There is nothing more fascinating to me than family company dynamics. I’ve spent the past two decades smack in the middle of family issues within this industry saturated with 2nd, 3rd, 4th and even 5th generation owners. I’ve experienced first-hand the various degrees of love, hate and habit that occur at one time or another. I’ve witnessed that the “family” in family business can present even more challenges than widely swinging fuel prices and seemingly stupid competitors. In fact, the more family in the business, the more conflicting ideas about growth and company direction. Whether you are the family, or just work for the family, knowing where each family member is in the love, hate, habit cycles and your ability to manage each will have major impact on your company’s success. Let me elaborate. Love– Easy to recognize, this cycle is charged with energy, enthusiasm, forward focus and clear vision for the company. It’s often found in younger generations as they enter into management and decision-making. So what’s wrong with this cycle and why would you need to manage it? While it’s contagious and exciting, those in the cycle may lack the ability to see any negatives. Remember your first crush? When you didn’t see the warts or pimples on the first date? Love is truly blind but, to run a company effectively, you need all blinders off. Proactively managing this cycle without dampening enthusiasm is tricky. The key is to create healthy risk boundaries. The solution is written rules for risk tolerance. Most CEOs have these rules in their head, but have never written them down. The CEO wants the next generation of leaders to make wise decisions, but without knowing the experiences that created the mental rules you’ve gained over the years, how can they? By helping your upcoming leaders gain a clear understanding of risk boundaries, their excitement and ideas can still flourish within your tolerable risk parameters. Hate– This cycle may be cleverly disguised because no owner or executive wants to admit to anyone, much less themselves, that they hate their job and its responsibilities. So, the way to identify a hate cycle is through behaviors. Avoiding work, or conversely working long hours with lots of verbal blaming. “It’s my suppliers, it’s my stupid competitors causing all the trouble, my customers just won’t pay, if only the economy were better we’d be fine, blah, blah, blah…” are all signs of a hate cycle which typically occurs in conjunction with times of financial stress. If you observe someone (and maybe even yourself) in a hate cycle, realize that at this point in time, the person doesn’t have the energy, the creativity or even the “want to” for leadership much less the visionary force needed to drive a company to its next success. Therefore, it’s critical this cycle be broken. If left unchecked, it is a cancer that will spread to the entire organization and can literally destroy the company. To help any person in a hate cycle you:
- Tactfully tackle the problem with the individual. Remember ignoring it adds to the problem. In the case of a CEO, consider enlisting outside help from an already trusted advisor who can address the hard truths without fear of repercussion.
- Discuss the observable behaviors and the impact of those behaviors on the company.
- Determine if the cycle is caused by a mismatch in talents and responsibilities (think round peg in square hole) or simply overwhelm from inability to deal with the velocity of change in our industry.
- If overwhelm, engage the person in a positive future vision, including actions needed to get out of the rut. In most cases, the person has lost hope and can’t see the future vision without outside help. (Let’s face it, if they could have done something different they already would have.) So pair them with a person with propensity for vision, whether from inside or outside the company.
- If mismatch, arrange for their exit. It will bless them and all the employees!