process centers on being present and predictable and building stronger relationships, people feel it.

A seasoned manager once shared his experience in launching one-on-ones with his people: “At around three months, I watched a transformation in my team. They started sharing things that allowed me to meet their most critical needs, and when I looked back, I saw that more than half of the key measures had improved 20 percent over that same period. All I did was commit the time, listen well, and provide assistance where it was needed.”

Development plans

The two most important numbers in learning: 70 percent of people go to class without a clear learning objective, and 90 percent of learning happens outside the classroom.

A survey of more than 150 leaders revealed that fewer than 25 percent of organizations have development plans in place for their key people. Too often, the primary focus in training initiatives is about one outcome: ROI.

In contrast, the process of creating a development plan centers on defining individual strengths, determining how they fit into the needs of the business, and then creating specific goals for building talents or leveraging them to grow both the business and the individual. ROI is the ultimate desired outcome, but the development plan is the key process to use when the relationships matter, too.

Staff meetings

Shocked? It’s not about more meetings; it’s about better meetings. There are a few process keys for great staff meetings.

First, they must happen regardless of whether the leader is available. Is it a team meeting or a leader’s meeting? Nothing tells a team, “This is MY meeting” more than canceling it because one person cannot be there.

Second, leaders must be allowed time to talk about that which is going right in their lives and work, as well as that which is broken or areas where they need help. When help is asked for, teams are encouraged to offer help in the form of advice and partnering the asker with another leader.

Finally, when commitments are made by individuals to execute discussed plans, these commitments become the cornerstones of the next meeting.

What got you here won’t get you there

Legendary management coach Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book with this title to challenge leaders to shift their focus from driving outcomes to fostering healthy processes.

The conversations that allow for successors to be groomed or that address issues not directly affecting profit today are difficult conversations. Difficult, and necessary. Necessary, because they drive the processes when relationships are the most important outcome.

“It’s so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on using a spreadsheet or a time clock to measure your progress, but in fact, it’s the investment you make in your interactions that will pay off.” — Seth Godin, “Linchpin”

Scott Patchin is the founder of The trU Group, a leadership-development and coaching practice. He focuses on helping leaders and teams in high-growth organizations to develop and lead more effectively. He can be contacted at or

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