Feb 5, 2024

149: How To Have Tough Succession Conversations, Jane Hanson

Succession Stories host Laurie Barkman, The Business Transition Sherpa®, welcomes Jane Hanson, a nine-time Emmy award winning correspondent. She has an amazing resume as a network co-anchor in New York, and has covered events ranging from the tragedy of 9/11 to the joy of the Yankees victory parades. She has interviewed presidents, business leaders, prisoners, and celebrities. She’s currently a much sought-after communications coach working with top-tier leaders in every field while continuing to emcee, speak and host broadcasts.

Laurie and Jane discuss how leaders have tough conversations, especially when it comes to succession. At the core of everything has got to be respect. Whatever the conversation is, you need to prepare carefully. You also have to make sure that your decision is absolute, there can’t be any wavering.

Also hear Jane’s take on the HBO show, Succession, and how she’d advise the sibling rivals if she could.

Enjoy this Succession Stories episode on how to have tough succession conversations with Jane Hanson.

Find Jane Here: https://www.janehanson.com/

 

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TRANSCRIPT:

Laurie Barkman  

Jane Hanson, Welcome to Succession Stories. I have never had an Emmy award-winning correspondent on the show. I’m a little intimidated. I gotta say, because well, you’re gonna be

Jane Hanson  

You got one right behind you! What’s that behind you? 

Laurie Barkman  

That’s not an Emmy, but it is a podcast award. 

Jane Hanson

That you should have!

Laurie Barkman

All right. Where’s yours? Show me!

Jane Hanson  

Here it is, I have to get this just right there. 

Laurie Barkman  

There it is.

Jane Hanson  

Beautiful and all of its glory. She’s holding the world up on her in her hands. 

Laurie Barkman  

You’re seeing Jane holding a a piece of the Emmy Award.

Jane Hanson  

Right. I just need to get her re-soldered on the bottom, but I haven’t done it yet. 

Laurie Barkman

The road to success is full of some potholes sometimes.

Jane Hanson  

That’s true. They’re happy. You can use them for a lot of different things but I guess maybe I was just a little too unkind to this girl.

Laurie Barkman  

It could be a paperweight.

Jane Hanson  

Maybe that’s what we’ll do with it. I’ll use it as a paperweight from now on.

Laurie Barkman  

It’s a beautiful paperweight, it’s very well-deserved and well-earned 9 Emmy Awards which is just incredible. Today, we’re going to talk about conversations, you are an expert in conversations. I’m grateful to be with you. 

I want to talk about these tough conversations as it pertains to succession because they’re hard. Who better to talk with than someone who has seen it all done at all? I want to start with your background. Jane, tell me about you. How did you go from a rural upbringing to the Big Apple?

Jane Hanson  

I think if you read a lot of stories about people whose lives begin and kind of I don’t want to call it a rags to riches story, because I don’t know I’m waiting for the riches. But I grew up in a little tiny town in rural Minnesota. There were about 2500 people that lived there and most of them were related to me because my great-grandparents and grandparents settled the area when they moved from Norway to the United States. They went to Minnesota. Now why they couldn’t have gone someplace that was a little warmer. I mean, clearly they weren’t making it Norway.

Laurie Barkman  

They have moved. We love the lakes. They love the weather.

Jane Hanson  

My dream, from the time I was a child was to go out and see the world. My father, who was probably my biggest proponent, my biggest mentor, would read to me from newspapers from the time I was about four years old and we talked about all these countries all over the world. I thought I have to go see them and I want to be at the center of what’s going on globally. I think that is where I got this idea of becoming a journalist. As I grew up, broadcasting became the really big deal. So I got a degree in broadcast journalism. 

My very first job was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I spent a lot of time on Indian reservations, I’m thinking, I’m not very far from home and here is where I am. I’m not quite seeing the globe yet. But I did learn a lot about communication from the way those Native Americans communicated amongst themselves. They lived in some pretty harsh landscapes and that sort of thing. My dream was always to move to New York, which I consider to be the center of the universe. That is truly where the center of the broadcast industry is in this country. 

I told everybody I know, because it’s a really small industry, and I did get somebody who called me to come and do an interview at WCB house in New York, but of course, I was 21 years old. They looked at me, like who’s this green kid? Forget it. Later that summer, I got a phone call from somebody at NBC. And I thought it was a joke. So the guy calls me and I said, Who is this? And he said, I just told you who I am. I hung up on him and he called me back again. And he repeated the same thing. And I said, Look, this isn’t funny, and I hung up again. The third time he called me he said, write my number down and call me back. I thought, I’m going to write this and it’s going to be some friend of mine, and they’re going to be laughing at me. 

It was WNBC-TV Ron Kershaw’s office, that was the news director and I nearly died. I said, Oh, hi. My name is Jane Hanson and his assistant started to laugh. She was howling. She goes, we were wondering if you’d call back, we all took bets on it. She said, that was the best. Nobody’s ever hung up on him. Not as often as you did. Nobody’s ever hung out have been in period. So he gets on the phone and he’s laughing too, and he called me in for an interview. When I got the job, wow, I’m convinced it was the chutzpah, and again, I was in my early 20s, to somebody that got me that job.

Laurie Barkman  

That’s funny. That’s good for you. 

Jane Hanson  

I mean, had I known the truth, I probably would have freaked out and said the right things, and who knows where I’d be today.

Laurie Barkman  

That’s right.

Jane Hanson  

I was lucky enough to get to New York at a very young age. I watched a whole lot of history being made in front of my eyes, I traveled all over the world for NBC. nd I had an amazingly wonderful career, but the cornerstone to that career was not only was I just constantly meeting people everywhere, but I recognized two things a.) that at the heart and soul of every conflict and controversy that I covered, every story was communication gone wrong. In addition to this, I would have people come into the various shows I did, they’d get off the air, and they’d say, I didn’t get to tell my story. That’s because I led them down a garden path of, here’s what I think is interesting to our audience, and they never once got back to why they were there, which was a horrible lost opportunity for them. 

For me, I just wanted to make the interview interesting and exciting and engaging, and all those wonderful things. I realized I knew how to do that and thus became my change of career. My recognition of the deadlines, the harshness of the news, business, all that. I said it was time for change. It was time for me to make a succession move. And I did.

Laurie Barkman  

Yeah, and that takes courage that’s difficult to do after decades of experience, and probably comfort, because you had expertise in what you were doing. And it brought you probably a lot of pride and recognition, of course, through the games. To make a move like that, I compliment you for making that move. Tell me a little bit more about that. As you transitioned from correspondent to coach, and I know, we’ll talk a little bit deeper about it, but just at a high level, you’re working now with clients to help them improve their communications, right?

Jane Hanson  

I am and what I have realized is that people don’t even recognize how we communicate and what it really how do I describe this appropriately, there’s so much of a lot of that has to do with the way we use our bodies. Think about this: we’ve only had a spoken language for about 160,000 years. Before that, we communicate it clearly through our bodies, and we still do it today. We make instant judgments, right or wrong, and frequently they’re wrong. We will make those judgments and that colors everything we do from that moment forward in that particular moment in time. You have to start with that. 

How do we use our voice? How do we use our face? How do we, and especially now in this Zoom world, we’ve only got this much bus to work with. But in person, you know what, what are you doing and saying that is instantly going to cause more problems that you don’t even realize? There’s so much to it. How do you have a good conversation? Because all of life is just a conversation. The conversation you and I are having today is no different than the CEO of a major organization that is making life-changing decisions for employees. It’s just not it’s all a conversation.

Laurie Barkman  

That’s right. Let’s set the stage for a difficult conversation. Now, there are different examples. We can pick a few from your experience and perhaps client experiences where there’s a difficult topic we want to bring up. One scenario example would be the first generation telling the second generation, they’re not getting the keys to the kingdom. They’re going to take a different path where we are setting up an environment where we know it’s bad news.

Jane Hanson  

First of all, at the core of everything has got to be respect. Whatever the conversation is, you have to deal with the person or people you’re speaking to, with the utmost of respect or that conversation is going to go sideways very quickly. Now, there might be a lot of different reasons about why you as a dad or a mom are saying to your son or daughter you’re not taking over it might have, but you need to, you need to first you need to prep very carefully. I would do some role-playing with that. I would get somebody I trust, maybe it’s an advisor of some sort. Maybe it’s your spouse, maybe it’s a great friend, maybe it’s somebody who knows your child well. I would have I’ve been role-playing first, and really act out the different scenarios about how they can react to it. 

I would also make sure that they had a very clear in your head about why it is why are they not able to take the reins, or maybe it’s because you just want to sell the whole darn thing, you want to retire, you want to take that money, and it doesn’t mean they’re cut out of the money. By the way, it might just mean the company that we’re encountering a bad business climate, it’s going to be too much trouble. There’s too much going on right now that we are not able to wade through maybe whatever the product is they’re making, maybe it’s no longer is necessary. It requires it you got to change a whole lot of stuff. You got to rebuild your factories or war, stop making the stuff in China, I don’t know whatever it is, have your reasons very clear, and very sincere. 

You also have to make sure that your absolute and your decision, there can’t be any wavering because I’ve seen that where you know, the second generation will come back and say, but you never let me try. Just let me try leading, let’s try it for two years, let me try leading and then I’ll go peacefully if it doesn’t work, or so you’ve got to make sure that it’s an absolute decision. The clearness and clarity in your own head and this is synchronous with what you deliver the news has got to be paramount.

Laurie Barkman  

I like what you just said about having a foundation around what you want to have as an outcome, and not wavering on that. Perhaps this conversation should have a time boundary on it too so that you have an exit to say, we’re not talking about it anymore today. How do you end that conversation, especially if there’s a bit of a pleading of “Please give me another chance?”

Jane Hanson  

You have to say I’ve thought about every avenue, I have gone through all the scenarios that are possible and you really need to do this too, fully expecting that they’re going to be very disappointed and that they’re going to want to have an opportunity to do it. I’ve gone through every scenario, and here is where I see where it won’t work. Why won’t it work, and you can give them you know, the rundown on it. 

Again, families are really tough, because there’s not just that layer of working together. There’s also that layer of emotion, the background. By the way, I’ve done some conferences called next-gen conferences put on by fat financial institutions, where the very heart and soul of my job is to help the kids. And by kids, I mean, the young adults. Ask their parents for something that they want be at a job in the company, I want to be able to be I want to be trained to take over your job, I want to start my own business, I want to go to grad school, I want to do this, whatever it is. 

The kids, what they encounter is that the parents are not looking upon them as anything other than a child, even though they are grown and in their 20s or 30s at that point. I think for the older generation, they’ve really got to look at their child realistically and say, am I being fair? Am I giving them? Am I still looking at them as little Johnny? Who was Dennis the Menace in school and I’ve never gotten past that? Have they proven anything that could mean maybe they deserve that chance, but you’ve got to figure all that ahead of time. You have to think every scenario.

Laurie Barkman  

There’s a there’s the time and place the setting, is it in person? Is it? Are you clear on your message? Are you creating a dialogue? There are so many different factors of what you just shared. Jane, I think it’s really important. I also love how you flipped the script a bit and talked about the next generation making an ask of their parents or whoever that next generation is. Sometimes it’s aunts or uncles. Let’s talk about that scenario. That’s really interesting to someone who once told me, I had to fire my father and that was not an easy thing to do. Right? Have you had those situations where there’s the perceived power balance is shifting?

Jane Hanson  

Yes. So with the child or I don’t want to keep calling them child, but with that second generation, they are often a lot smarter than and a lot more resilient and maybe more thoughtful and maybe more competent than they’re being given credit for. What I’ve described and what I’ve talked with them about in like, in these conferences we’ve just discussed or in private sessions that I’ve done, I’ve discussed with them, again, have a very clear plan, your parents have one way that they look at you. How many times have you talked to a parent, they say, My kid is a procrastinator and never gets anything done on time, or My kid doesn’t do this, or Doesn’t do that? 

The truth may have been maybe once they were that way, but they’re not any longer. What I say to the second generation is, you need to have a clear plan, you need to create an agenda about how you’re going to do this, you need to have proof of how this is gonna work, you need to create a business case. If you want to start a business, you need to create almost a resume that fits into what they’re looking for, for that job within the company. You need to prove your points, and you need to be really smart about it, and very, very spot-on serious and put time and effort to use. 

Don’t walk in the door and say, Hey, Dad, I want to talk to you because I wanted $200,000 loan because I want to start a little pizza place on the corner. You don’t do that you make it because there’s a reason your parents have success, be super hard work, whatever they’ve done to create that business that successful. You got to rely on those, their success points, and how you can build on them. 

Laurie Barkman  

That’s very true. From high-profile families that may have used your services, may have not, I don’t know, but let’s just talk about the show Succession, shall we? Do you watch that show?

Jane Hanson

Sure. Of course!

Laurie Barkman

We’re gonna pick one of the four siblings to give them advice, which one would you pick?

Jane Hanson  

I think I’d pick all of them but

Laurie Barkman  

As a group or individual?

Jane Hanson  

Individually, I think that one of the obviously it was it’s not very loosely based upon the Murdoch family. As you know, Rupert Murdoch is letting his son Lachlan take over and there was a lot of speculation about which one of the kids was going to was going to take it. Was it gonna be the daughter, Elizabeth? I think there’s another son named James. And now there’s two other little girls, or they’re probably teenagers by now. I would have loved to have had Siobhan become the choice just because I think she in the show Succession because I think she has more of her father’s characteristics than anybody else. She’s tough when she needs to be and she’s got a very clever mind. But in her case, I think she let her feelings and emotions get to get too involved. 

So for her, my suggestion would be you’re letting that thing about being the only girl being precious to your dad but him not thinking about you in a way where he was really ever going to let you take control. She had some proving to do I don’t think she did it. As per Roman, you know, he was the smartest baby and he needed to just stop being such a jackass, I think.

Laurie Barkman  

That’s probably as succinct as you can put in. Yeah, exactly. Jackass.

Jane Hanson  

Then the older son, he was just, yeah, he’s out. He’s out completely. He never stood a chance. He was always the comic relief character in my opinion. Then what’s his name? What’s the I can’t think of his name right now.

Laurie Barkman  

The heir apparent?

Jane Hanson  

He just had he had so much trouble with addictions and not being an inner being. You didn’t really trust who you were gonna get in any given day. He needed to have a lot more consistency in the way he acted.

Laurie Barkman  

Yeah, for sure. I think the show was interesting because it gave us a look into these high-flying lives and we know loosely was based on the Murdochs. The interesting news recently about Lachlan’s succession is bringing it into real life, so to speak. When it comes to these tough conversations about succession, it could also be with the management team. I want to acknowledge that the insider doesn’t always have to be family, it can be your trusted key lieutenant, your CFO, the people who have been with you for years and years, who may be expecting that you’re going to sell the company to them, as opposed to a third party. I just want our listeners to think about as they might have tough conversations, who these stakeholders could be.

Jane Hanson  

There’s so many and in a show like Succession, you saw how all of those lieutenants that were around him all believed that they were going to have part of the pie, which is why it was so interesting that when he died, now all of a sudden, it was everybody, every man or woman for themselves, and their agendas became so clear problem, which is what you talk about all the time, there had been no clear lines drawn. So everybody felt like they had, they could have part of it and that’s the problem.

Laurie Barkman  

Respect and trust. You mentioned respect earlier, I think trust can be lost very quickly. It’s gained slowly and when it comes to let’s call the “end game”, succession for some feels like the end, right? For others, it’s going to be a beginning. That concept of trust, do you believe that trust can be repaired?

Jane Hanson  

I think it takes a lot of work. I think, I believe and like saying, I think I believe that trust is something that is earned slowly over time. And one, one thing can just set it off. One thing can happen, where it’s usually the result of some kind of miscommunication. And I’ve seen it time and time again, trust can be repaired. But there’s always going to be that little voice back here in your head going. Why aren’t they doing that? Do they have another motive? Are they really looking out for my best interests of the company’s best interests? Are they looking out for their own? And the answer, frequently, after a certain period of time could be they’re looking out for their own. So I would love to be able to trust. But I think after a time, you have to have your eyes wide open.

Laurie Barkman  

You do. Let’s talk about identity from your own experience. As a correspondent for many years now to coach and think about your clients, and the identity shifts that they may be experiencing with the changes that they’re contemplating, or the organization is contemplating. How do you approach that? What advice do you have for people, as they’re staring at the precipice of a big change?

Jane Hanson  

I also write for Forbes magazine or for Forbes. Forbes is for actually for to digital, I should say. The area that I write about is women and communications and ironically, I’m in the process of doing a story right now about women who have had longtime, extremely high-level jobs, and suddenly, the company was bought, and they were out of work. Their identity had wrapped around that work, and I know it personally from having been at NBC for so many years where when I would walk down the street, people would recognize me, I got the best tables in restaurants, I got tickets to anything I wanted to go to people stylists were buying to be able to dress me for my shows. I got my hair done every day. Not today.

Laurie Barkman  

It looks lovely.

Jane Hanson  

But I had amazing perks. And with that identity came. I had to respect that identity and I also knew it was there because of my job and my own personal brand. I knew I had to respect it because I couldn’t do crazy things or that would tarnish the company would tarnish me. But when I left my job, it was hard at first to understand that that was no longer my identity, and I kind of went like this. Okay, I got it but I don’t think I was that smart about it. I think I needed to to really look at it differently, which is something I’ve learned. By the way, I also coach a lot of people with this stuff. 

My point getting back to this article, so I’ve been talking to women who have worked for companies for decades, and they’re not ready to stop working yet, even though they probably could, because they’ve got money saved, etc. They’re like deer in the headlights. How am I going to get through this? What am I going to do next? In conversations with them, and from my own experience, I’ve learned a few things. One, your personal brand is not the company. You need to make a list of what you’re really good at, what are your core competencies? What did you learn from that company? How did you succeed for so long? What are you taking with you because you didn’t lose that you still have that? 

Number three, what am I? What are my real passions because what you are passionate about is what you’re going to be successful at. Call people that you’ve worked with in the past, even people that are still at that company, you’re going to be shocked at how willing they are to help you. I sometimes get chills when I think about this because it’s happened to me, I am stunned when I reach out to somebody and I think oh, they’re not going to want to talk to me anymore because I’m no longer at NBC, I’m no longer this big correspondent and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, an anchor. But what I found is people are more than willing to help you because you’ve earned their trust over all these years. They’re maybe thinking in their head, hey, that could be me walking in those shoes. It’s call on people. 

Don’t ask them for a job, but call them and say, Hey, I’m thinking about starting this business. I have this idea. Tell me what you think about it. Or maybe you recognize as you start the business, you need a distributor of products, or you need somebody who’s really good at marketing or somebody who’s super good at social media. Those people, and you call them up and you say, This is what I need. Can you help me? I’m going to guarantee you for the most part, you are going to be surprised at how willing people are to put their hand out to you shake it and say I’m in what do you need? So there’s a lot, it’s just because you’ve lost this job, that was your identity. It’s not your identity. It’s not who you are. It was a part of who you are. But there’s so much more to you.

Laurie Barkman  

That’s a great message. I love that. As we wind down this conversation, I want to ask you if you have a favorite quote or something to share that inspires.

Jane Hanson  

I use it every day from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you did. They will forget what you said. They will never forget how you made them feel.” Never more important than in today’s world after COVID after the scariness of the economy after the deep polarization of what’s happening in this world. How you make people feel is essential to how you will live your life, how you will succeed, and how your successions will go.

Laurie Barkman  

Absolutely. I love that quote from Maya Angelou. Jane, if people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Jane Hanson  

My website is simply janehanson.com and my email is jane@janehanson.com. So there you are.

Laurie Barkman  

Easy enough. Pay me enough. Jane, thank you so much. I learned a ton from you today. And I look forward to reading your Forbes articles. They sound really onpoint and helpful. And I appreciate you being with me.

Jane Hanson  

Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it as well. Thank you don’t get another one of those.

Laurie Barkman  

I’m gonna go get another one of those. I need I need to eat more. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks to our listeners for joining the Succession Stories podcast today. Be sure to hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss a future episode. And if you listen to this podcast and enjoy it, do me a favor and leave me a rating and review on Apple or Spotify. It enables the show to reach more people and to help more people along the way. Join me next time on Succession Stories for more insights from transition to transaction

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