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Keys for Resolving Conflict in the Family Business

Recently one of my partners and I were facilitating a meeting between a father and his daughter to work through some mismatched expectations between them in the family business. We had already had several prep meetings laying the ground-work for aligning their expectations, which were all positive and headed in the right direction. They were both excited that we were going to be able to help them get some things out on the table as they typically would avoid one another and leave issues unresolved.

However, once the meeting started, the dad took the opportunity to unleash on his daughter with unanswerable questions and acted like a prosecuting attorney trying to corner the defendant into a guilty plea. My partner and I were completely unprepared for this, and of course, the daughter was equally caught off guard. When I gained my composure and realized what was going on, I interrupted the dad by checking in with daughter saying, “if I were you, I’d feel like I’m on trial right now.” She broke down into tears acknowledging that I was spot on with her emotional reaction. Fortunately, this led the way to salvaging the meeting and beginning the process of working through their differences. Later, we apologized to her for not seeing that coming and for not protecting her from her dad’s onslaught quicker.

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How to Deal With Entitled Family Member Employees

As a family business succession planner I am intrigued with the ten interdependent factors of the Succession Matrix℠: Owner Motivation and Perspective; Successor Identification and Development; Key Manager Motivation and Retention; Strategic Planning; Business Structuring; Management Synergy and Teamwork; Business Performance; Financial Planning; Family Harmony and Family Governance. According to the International Succession Planning Association® (ISPA®), each of these factors independently and interdependently impacts the successful continuation of a closely held family business through the next generation of owners and managers. Each of these factors can be an asset or a liability to the achievement of business succession planning goals.

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Entitled Family Member Employees - Who is to Blame?

So how is it that entitled brats can make their way into otherwise healthy family businesses devouring efficiency, productivity and teamwork? What is it that blinds a hard working, highly experienced, bright business owner to the ridiculous, sophomoric behavior of their children or in-laws who have become profound impediments to the successful continuation of the business through the next generation of owners and managers? Apparently, there are no black and white answers to these questions. Otherwise, I would not be witnessing this pandemic of family business chaos. Otherwise, there would be active dialogue and “How To” books on this subject from family therapist colleagues. Otherwise, I would be encountering “conscious incompetent” business owners who would be saying “We know what we are doing wrong, we know how to fix it, but we just cannot make it happen”.  To the contrary, what I am seeing are “unconscious incompetent” business owners who are excited to have their kids in their business and just don’t have a clue that their business is on the road to crisis, decline, and a significantly reduced probability of “Succession Success”.

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Entitlement - How to Eliminate the Threat to Business Success

What is going on with the boss’ kids? Will the boss fire me if I tell him the truth? How much can I take before I blow and get fired?  Those are common questions asked by the unfortunate employees who are stuck dealing with family business terrorists: enabled kids who think and act by different standards than everyone else who has had to earn their way in the business. The damage associated with enabled family member employees is brutal, and almost always substantially reduces the probability of successful succession. Enablement blocks successor preparation. As we all encounter, experience, and recognize the high price of family member entitlement, the question is: how can this cultural disease be prevented or cured?

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Warning! Why you should Set Performance and Expectation Standards for Family Member Employees

Now, for the conclusion of my letter to Successor. My straight talk concludes with a focus on his “good guy” leadership style, especially in regards to family members working in the business...

On the subject of a culture of tolerance versus teamwork, I am concerned about your “good guy” compulsion to expand the list of family member employees who are effectively, non fire-able employees. You may argue that you could fire anyone, but understand the definition of a non fire-able employee: someone, including but not limited to a family member employee, who will not be held accountable to the point of termination barring significant brain damage that impairs the attitude of the leader, harmony of employees, harmony of the family and/or a combination thereof.

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When Tax Laws Change, Estate Plans Need Review

I sat down with a long-term client earlier this week and was reminded once again of the importance of regularly reviewing your estate and succession planning. This client is the majority owner of a family owned company and has his children involved in leadership roles. He is in his second marriage to a woman who is not his children’s mother.

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Change In Heart, Leads to Change in Plans - Is Your Succession Planning Strategy In Alignment?

Another situation I dealt with recently during an annual review of planning involved what I refer to as a “five minute bomb.”  Five minutes before the end of the meeting with a client, when I’m preparing to leave and go home, he says to me “oh, there’s something else I forgot to tell you” and it is inevitably an intense subject that requires much more than five minutes to handle.

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Family and Business - Maintaining a Healthy Balance

When I think of the word balance, one of the images that come to mind is a gymnast carefully and bravely performing on the balance beam. As a sports enthusiast and competitive person, occasionally when I am channel surfing (which my wife loves), I come across a gymnastics competition and find myself captivated by the athletes and their level of focus, commitment and talent. Although I have never been a gymnast, it is apparent that becoming a successful gymnast and performing well on the balance beam requires an incredible amount of mental and physical preparation. Naturally, it also requires the athlete to have great balance. Like gymnastics, owning and working in a family business requires a tremendous amount of dedication and effort in order to achieve a healthy balance between family and business.

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Harmony, You Know It Don’t Come Easy

My apologies to Ringo Starr.  In case you’ve never heard of him, he played drums for the Beatles during the 1960’s until that family business came undone.  Wait a minute, you say, the Beatles were not family members.  Well, perhaps not by the traditional definition of family; but remember, we define a family business as two or more people together for purposes other than making money.  Whether you’re family, friends, or strictly business partners, personal and professional partnerships are a lot of work; and they require the eternal vigilance of the night watchman.

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Increasing Organizational Productivity - What Could Be Impacting Teamwork in Your Organization

Organizational productivity is dependent upon teamwork, which I describe as two or more people working together productively for a common goal. Team can be expressed or implied, conscious or unconscious but irrespective, organizational productivity depends upon the effectiveness of interdependent, collaborative effort. Teamwork can be fair, good or great, but teamwork cannot be bad because the contingency of teamwork is enhanced productivity. The English language does not give us a word that that describes the negative side of group collaboration which we generally associate with uncooperativeness, inter-organizational competition, backbiting and under productivity.

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4 Steps for Building Family Business Synergy - Changing "Dreawork" into Teamwork, Part 1

Trust is the single most critical component of teamwork. In the absence of trust in owners, leaders and colleagues, members of the “dream” (versus team) are looking over their shoulder and subsequently handicapped in their ability to focus on their assigned task.  Building trust is the first answer to how we convert a “dream” into a team that optimizes productivity and creates the Success Margin®. 

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4 Steps for Building Family Business Synergy - Changing "Dreamwork" into Teamwork, Part 2

Trust is the single most critical component of teamwork. Unfortunately, some people are just untrusting and believe in survival of the fastest and the fittest. Employment is just another opportunity to compete, win and validate their belief that they are capable of looking out for number one. Untrusting people expect others to disappoint and their fatalistic attitude generally creates a self fulfilling prophecy to the failure of a team. All forms of personal interaction have one purpose for the untrusting, improve their own circumstances.  They may be referred to as part of a group but the untrusting think individually and functionally, are team members in name only. 

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8 Seconds After the Boss Is Gone, I'm Gone - Keys for Building Respect Between Your Successor and Key Managers

Over the course of the last decade in working with family-owned companies, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard horror stories of family successors driving their family’s business into the ground. Often times, it is our clients’ fear of this happening in their own businesses that motivates them to hire us in the hopes that we can help prevent this tragedy. In spite of situations that I  have been involved in where, after some time, I begin to share the business owner’s concerns, I maintain hope that I can be helpful in creating solutions to avoid this disastrous downfall.

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Please! What Is Succession Planning and Why Do I Need to Involve Outsiders?

The process of succession planning is significantly different for a privately-held and/or family owned business compared to a publicly held company.  For our purposes today, we’ll be dealing with the privately held because most businesses fall into that category.

Depending upon your advisor’s field of expertise, the definition of succession planning takes on a variety of meanings.  For some, succession planning is all about wills, buy/sell agreements, trusts, and estate planning.  For others, it’s about business performance and for another set of advisors, it’s all about family harmony.

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What You Should Know About Long Term Care Insurance

Per my previous posts on this subject, “Business Succession and Long Term Care,” and “Long Term Care and a Living Trust,” I hope you understand and agree that the financial independence component of business succession planning should address Long Term Care contingencies.

Long term care is not a simple matter even if you have the resources to provide for whatever level of care you desire. Due to the medical circumstances associated with the need for long term care you will need an objective advocate who you believe would have your best interest at heart who may not be your children because as your children may be preoccupied, from the dark side, or you may not have any children. 

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How to Overcome the Family Business Curse - Enablement

I am frequently asked – “What is the biggest problem that family businesses face?” The ugliest problem by far is what I call The Family Business Curse: ENABLEMENT or FAMILY BUSINESS WELFARE which can be described as - able bodied, capable minded family members active or inactive in the business who for any number of excuses are not contributing, but are provided ongoing financial assistance/subsidy to keep their standard of living up to par with those that are sacrificing to make the business work.

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"Family" Business is Not a Bad Word

As I reflect on 38 years of experience in business succession planning I can confirm that there was a time when being categorized as a “family” business was not a compliment. The term was derogatory, considered synonymous with “mom and pop” business. This stereotyping had obvious exceptions but was more right than wrong with respect to pets laying around with assumed rights superior to visitors or employees; kids entering the business out of school as an expert because they had worked a few summers and then coronated with a vice president title, a parking place and a tricked-up office.

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Changing Culture by Creating It

As I've said in the previous two posts, the Arizona immigration law is highlighting the obsession our country has with our perceived civil rights with little to no acknowledgement of our responsibilities.  Even to the point of extending these civil rights to individuals who are not legal citizens of our country. No matter where you stand, it’s a very interesting dilemma without an easy solution, because our country is the great American melting pot.

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How to Develop Strong Family Business Successors - Don't Fall Victim to the "Rescue Syndrome"

I doubt there will be any disagreement that parenting is a challenge. Surely anyone who has been privileged with offspring will agree. As a succession planner who is uniquely positioned within many families who are collaborating in business, I can affirm that bringing children into a family business greatly elevates the challenge of parenting. Family business is an oxymoron because family is an institution of unconditional acceptance whereas business is a institution of conditional performance.  As a result, being a parent can become even more challenging because, you can’t run a family like a business and you can’t run a business like a family.  As if the challenge of raising a child were not enough, the family business environment creates a constantly changing rule book. This can often lead parents to believe that the only hope for a child’s success comes with divine guidance toward a prayerful balance between unconditional love and performance accountability.

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Successor Development: You've Selected Your Successor, Now What?

Now that you have successfully selected your successor, what do you do? If you’re developing a family member successor, the most important thing is to have them go work somewhere else before entering the family business. Learning how to be an employee in a place where your last name means nothing is very valuable.

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