Family Business Strength

Five FamBiz Strengths to Capitalize On

Five FamBiz Strengths to Capitalize On

It’s been a couple of months since my last “5 Things…” post, so it’s time to pull that framework out again.

This time the emphasis is on the positive, though, as we look at the bright side of family businesses.

 

Here we go with 5 FamBiz strengths to capitalize on:

 

  1. Long-term view

Most family business leaders are much more concerned with the very long-term success of the company than they are about the short term.

Managers of publicly traded companies are typically much more focused on their next quarterly financial report.

For a business owned by a family, the month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter and even year-to-year fluctuations are far less important.

When you’re trying to build something for your family, that could hopefully include not only your children but also your grandchildren, a long-term view just comes naturally.

Smart family businesses capitalize on that strength by constantly building their staying power, and not getting sidetracked by having to look good every quarter.

 

  1. Trust

One of the main reasons people choose to hire family members is because they trust them.

It’s natural to trust those you know well more than those you do not and those who come from the same background as you do.

Hiring family members ticks both those boxes quite well.

Of course, there are exceptions, where knowing someone well simply confirms that you cannot trust them, and those scenarios arise in far too many families.

But in terms of strengths that family businesses can capitalize on, the ability to put people into a position to succeed by empowering them is something that built-in trust allows them to do quite readily.

 

  1. Brand

There was a time when calling yourself a family business was seen as quaint and somehow admitting to being less good than “real” businesses.

That pendulum has swung back pretty strongly in last decade or so. I’m not sure exactly what’s behind it, but it certainly feels very real.

There have been plenty of surveys done in recent years that confirm that customers often prefer to deal with family businesses whenever possible.

Part of it is surely the “buy local” phenomenon, to help keep neighbourhood businesses thriving, but even large-scale businesses are no longer shying away from self-identifying as family businesses.

Not many have actually incorporated this fact into their branding per se, but S.C. Johnson certainly has.

They’ve even recently kicked it up a notch, changing their slogan from “A Family Company” to “A Family Company at Work for a Better World”.

 

  1. Work Ethic

You may want to lump this one in with Trust, but I like to talk about it separately. The person who started and grew the business is usually a hard worker, and that hard work surely contributes to the company’s success.

When their children or other family members come on board, that work ethic is usually contagious. Most offspring will exhibit similar tendencies to their parents.

Of course, as with trust, there are exceptions. We have all seen them and heard about them. I maintain that there are far more good examples that we never hear about, than bad examples that make the news.

Good parenting and leading by example are a huge part of this, and the exceptions noted above are often related more to shortcomings as a parent as opposed to business leadership.

 

  1. Magic (Intangibles)

I will forgive readers who have never actually worked for a family business for not understanding this point about “magic”.

It may just be one of those things that you have to experience to understand in depth.

There are aspects to these intangibles that manifest themselves in good times and in bad.

Successful family businesses usually feel a bit like a family even for those who are not related to the family that owns the company.

Celebrating successes with family members is usually a much richer experience. And maybe part of that is having come through some of the setbacks together as a team.

 

Capitalizing on these Strengths

Sometimes we don’t recognize what we have until someone from the outside points it out to us. Most fish love water, but they probably don’t really know that.

So if you are part of a family business, I hope you will look at this list and recognize some of these as strengths, and hopefully capitalize on them, even more, going forward.

Woman in Family Crying

Calm Is Contagious

Calm Is Contagious

Most people have witnessed occasions where anxiety in one person quickly spread to others in the room.

There’s an invisible “emotional field” that exists within groups of people, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Anxiety is essentially “contagious” because one person can quickly spread it to others.

 

Does the Opposite Hold Too?

So if one anxious person can render others in their vicinity anxious as well, could the opposite also be true?

Obviously I think so, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this piece.

My premise is that calm is also contagious.

 

Family Drama

I was born into a family with what I consider to be low to moderate level of drama. That was my family of origin.

As for my nuclear family, the one where I’m the father, and my wife is the mother, and our two children are the kids, I like to think that we’re also on the lower end of the drama continuum.

We all have our own family or families, and if we think about them in terms of their typical drama level, we surely know of other families who exhibit a higher propensity for drama.

 

Emotional Reactivity

Another way to look at this is to think about it in terms of emotional reactivity.

There’s often one person, or maybe more, who simply have a way of triggering the emotions of others, and not necessarily in a good way.

It could be something very subtle and it may even operate at an unconscious level, but it is definitely there.

You may not be able to see the anxiety, but you can definitely sense it.

 

Superpowers

A while back, an acquaintance asked me straight up, out of the blue, “What’s your superpower?”

I was a bit taken aback, but since then I’ve really come to love the term and what it means.

It’s a nice way to define some ability that one has that seems to be very rare in others.

It’s often something that comes to you so naturally, that at first, you assume everyone has it too.

But eventually, you realize that it’s some innate ability that you have, that few others do.

 

The Sixth Sense

 My superpower is the ability to sense the anxiety between people.

I’m not just talking about walking into a room and sensing the general tension that’s there or feeling like there’s an ultra-sensitive air in the room.

I’m talking about the direct tension that exists between a specific pair of people.

Unfortunately, this sense is not infallible, and it does not kick in immediately every time.

 

Drama Management

So let’s try to bring this back to the calm contagion where we began.

Families, especially when they manage a business together, or simply share ownership of some assets as a group, need to come together occasionally to make decisions.

Because of their complex relationships, being family members and having shared financial and ownership responsibilities, things can sometimes become tense.

Oh, and can we all agree that when our brains are preoccupied with interpersonal anxiety, we don’t always do our best thinking?

 

Calming the System

In order for a group of people, in this case, a family system, to be able to function at their best, it helps if they are not distracted by emotional reactivity, a.k.a. drama.

One person can quickly disturb the calm in a system.

Can one person calm a system back down?

 

Realistic Expectations

I believe that it is possible, but it also requires patience and a realistic expectation level.

Anxiety can be ramped up quite rapidly, but instilling calm usually takes more time.

A key ingredient is that one person who goes first, and models the calm for the others to follow.

 

Immunity

The contagion analogy is making me think about the one person who is immune to the sickness, who can then interact with each of the sick people without worrying about catching their disease.

The mere presence of the healthy one can give hope to the sick to believe that they too can be well again.

For families, it can be difficult to find such a person from within their ranks, because each person is “caught” in the system to some degree.

That’s where an independent, unbiased, objective, neutral outsider can certainly play a role.

Serenity now!

 

See: Calm-Fident Advice for your family

Contracts versus Covenants in Family Business

Contracts versus Covenants in Family Business

Contracts versus Covenants in Family Business

 Comparing and contrasting words has always been something that I’ve enjoyed doing.

As I just wrote that sentence and looked at the title I chose for this post, I wondered how often I’ve used the word “versus” in a blog title.

I’ll save you the research, there are already eight, making this the ninth time.

 

Blog Post Inspired by a Blog Post

Something that I don’t do as often, is writing a post that was inspired by someone else’s post.

A few weeks ago I was looking at my LinkedIn feed and noticed a post from a colleague and acquaintance, Roy P. Kozupsky.

I like Roy and I know that we share many beliefs about the kind of work we do with families, so I began reading his piece “Random thoughts while travelling”.

 

A Lawyer and a Rabbi Walk into a Bar 

His post is really worth reading and I recommend you do so, especially if you get something out of the subjects I write about here.

I want to concentrate here on a couple of contrasting terms that were highlighted in one of the quotes he used.

He features the words from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at length, and I want to take a couple of snippets from those quotes to share here.

But before I get to his words, a bit more context is in order.

 

Contracts are Legally Binding

The word “contract” has a legal definition, and lawyers and the court systems spend a great deal of time arguing the interpretations of the definition every day.

In no way am I suggesting that a family business should ignore contracts or try to find ways to substitute covenants in their place.

 

Covenants are Morally Binding

Perhaps this subhead is a bit of foreshadowing, but that’s my interpretation.

If the lawyer is comfortable with the contract, the rabbi may be more at home with the covenant.

 

In Rabbi Sacks’ Words

Without further ado:

Contracts are about “Me” and “You”;

Covenants are about “Us”.

I think you can see why this quote felt particularly à propos to me from a family business perspective.

The business aspect may cover things between the company and its suppliers and customers via contracts, but the intra-family stuff should be more about “us” and therefore covered by covenants.

 

And Furthermore

“…framing a covenant will help keep

people together, without any side

claiming victory or defeat”

Once again, it just feels so much more appropriate to me for families to think about how they interact and work together to be focused on “keeping people together”.

When there is any sort of conflictual issue in a family, finding a resolution that works for the entire family should be more important than seeing one side or another “claiming victory”.

 

One Final Snippet

 The whole quote is good, and so is Roy’s post, and I bet Rabbi Sacks’ book is too.

But here’s one last part:

A covenant lifts our horizon from

self-interest to the common good.”

When you’re dealing with family members, the tendency of some people to be more concerned with their own self-interest rather than the common good of the group can be the biggest source of conflict.

 

Definitions and Synonyms

When you look for definitions, “contract” usually mentions something about “enforceable by law”

When you search for “covenant” you’re more likely to see references to the Bible, to God, and words like “promise”.

A search for synonyms of covenant gives results like:

pact, compact, promise, arrangement, deal,

agreement, commitment, contract. 

So Now What?

 You may be thinking, “thanks for the vocabulary lesson, but so what?”

Well, writing these posts is a way for me to think through issues, much like people who “think out loud” by talking (I do that too).

This post is a perfect example of that.

 

Covenants BEFORE Contracts

My “A-Ha” moment writing this, and my conclusion is this:

The family should work on its covenants first,

and only then

should they turn those covenants into contracts

I have been saying it in less elegant ways for years.

Families should figure out what they want the future to look like for their family, first.

Once they know what they want, then they should turn to professionals (lawyers, accountants, trustees, tax experts) to turn those ideas into legally-binding structures and agreements.

Too often, they do it “Bass-ackwards”.

Somehow the idea of “Covenants BEFORE Contracts” hadn’t come to me yet.

Feel free to use it, and share it.

guy wearing suite holding hand up

Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz

Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz

This week we’re going to look at something that many family business leaders face, and that often makes them feel powerless.

While they appear so powerful to others, deep down inside, well, maybe, not so much.

 

Life Imitates Art

I was a big fan of the TV Show The Sopranos when it first aired on HBO, and it became appointment TV viewing in our house.

Tony Soprano was a mafia boss, and he had a family, but he wasn’t the prototypical family business leader.

We have a promotional poster for the series in our basement, that shows Tony in the center, with his wife, mother and kids on one side, and his “work family” on the other.

It reads:

“Meet Tony Soprano:

If one family doesn’t kill him,

The other family will”  

I still get a kick out of it every time I see it.

Not Just for Business Leaders

The Soprano quote below that inspired this blog post came from a story I read a couple of months back about David Chase, which ran in GQ Magazine.

The story was about Soprano’s head writer David Chase, and it examined some similarities between Chase and the Tony Soprano character.

The end of the story included this quote:

(Some of the letters have been replaced by ***, but I think you can still get the gist of it):

 

“All due respect, you got no f***ing idea

what it’s like to be number one.

 

Every decision you make affects every

facet of every other f***ing thing.

 

It’s too much to deal with, almost.

And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”

 

Does It Have To Be So Lonely?

 Let’s look at some options that the person at the top has as possible outlets or resources.

 

     Spouse

Tony, of course, had Carmela and they spoke quite often about many important issues. But deep down, Tony knew that there were many things that he couldn’t and shouldn’t burden his wife with.

An understanding spouse who is a good listener can be very helpful but is rarely sufficient to relieve the loneliness burden.

 

     Top Management

Some of the most memorable scenes from the show were ones that included Tony and his top management. Paulie and Sylvio were the mainstays, and Christopher was a rising star in the group.

But much like the spouse, these people are so tied in with the decisions, that it becomes difficult to broach subjects that affect the group.

 

     Peer Group

The closest thing Tony had to a peer group was the other top mafia bosses from other territories.

We occasionally got glimpses of this, and they sometimes offered an opportunity to exchange with others who faced similar challenges and decisions.

The nature of their business on the show, however, added a dangerous element that discouraged too much sharing.

Real family business leaders usually have lots of opportunities to join peer groups, through organizations like FEX, TEC, Vistage, etc.

 

     Rising Generation of the Family

Tony’s kids were too young, and AJ, his only son, did not seem to have the “right stuff” for the line of work his father was in.

For real leaders of family businesses, there are plenty of opportunities to share what one is going through with their offspring, especially those who work in the business with them.

This is an area that I think is underexplored by most people.

Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear to be playing favourites by sharing with one child more than others, or maybe it’s an effort to avoid putting a burden on them.

My belief is that some sharing, in appropriate amounts, at the right age and stage, and in the proper way, can be a win/win, because it also helps prepare the future leader(s).

 

     Trusted Outside Advisor

Tony’s frequent visits with Dr.Melfi, his shrink, were a recurring theme throughout the show’s run.

Mental health practitioners are a potential outlet, but so are other trusted professionals, like your accountant and lawyer.

There are also plenty of executive coaches and family business advisors that could certainly play a role too.

 

     Board of Advisors

The ultimate solution, just shy of having a full-fledged “Board of Directors” would be to set up a less formal “Board of Advisors”.

This takes time and effort to set up, but those who have done it swear by it.

Tony Soprano probably should have had one too!

 

 

A picture of the journey

There is No Destination

There is No Destination

The inspiration for this week’s post comes from a great quote that I saw on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It’s from Marie Forleo, a life coach and motivational speaker.

I started following her on Twitter a few months ago, after catching an interview that she’d done with Brené Brown, about Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness.

(Watch it on Youtube)

Here’s my verbatim recollection of her Tweet:

There is no destination.  

It’s ALL journey. All. Of. It.

Wow, I’ve been a big fan of the whole “life is a journey” mentality for a while, but I’d never heard anyone say it so clearly and emphatically.

 

Family Business Versions 

It’s pretty easy to get seduced by “destinations” in life, and family businesses are no strangers to this phenomenon.

“If we can just get to $X,000,000 in sales, then we will have made it. “ (Where X can be 1, 10, 100…)

Another good one is “I can’t wait to take over from Dad as President.”

Okay, a nice goal to have, but not really a great destination in and of itself, as that’s when the real work begins.

(I can think of a prominent example of someone wanting to become President, but then being less than thrilled with actually having to do the job, but alas, I try to avoid discussing politics in this space.)

 

Interim Stopping Points

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against setting goals, such as annual sales figures, or promotions to key positions.

Studies show that people who don’t write down their goals are much less likely to achieve them, and that makes perfect sense.

In fact, setting goals for your department, team, or the whole company, is also something that everyone should be doing, but you want to make sure that those are simply seen as interim stopping points along the way.

Hit the goal, savour it, celebrate it, and then move on to the next goal. Remember: It is not a destination.

 

Enjoy the Ride

For me, the biggest takeaway here is that we are always on our way somewhere, so we may as well enjoy it.

In fact, if we are NOT enjoying it, we should really consider finding another journey to take.

Find a journey that you will enjoy.

There are plenty of people who are doing things that they don’t enjoy, and guess what, some of them even work in their own family’s business.

Many of those are likely deluding themselves into thinking that things will magically improve, you know, once they reach the “destination”.

If you believe that, I invite you to re-read the title of this blog post.

 

Personal Perspective

We all have our own perspective on this subject and I’d like to share mine. No, this won’t be a “just do what I did” story because that isn’t generally how I roll.

Actually, it’s more of a “don’t do what I did” lesson, that I hope some people will benefit from.

And by the end of this, I may even partially contradict my major premise here, but here goes.

 

Early Liquidity Event

In 1991, with a freshly minted MBA degree in my pocket, I returned to our family business, expecting to be groomed to eventually take over.

This had been Dad’s plan since my birth. Notice I did not say it was MY plan.

Instead, within 6 months of my return, we (he) sold the operations of the company, and we went from 250 employees to 4, and eventually 3.

I then spent the following 2 decades running our small family office, doing what needed to be done.

 

No Destination, Not Even a Journey

I wasn’t until 2013 that I finally had my calling, to do the family business work that now drives me in everything I do.

For over 20 years, I did what I thought I was supposed to do, acting as the “dutiful son”.

I know other rising generation family members who are following similar paths, and while it is a path, if it isn’t a journey that you enjoy, it doesn’t make for much of an enjoyable career.

 

“My” Journey

Everyone deserves an opportunity to find and do something that drives them to be able to enjoy the journey of life.

So glad I found mine, better late than never!

What’s yours? What’s in your way?

2 people disagreeing and looking in the other direction

Choosing Sides in a Family Business

Choosing Sides in a Family Business

I sometimes write about conflict management and resolution, because family businesses are rife with opportunities for clashes of personalities and ideas.

(See: Embracing Conflict in Family Business & FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option)

But this post will be a bit different from others I’ve written in the past.

Today I want to get into a family conflict and ask readers which side they would choose in a fictitious war between two sides in a family.

 

The Guerrero Family

Vince and Walt Guerrero are the two oldest brothers in the family that owns a specialized factory in a mid-sized northern town.

Their father, Guillermo, started the business some 40 years ago and is preparing to retire, leaving the business to his four children.

Sabrina and Teresa, the two youngest siblings, used to work in the business as well, but both left because there was just too much conflict.

 

Vince’s Side or Walt’s Side?

Vince and Walt don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on many things, and each of them wants to be the new President when Dad finally retires.

Sabrina and Teresa get along very well with each other, and they both love their brothers equally, and the boys are constantly trying to get their sisters on their side of every issue.

Which side should they choose?

 

A Common Scenario

While the scenario I just described is actually quite typical, the question that I’m asking you is not.

Of course, there isn’t enough information to give a reasonable answer to the question, and I already spent a couple hundred words describing it.

It’s actually a really stupid question because I’m asking you to “choose sides” when there really aren’t any sides to choose!

 

Study Group Example

One way that this post is different from my usual format is that I usually start out by giving some context to the genesis of the post, but this time I’ve saved that for here, in the middle.

I’m part of a peer study group through the Family Firm Institute (FFI) and we had a meeting recently where some of us got together to discuss a variety of topics, including some real case examples we are dealing with.

 

Conflictual Family Drama

One group member spoke about two siblings who were always in confrontations and how the other family members were always trying to decide which one of them to support.

We have a long-term FFI member who acts as a mentor and moderator on our calls, and she made a statement that resonated with me, so I wrote it down, intending to use it for a blog.

Nancy said, “Oh, so they’re choosing sides when there really aren’t any sides to choose!”

“Bingo!”, I thought.

 

Whose Side Are You On?

The point Nancy was making (I think!) is that while the combatants are trying to make it about “my side” versus “his side”, anyone else who looks at it that way is falling into a trap.

Taking sides is usually a false choice.

Oh, I get that this happens in family businesses, and it still happens far too often.

Family members who work together or manage assets together won’t always see things the same way and will often try ot get others to come to their side of every argument, but that doesn’t mean the other family members need to oblige!

 

Interests versus Positions

If you’ve read even a little bit about negotiation, you’ve likely heard about the difference between “positions” and “interests”.

Fisher and Ury’s “Getting to Yes” was the first place I recall reading about this, and that was in the 1980’s, so this isn’t anything new.

If each side simply holds to their position, the negotiation will likely remain a zero-sum game, where any gain by one side is a loss for the other.

 

Digging Their Heels In

Sometimes in a negotiation, both sides really dig their heels in, usually because there’s some emotional aspect to the conflict that prevents them from letting go.

And yes, sometimes in family businesses people get into conflicts that are complicated by emotional issues.

 

Get Past their Positions

In order to have a better chance at a successful resolution, you need to get past their “positions” (My way / I’m right) and get to their interests.

Then, when you can find the common interests that both sides have, there’s something to work with.

Can the other family members avoid taking sides, and look for common interests instead?

I sure hope so!

Ownership Stages In Family Business

Ownership Stages In Family Business

Ownership Stages In Family Business

Readers may have noticed that the topic of “ownership” has been featured in this space more and more lately.

That’s no accident, because last summer when I wrote Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business” I also vowed to give this subject a bit more prominence here.

 

The Simple Stage “Model”

Most people who work in the Family Business field are well versed in this “model” that looks at things in their simplest form as a family business goes from one generation to the next:

Sole Owner => Sibling Partnership => Cousin Consortium

There really isn’t anything new here, but it’s a good starting place to discuss how the ownership of a family business can get more complex as the business goes from one generation of owners to the next.

The verb I chose there, “can get” was very intentional on my part, because things do not necessarily get more complex, depending on the desires of the family and the plans that they make about how the actual ownership will be transitioned.

 

Does this Tree Need Pruning?

As I wrote last year in Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree”, sometimes the difficulty in passing a business down through generations is complicated by something as simple as math.

I recently spoke with a second-generation member of a farm family, and their case facts make for an interesting example.

Mom and Dad had 4 children, and each one of them is now married and they each have 4 children of their own.

The family group is expanding at a geometric pace. Will the farm be able to match that growth? That’s the proverbial $64 million question.

 

Counting People and Households

The farm initially supported 6 people in one household. One generation later, that became 26 people in 5 households. So far the math is pretty simple but only in a textbook example do things remain that way.

Did I mention that the range of ages of the grandchildren (G3) varies from late 20’s to single digits?

The oldest G3 member already has children and yet their generational “equal” is still in grade school.

How are they going to work out all of that stuff?

 

Getting Good Help

I often write about the importance of getting help from outside the family to assist and guide any family through these difficult decisions.

Luckily, there are surely plenty of well-qualified lawyers and accountants out there who have crafted the types of agreements and structures that are required to work out these complex cases.

So is that my answer, to go out and talk to a lawyer or an accountant?

Not so fast, please!

 

What Exactly Are You Trying to Do?

Before you look to technical professionals to structure things and write up the agreements necessary to formalize things, don’t you think it makes sense to figure out what you’re trying to do first?

How will the four siblings in the example above work through the decisions surrounding the best way to structure things?

I’m going to assume that the four siblings won’t all necessarily agree with each other on every question right off the bat.

OK, so what if the one who is the de facto leader of the business were to simply get a lawyer to write it up his way?

Well, that might be efficient, but I’m willing to bet that some negative consequences would result, somewhere down the road.

 

Governance and Ownership

Who died and made him king? Maybe that isn’t just a rhetorical question; maybe before Dad passed away he did “anoint” his successor.

I don’t know enough about the specific case facts here, but they are not that important to the discussion.

My point is that the ownership of the business is a very important aspect to understand and work through in a thoughtful manner, but it is not sufficient by itself.

A family facing this type of situation actually needs more than just clear ownership, they also need to agree on governance.

 

How Will We Decide Things Together?

When people try to simplify governance, they usually mention communication, problem solving and decision-making.

I can’t really make it any simpler than the six-word question, “How will we decide things together?”

It’s a pretty short and simple question, but answering it is rarely short and simple.

And getting the right answer for your particular family is actually more important to work out than the more straightforward questions about ownership.

 

Please see: Family Governance, Aaaah!

Family Dog

Honouring FamBiz System Exits

Honouring FamBiz System Exits

I was born into a family business system over five decades ago, and I’ve been working in and writing about the FamBiz space for over five years now.

The fact that a family is actually a “system” is one of the important realizations that I’ve come to, yet not necessarily one that I’ve shared much about here.

There have been some blogs relating to Bowen Family Systems Theory (A Systematic Business Family?) (My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice) and I have shared with many people the fact that I’m beginning to work on my next book, which will be all about the intersection of BFST and the world of FamBiz.

But there have been a couple of events in the last little while that made me want to address the subject of “systems exits”, i.e. situations where someone who has been a part of a system is suddenly no longer around, and some of the consequences.

 

A Matriarch’s Retirement

The first situation draws on an annual meeting with a family business client of mine, where the matriarch of the family made the sudden announcement that she would be retiring from the business, effective immediately.

I took her at her word, and after she left the meeting, I mentioned to her children and nephews that they should begin to find a way to honour her service and announce this news to all the employees.

They looked at me with curious expressions, which I eventually realized were caused by the fact that few of them believed that she was serious.

Well, that was over three months ago, and she has been true to her word, and they have yet to do anything in line with what I had suggested.

 

Leaving a Door Open

My idea for announcing the retirement decision stemmed from my view that clarity is of utmost importance in any family business.

There are so many ambiguities that are inherent in systems where family and business overlap, that it behooves everyone to work extra hard to be clear on as many things as possible.

By not announcing the retirement of the matriarch, a proverbial door was being left open for her return, and that leaves the situation more open to confusion among the ranks of the employees.

 

Losing Man’s Best Friend

The second situation regarding a systems exit was not about the exit of a human, but it was about the loss of a member of the family.

The photo accompanying this post is the last one we have of Caedmon, our companion for the last nine years.

He had an interesting life during his time with us, and I’ve got enough stories about his adventures to last the rest of my life.

I wrote about one of them a few years ago (Sharing my Warmth Goes to the Dogs) and then that story was followed by another interesting turn of events that even got us on the news, first locally and then nationally. (Go Labs go! (Don’t worry) Carey Price gets his dogs back)

 

Honouring Those Who Have Left

You may think that this is a bit of a stretch (and I’d have a hard time arguing against you if you do) but I’m trying to honour this family member by writing about him here.

When we first got Caedmon, we jokingly referred to him as “Bosco’s dog”, because we got him to keep Bosco company after Rufus went to doggy heaven.

Bosco was the subject of a blog post in 2014 when he followed his “brother” Rufus to the pearly gates (R.I.P. my Old Friend)

 

Don’t Pretend They Weren’t There

I get some interesting looks from people sometimes when I refer to people who have died when we have family gatherings.

It’s so easy to not bring people’s names up because we don’t want anyone to feel bad about the absence of those who are no longer with us, but I like to buck that trend.

At funerals, we usually hear that we are there not to mourn, but to celebrate the life of the dearly departed.

That can be difficult when it is still so fresh and when the person was important to us. But after years have passed, I hate to act like the person never existed.

 

It Is Better to Have Loved and Lost…

When someone has exited the system, you can mourn them, honour them, grieve them, and celebrate them.

Just please don’t forget them, act like they were never there, or write them out of the story.

Women Meeting - Family Business

Evolving Gender Roles in Family Business

Evolving Gender Roles in Family Business

Sometimes family businesses don’t get enough credit for the societal leadership they so often exhibit.

The long-term view that they bring to the way they plan, strategize and operate, make them a special subset of businesses in general.

For example, many people instantly recognize that family business leaders are often great philanthropists, especially in their local areas.

 

Gender Balance

There’s another area that I’m starting to notice more and more where family businesses are taking an important leadership role, and that’s gender balance.

When looking at any such leadership role, you might think about the intent of any of these leaders, and imagine that there’s some concentrated effort on their part.

But family businesses don’t typically get together and decide that family businessess should do this or that.

They decide what’s best for their family, and once it turns out that many of them are doing the same thing, the leadeship trend emerges.

 

Wife, Daughter, Sister, Niece 

It seems to me that family businesses are leading the way in the area of gender balance in management and leadership roles.

My evidence is anecdotal, based on things that I read and come across on various forms of media.

But it also doesn’t surprise me either.

When it comes time to decide which person to promote to a key position, a high performing woman is less likely to be overlooked when she also happens to be the daughter, sister, cousin or niece of one of the leaders.

 

My Own Backyard 

Perhaps it’s because family businesses have always had a tendency to promote from within, that it’s more natural that any strong woman will be given more of a chance.

When I just think about my own daughter and nieces, as well as my wife and sisters, I know that they are at least as qualified as any man in their roles, and usually much more so.

 

Evolving Business Styles

It might also have something to do with the way that businesses are being run in less of an old-fashioned, authoritarian way.

The “macho male” attitude doesn’t seem to cut it like it used to, certainly not in the North American culture I’m most familiar with.

A softer touch, more inclusive leadership styles, and more democratic decision-making styles all seemingly play into the trend.

 

Family Roles

The traditional family roles of wife and mother versus husband and father have also changed a lot over the past few decades and generations.

The “stay-at-home parent” isn’t as much of a staple as it was when I was a kid and everyone went home from school for a nice lunch that Mom was busy making.

Those days are long gone.

Even in cases where one parent makes the conscious choice of taking a career break in order to take on child-raising full time, it isn’t always the mother.

And with couples having children at a later age, the eventual return to the work force can also be an easier fit for a mother who decides to go back to a family business.

 

Goodbye Primogeniture?

While it may be too early to say Goodbye to primogeniture, things are being done in family businesses today that were pretty inconceivable just a few decades ago.

It isn’t just the gender balance either; there are more and more sibling teams running things as more or less equals, with a trend to title sharing like naming a brother-sister team as “Co-Presidents”.

If any two people could pull that off properly, I’d bet on a sibling team anytime.

 

Soft Skills in a Family Business

I’m not sure this is a 100% true statement, but it seems to me that the “softer skills”, like getting along, democratic decision making, open communication, authenticity and teamwork are even more important in family businesses.

But just because these skills may be more “necessary” there, does that mean we will find them there?

I’m not sure I could make that case strongly; but what I can say is that a family business where the people have those skills, and have things structured for those skills to shine, will be the ones that thrive.

 

Generational Transitions

A family business will only remain one as long as the family can agree enough to hold onto it.

Having the kinds of people in charge to make this happen will require diverse groups going forward.

Bet on it, sister!

 

Note:

Between when I first drafted this blog and when I was wrapping it up, my friend and FFI colleague Carrie Hall published this piece which complements it nicely:

Please see:           Why family businesses have a higher percentage of women leaders

 

A guy helping another Guy while hiking

When Is Helping Not Helpful?

When Is Helping Not Helpful?

This subject has been kicking around in my head for a little while now, and I’m finally tackling it this week.

I’ve been seeing more and more things I could add, so I’m curious to see how this turns out. Let’s go.

 

It Feels Good to Help

Let’s start with the fact that most people feel good about themselves when they can help someone else.
Sometimes it’s completely altruistic, sometimes it’s more about being “one-up” on others.

It may stoke our superiority complex, or make us flash back to the parental approval we got for helping, when we were kids.

The point is, helping is something many of us do instinctively, it makes us feel good about ourselves, and that makes it a great win-win.

 

So What’s the Problem?

If you’re a parent, you’ve surely experienced situations where “over-helping” eventually had its downside.

If I continued to tie my kids’ shoes because that’s how I can help them, they’ll never learn to do it themselves.

 

Family Business Version

In a family business, the most prevalent version of this phenomenon comes up in the area of employment.

The owner’s child “can’t find a job”, so they’re hired, out of a desire to “help” them.

If you can’t see that this may turn out to be a future lifetime under-performing employee, then you probably aren’t paying enough attention.

 

Asking for Help

I’ve also written about the fact that family businesses are often reluctant to ask for help from outsiders.

(Blog version      and       Video version)

There certainly is no shortage of potential “helpers” out there, especially regarding issues that affect the business.

In fact, getting help with “business” issues versus “family” issues is still a far more common request.

 

Different Kinds of Help

For many situations, the requested help is pretty clear.

When you need advice with investments, taxes, or legal structures, there are specialists who deal in those things every day, who’ll happily provide you with a solution.

As to whether the help you think you need is actually what’s best for you, that’s another question.

There are plenty of solution providers who’ll “help” you by giving you what you ask for. It’s often done very efficiently, even if it turns out not to be very effective.

 

What About Help for the Family?

When you move over to the family issues, that’s where things get a bit trickier.

As someone who works this space, I can tell you that the requests are often formulated in the same way.

What I mean here is that “Tell us what we should do!” is a common way of asking for help.

There’s also no shortage of “helpers” out there, that’ll gladly step up and “help” by simply answering that question.

You may be wondering why I’m implying that there’s a problem here.

 

“For the Family, “By the Family”

Here’s why the “Help me!” request, followed by “OK, here’s the answer” method usually doesn’t do the trick.

I can tell you that when I get “Tell us what to do” it can be pretty difficult to not just simply spew forth my best advice, in the guise of helping.

That’s because I know that the best results for tricky family dynamics situations are always the ones that are co-developed by the family.

 

The “Process Versus Content” Dilemma

I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 years acquiring and honing the skills necessary to become a better “process” consultant, rather than simply being a “content” expert.

Having come to the family business space by “living it” my whole life, and continuing to study the “content” of “best practices”, it can get tricky.

But I also know that any help that I offer always works best when it is subtle and indirect, especially at first.

 

Who Are the Real Experts?

When dealing with questions of family dynamics, the real experts on “how the family operates” are the family members themselves, not the outside “expert”.

In fact, if I try to offer too many “helpful solutions” before I have a good feel for this particular family, they’re bound to backfire.

 

Who Does the Work?

Those asking for help often hope for a “short cut” solution, where the expert provides an easily implementable “quick fix”.

In truth, there are few magic fixes available, and in the end, it’s always the family members who’ll need to do the work, with the helper acting as a more of a “guide”.

And you’ll each tie your own shoes.