Family Business – Ducking the Real Issue.
As Family Businesses grow and succeed, the problems the owner family deals with evolve and change.
The usual cycle is to start with practical problems and then gradually (parallel to their levels of financial success), these tend to evolve towards the abstract.
Abstract problems can either kill the business if dealt with inefficiently, or rocket the business to a completely different trajectory and scale, when dealt with effectively.
All the problems of scarcity are very much on the practical plane, and family businesses that survive and thrive are those who are able to (1) Disregard everything else, and (2) Chip in with everything they have got.
While many family businesses can survive the problems of scarcity, too many stumble and fall when faced with the problems of plenty.
The problems of the abstract begin with the era of plenty. Plenty also produces the sharp distinction between functional and dysfunctional families and the type of issues which will occupy the owners’ mind.
Functional families generally tend to begin discussions on inorganic growth, and lessening control and including other minds into their decision-making both at the organisation level via competent capable employees who feel valued and are able to contribute without fear or favour. They also are willing and able to bring in external capital and non family owners who will focus on what the enterprise needs without compromise.
Dysfunctional families on the other too have a shallow discussion and make feeble attempts to professionalize.
The defining characteristic of this is to suddenly import high cost employees, who are mercenary at best and know little about the organisation and its culture, and are experts at networking with the owners and being brand ambassadors of the owners “committed’ decision to explode and grow exponentially.
One issue, which typifies a dysfunctional family, is: Should the individual subject himself to the needs of the organisation, or is the individual superior to the enterprise.
Both voices are loud usually in this regard. One saying vociferously that it is the individual who is important because without the individual there can be no company, and that the individual wants the company only to satisfy his purposes.
The other voice, with equal emphasis, asserts that it is the enterprise that is important… because the only reason they are together in a partnership is to serve the enterprise.
Now I’m not interested –for the moment -in which of these positions is accurate.
This much though I have observed: – that there is a certain hierarchical position the individual owner needs to be in, to speak with either the first voice or second.
Owners, who believe that they possess authority and that their importance is largely safeguarded, will speak with voice of Company first.
Owners, who believe that their authority is ‘iffy’ and that their importance has been insufficiently recognized, will speak with the voice of Individual first.
The issue of company first or individual first, in such situations therefore, does not even possess the integrity of being the real issue.
The REAL issue is: – Am I important enough?
The one who believes s/he is, no longer fights for it. The one, who does not believe s/he is, demands it incessantly.
In company or individual first discussions, the real problem to solve is one of fragmented integrity and under-valued relationships. Spending time on the discussion is largely a waste of time because (a) No one is seriously interested in the merits of the argument and (b) The answer is predetermined. The discussion is only a cover for the real issues.
One person tends to believe he is more important than necessary, and the other person tends to believe that he is less important than necessary. One suffers from over confidence, the other from under confidence.
One is accused of being arrogant, the other of being a wimp.
Like equalisers need to be tweaked in an expensive sound system to produce the best sound, so inner beliefs of individuals need to be worked on in such family businesses to produce the best performance.
The unwanted consequence, however, about inner beliefs gone awry is that the business tends to enter its “comfort zone”.
While it had a 45-degree trajectory towards growth in the past, the enterprise begins to flatten out and peak too early. The natural tendency after peaking is decline. The longevity of flattening out, and speed of decline varies based on many different factors.
You know however whether you are still growing or simply treading the waters by this one single factor: – Is your enemy internal or external?
Owners with a common external enemy tend to keep growing. Owners with a mutual internal enemy have already embraced the invisible decline.
It’s always about YOU FIRST.
Yet BEING YOU is simply the choice you are making between one of these two value systems:
A) Doing as you please and magnifying yourself
B) Doing as is needed and subjecting yourself to a higher purpose.
People who cherry pick from these value systems and attempt to get the best of both generally both suffer personally as well as produce suffering for those dependent on them.
These are the businesses that cease thriving.
The person who says Company first is doing as he pleases and possesses the authority to do so. The person who says Individual first wants to do as he pleases but does not possess the muscle to do so.
The solution for this dilemma does not lie in endless dialogue or intermittent compromises.
To escape the slow doom syndrome, recreating the excitement of your initial entrepreneurship journey and possess the meaningful relationships that both your commercial and personal life needs it is important to reengineer the individuals concerned.
This is what I offer.
Most individuals would require, on average, one session a month depending on their individual personalities ranging from one hour to four hours.
If conflict already exists, there would be need to meet in groups to resolve these issues.
Twelve to eighteen months is the minimum, ideally, that this process should be engaged in. Positive results are visible within the first three months itself.
It is best to engage in this process prior to conflict arising amongst the owner group.