I am so happy to see the world starting to right itself after all these long months of societal upset and loss and sadness. We had lost appreciation for how close and connected we are (locally and globally) until we were asked to isolate ourselves as protection against a new and deadly virus. That was hard emotionally and economically. As the pace of life picks up, I say that for the businesses I consult—let’s skip family drama and just get back to work. I recently discussed some key tools to prevent in-house conflicts with Andrea Obston. Her article is in the spring issue of the Customized Logistics and Delivery magazine (see it at https://viewer.joomag.com/clda-spring-magazine-2021-virtual-final-2-1-1/0297472001622577636/p34?short&.)
Create Procedures For Making Decisions
I believe no one expects day-to-day business to go back to what it once was. There have been so many adjustments already made to accommodate public safety directives. The pandemic brought so many companies to an unexpected crossroads, and management had to make difficult choices. For a family-owned business, this juncture can bring fierce intra-family power struggles. If family members feel they must defend their ideas, then business choices become personal. This opens the door for conflict.
I have always advised my clients to prevent this by setting up procedures for decision-making. Bypass traditional family discussion patterns by establishing company criteria for the decision process. This can allow you to reframe how you approach opportunities for the business. You can have criteria for weighing the alternatives. Following the criteria takes the focus off any personal opinions and encourages objectivity about the next steps for the greater good.
Shared Family History Can Be Both A Strength And A Hindrance
“I’m the oldest, I get to go first.” “Because we’ve done it that way for 25 years, that’s why.” While such conventions might be practical for feeding kids at a reunion picnic or for the seating protocol at holiday family meals, they do not and should not be the “rules” when it comes to making decisions for the family business. There is no correlation between wisdom and birth order. If the family has agreed to set criteria, ideas from all sides can be presented against that, instead of including individual judgments about the source of a new idea. Each member has agreed to support the criteria to enhance the greater good. Each idea gets the same point-by-point consideration. It does not factor in who always got chosen first for kickball in elementary school.
An Idea Doesn’t Care Who Has It
If you understand why cream always rises to the top, then you understand that an idea doesn’t care who has it. Bad decisions can be made when based on whether it was “mine” or “yours.” In the heat of a family argument, do the strongest members want to advance the company or just dominate that particular moment? Choose as a family to take the burden from key individual contributors and put decision-making energy into exploring all options—against an impersonal list of progressive and possible actions. No one has to feel that if their idea is attacked, they are being attacked. The family dynamic in any family-owned business makes it imperative to acknowledge just how personal any company interaction can become.
Some Things Change; Some Things Stay The Same
While it can be a headache to have to adapt, it is also exciting to be a part of the evolution that a deadly global disease has caused. When it comes to sorting things out among family members in business together, though, there remain a few inevitable challenges. Keep an eye out for my next blog. I want to explain the concept of “Are we clean?” I have found that families in particular work hard to find the right words to keep their business communications flowing.
David Bork is an internationally acclaimed family business consultant, author, and speaker with five decades of experience, guiding over 500 family business enterprises. A pioneer in the industry, David brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the many challenges of running a successful family business and has assisted families in navigating their way through every imaginable family business issue. He is the author of The Little Red Book of Family Business and the online course, Re-Imagining Relationships for Families in Business. For more information about David Bork, visit FamilyBusinessMatters.Consulting.