Winning in the family business – getting real with your sibling about performance and job duties

Business workers stand togetherI can’t tell you how many times in the family business I see people comfortably settling in to certain roles and responsibilities based upon their own needs not the needs of the business.

Take for example the family I was working with recently.  The more we clearly outlined performance expectations and standards, and mapped out where the family business needs to be for the arrival of the next generation, the more it became clear higher levels of results needed to be produced.

As we began discussing this, one brother spent a lot of time telling us about all the things that he’s doing.  That’s great but unfortunately many of those things are not the things that are most strategic for the business.  Or more importantly, what he’s working on is what he enjoys the most, but not necessarily what he’s good at!

In family business coaching we are constantly focusing on what the business needs to be successful.  Many times this involves what we call professionalizing the firm.  That often entails identifying higher levels of predictable and professional accountability for results.

It’s our job as coaches to “referee” with the family members and help them gain objectivity about what results are being produced and who should be producing them.  Many times this process involves prying a few fun things out of people’s hands and putting a few more difficult things on their plate.

If they can’t produce the results they are asked to produce then we help them identify what’s missing, is it skill, commitment, or talent?  Through coaching we will create a process to help them identify the gaps and they will be held accountable to closing those gaps.

At the end of the day, as family business coaches, we want to see all of our players succeed and win in the marketplace and the family for that matter.  Sometimes that involves helping them find the right role on the team and helping them acquire some new skills so they can produce high-level results.

Business is a competitive sport.  If the family business doesn’t continue to challenge itself and challenge its teammates to be open and honest about their performance and strive to compete at the highest level the family business will go extinct.

Losing in the family business – be right but have no team

business-man-big-jumpMany of the family business entrepreneurs we work with are very strong minded individuals who have had a lot of success in the business.  Their success further strengthens their position that their way is the right way.

The problem is there’s been an ongoing trend over the past several years of people wanting to have autonomy – the ability to make their own decisions and add their own individual fingerprints to their work.

For the stubborn family business entrepreneur this seems like a bad direction.  I hear things like “Why fix it if it isn’t broken?  Why would we possibly want to do things differently when we’ve had such success with our current way of doing it?”

I have a client right now I’m working with who has been struggling with this dilemma for quite some time.  He continues to “be right” and continues to run off talented and hard-working people who would love to help the company move forward.

And truthfully, this guy is extremely smart and knows the business well.  Many of his ideas are great ideas.

I keep reminding him that if he wants it all to be done with his ideas he may be a leadership team of one.  He knows he wants to someday successfully transition the business and I have to give him a dose of reality with the fact that if he doesn’t start letting other people do things in their own unique way they will never stick around.

We’re a bit of a victim of the way we have raised the up and coming generation. We have encouraged them to be strong minded, confident and willing to speak their mind.

So the successful family business entrepreneur needs to find a way to gently straddle that line of letting people have a say in the matter but not allowing them to make decisions that will put the company at undue risk.

In family business coaching we teach the entrepreneurs how to use the Socratic method of teaching, mentoring and coaching to use their experience and expertise to ask better questions and do a better job of developing the younger generation.  When we teach the family business to create a coaching culture it accelerates development and communication and improves business results.

I know how hard it is to watch people make mistakes but ultimately it’s one of the best ways they really learn the lessons.  Remember you have a decision – you can be right and be a one man band or you can learn how to be a better mentor and build a great team and have a successful transition! Choose wisely!

Winning in the family business – finding win-win and avoiding win lose

government-shutdown-closed-for-businessThe last couple of weeks are a great example of what not to do in a family business.  Imagine the family business if we had extreme positions on the left and the right that couldn’t be resolved and then somebody said “I guess we’ll have to CLOSE the family business for two weeks” until we can get this resolved!

Imagine the pain that could cause all of the employees not to mention the vendors and suppliers and ultimately your customers you could lose if you shut down due to the inability to find common ground.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  How do we expect our politicians to get along when we see the same kind of behavior in family businesses so often?

As family business coaches we work hard on helping people learn how to communicate more effectively, find common ground, and look for win-win solutions.  But, just like in our wonderful federal government, often times the agenda gets hijacked by people who are extremely rigid and sometimes vengeful when opportunity strikes.

Just like our federal government, many of these issues need our most open-minded and thoughtful approach.  The issues will not get resolved overnight and need a long term approach and a commitment to finding solutions not threatening shutdowns.

I’ve been approached by two families in the last 30 days that have pretty much caused their own shut down due to long protracted periods of bad behavior and gamesmanship.  I think at the end of the day they regret much of what they did, but good old-fashioned ego gets in the way of allowing them to apologize and get back to finding win-win.

Sure, the government reopened and are wonderful politicians are back to work.  It’s not as easy in the family business.  Sometimes the filibusters lead to family conflict and damage that can either take generations to repair or, worse yet, never get repaired.

Learn to look for common ground.  Find win-win.  Bring in outsiders who can add perspective and calm the situation down.  Communication and consensus building can be the life blood of a healthy family business.  Taking a win lose mindset can be fatal to the family business.

Family Identifies Humor as a Key Attribute for Family Business Success

file1161276033048One of the exercises we have families do is to reflect upon the attitudes and behaviors that lead to their success and conversely, their breakdowns. Business coaching utilizes many of the same ideas that are used in sports coaching. Teams get in the film room and review their performances to find ways to improve.

One family this week identified their ability to find humor in their daily work as an important skill in creating the right atmosphere for family business success.

Don’t mistake this with the overuse of humor. I’ve seen families use humor in ways that are harmful and a bit passive aggressive. These families use humor as a way to say things that they don’t have the courage to say without cloaking it in humor.

This family was talking about a healthy level of humor.  In coaching we call this the ability to embody “lightness”—not taking things too seriously.

I know many of the things you face in your family business are serious – I’m not trying to deny that. At the same time when I look back over the many challenges I faced in our family business most of them weren’t exactly a make or break moment.

Keeping a mindset of lightness is a muscle you can build over time. Brain scientists show us now how we are pattern makers. The research proves that we can build new patterns of thinking. We do that by staying mindful to our perspectives. It is a choice you make, to keep a light or heavy perspective on your daily work.

When you can learn to create lightness, you can have a team and family that learn to “roll with the punches” and that therefore can be more resilient and creative as they face challenges.

Keeping a perspective of lightness can make life more peaceful and less tiring. Make a commitment to discussing this with your family, and see if you can practice this new mindset. Remember, like any new skill it takes time to get a feel for it and make it a part of your daily life!

Don’t give up. Don’t back down if others in the family don’t jump on board. Make it your own personal mission to build new brain patterns. Lead by example. 

Cousin Thinks He is the Star; Employees Think He’s Average at Best.

business-superman-955075-mIt’s not that uncommon for us to come across family members in family businesses that have an unrealistic sense of their abilities and impact. However, this can have a detrimental effect on the business as well as on the person living a bit of a… delusional life.

I have seen this many times. It happens for a couple of reasons. First of all, many family members assume greatness due to their name and lineage. It’s easy to see how that can happen. They grow up hearing stories about the founder’s vision, tenacity and accomplishments and they kind of fall into the trap of assuming all of those qualities were bestowed upon them at birth. We know that’s rarely the case.

The second reason it can happen is that deep down someone has a sense of insecurity, and so they overcompensate by acting as if they are the superstar, when in fact they are not.

These situations have far reaching implications to the family business. I’ve seen family members heading up key parts of the family business such as sales or finance, when they don’t have great skills in those areas. Having an underperformer in any area of a business can be potentially fatal to the business. Additionally, having an underperformer in a key role can be disheartening to other members of the team.

When you combine that situation with someone strutting around like a superstar, when in fact they are an underperformer, the effect can be downright embarrassing.

If you work with us at all, you will know that all of our family business coaching revolves around creating role definitions and results based upon the best practices of great companies.

Many family business people have convinced themselves they are great based upon their own scorecard. When we bring objectivity and business best practice measurements to the situation, it creates an opening for honest dialogue about improving family business performance.

Let’s go back to the underperformer. You want to create a safe, non-threatening environment where people embrace honesty and performance improvement. Lots of people kid themselves about their greatness, but strong, healthy family businesses face performance head on in healthy and objective ways.

Find a way to steer the family toward looking at performance, based upon best practices, and you will be on the way to improving the situation. Sometimes as coaches we can say things to people that no one else can say to them.

Winning: Family Business Dad Learning to Give Direct and Productive Feedback to Family Members!

file231263245813Yesterday was one of those days that gave me great joy as a family business coach!  Part of our process is to teach families how to have quarterly reviews of goals and business results.

At yesterday’s session, Dad was courageously giving feedback to the team.  There are a few things about this that are really exciting.

First of all, this father, like many others, found himself reluctant, uncomfortable and somewhat ineffective at giving feedback to his offspring.  What happens in most cases like this is that little or no feedback is given and results many times aren’t on track, and therefore resentment builds on both sides of the equation.

The second great point was, not only was dad putting himself out there giving feedback, the feedback he was giving was pretty darn good! (We still have some work to do J.)  In the past when he tried to give feedback, it often missed the mark or caused unhealthy reactions from the recipients.

The third thing that was exciting was to see his son taking the feedback like a professional getting feedback from the chairman of the board (vs. getting scolded by Dad).  That hasn’t always been the case.  In the past when dad tried to give feedback, the sons, in many cases, had emotional reactions and found themselves defending and justifying their behaviors.

In this particular session, the son took the feedback head on and head held high.  No shriveling, shrinking or walking away hurt and upset.  In fact, this son did the beautiful job of saying, “Thank you for that feedback.  Can you be more specific about what you saw exactly?”

I have to admit there was a certain amount of heat and discomfort as the discussion moved forward but it’s my job as a family business coach to remind the team that the discomfort represents building new muscle and makes them stronger as a team.

This all came as a result of this family’s dedication to practice, practice, practice!  It’s how all great teams become great teams, and stay great teams.

Afterwards I called mom and let her know about the great progress.  The reason I did that was mom, with her new found courage, pulled me aside last month and told me to be tougher on dad!  I absolutely love that we are all pushing each other to help this family business achieve greatness and long-term success! 

5 lessons from the family business looking back 15 years later

looking_backLife doesn’t always go the way you think it will.

I spent most of my childhood thinking that I would spend my entire career in our family business and hopefully someday run the family business.  It didn’t quite turn out that way and, when it’s all said and done, I love the way it turned out.  Don’t think that you can know the way life will turn out.  Stay open and optimistic and flexible about your life.

You can be miserable in the family business or any career for that matter.

I was so convinced a lot of my professional frustration was because of family dynamics.  When I got out and started doing business coaching in the business world I realized frustration happens because of style differences, value differences and being in the wrong       j-o-b.  It’s not always about a family member mistreating you.  It’s about you figuring out how to get along with lots of different types of people in lots of different kinds of situations.

If you’re unhappy do something about it or move on don’t just stay and be miserable.

I haven’t come across any family member in the family business that is physically chained to their desk.  Yet I work with a lot of family business participants that act like they don’t have a choice in the matter.  Get to work figuring out how to make yourself happy, change the situation or Move On life’s too short to SUFFER in a family business!

Make the most of your situation.

I spent 16 years in our family business and took it upon myself to learn how to be a strong business professional and leader.  I was fortunate that we had a very professionally run family business and it gave me the opportunity to build a strong identity and confidence as a business professional.  Every family business situation has its problems.  Find a way to make the most out of your situation and use it to make the most out of your career and your personal happiness.  I took my experience and decided to start a new career that built upon all the great experience I acquired.

Keep learning how to separate family and business.

This was something we were pretty good at as a family.  People often say to me, how can you possibly separate personal from business, you can’t.  Like many things that we teach it’s all about mindset.  Business owners and leaders make business decisions.  They don’t always sit perfectly with you from a personal standpoint and not accepting that is doing yourself, your family and your family business a disservice.  Sure if you think people are making decisions to cause you harm, I guess you should take it personally.  In the majority of cases I’ve seen, business owners are trying to make what they believe are good business decisions and other family members refuse to see that.

At the end of the day, get outside advisers and trusted business professionals to help you have objectivity about what’s going on.  You need to get further away than just your old family cronies that had been helping you for years.  You need new sets of eyes that have not been related to your family forever.

In conclusion, life’s too short to suffer in your family business.  Do whatever you can to begin to make the situation better or build your path to leaving the business.

5 situations you want to avoid before it becomes too late in your family business

file3441270327326I can’t tell you how many families come to me when the building is already deeply engulfed in flames (metaphorically speaking) and it’s probably too late to stop the fire and/or there’s been such damage done to the family and the business it takes years to recover.

What makes me so sad about the situation is many of these families were in a decent place on a decent course before somebody lit the match that started the place on fire.  Business coaching, and sports coaching for that matter, is all about building skills, muscles and ability so that when the ‘U no’ one hits the fan in the game you are ready to perform at high-level.  Unfortunately so many family businesses resist training and development until the you know what hits the fan.

Here are five situations you could avoid if you begin skill building and development while you’re doing well:

Becoming estranged from a parent or sibling

I’ve seen it too many times.  People aren’t good at handling conflict so they let all the conflict build up and then at some point it goes off like a grenade and they say things that are highly destructive, harmful and hard to repair.  They become estranged from each other and because of pride and hurt they are unable to repair the damage.

Losing capable team members in the family business

Either strong outside professionals or even strong and capable family members can leave a business because they can no longer stand the dysfunction or discord in the family business.  The exit of the employee significantly impacts the business’s ability to be competitive and successful

Developing physical ailments due to stress

Staying in stressful situations and not doing anything about it is one of the worst things you can do for yourself physically and mentally.  Sometimes the prolonged stress can lead to medical issues or substance abuse issues that might have been avoided had the family realized all great teams at all great Olympic athletes use coaching to improve performance, point out blind spots and help people avoid career limiting medical conditions.

Causing marital and family stress

I know this one first-hand.  When you have issues in the family business you don’t resolve, they almost always cause stress in your own marriage and  family.  No spouse or child wants to see their father or mother upset – especially with other family members.  This ongoing stress can have a seriously negative impact on everybody involved.

Wasting precious years in your career

You only have so many years in your professional career to build your identity, become an expert and be paid highly for your knowledge, experience and results.  Nothing breaks my heart more than to see someone spend 15 to 20 years in family business and then finally, with frustration and futility, walk away to start over.  The sooner you teach the family to be open to training and development the sooner you will be a highly professional family business and make the most out of your career.

The families that work on their own development and growth before trouble happens have a much greater chance of long-term success and happiness.  Don’t wait for the you know what to hit the fan.  It could be too late!

4 reasons and ways to practice acceptance with mom and dad in the family business

file000370064754Working in your family business with your mother and father sometimes feel like a prison sentence with no sign of parole anytime in the near future!  I know I spent 16 years doing time in my family business.

I like to use a little humor as a way to ease the pain.  My 16 years in my family business was rewarding on so many levels but ultimately my frustration with certain things in the business led to my happy and healthy departure in 1999.  It was the best thing I could have done for me and our family.

One of the things I encourage my family business clients to practice is acceptance.  For some people that sounds like giving up but it really is not about giving up.  Here’s some things to consider about  acceptance:

Number one acceptance gives you the right mindset: The Brain

Scientists have proven that when we are under stress or in a state of anger it shuts down the creative part of our brain.  This limits our ability to see more choices on how to handle the situation.

Number two think the best of people

I truly believe no one wakes up in the morning and says in themselves “I think I’m going to make some people’s lives miserable today”.  People have annoying habits but at the end of the day I really don’t believe people want to make other people miserable. I believe they are stuck in unhealthy patterns and simply don’t know how to get out of them.

Number three see your own responsibility in the situation

Almost never do I see a situation where it’s all one person’s fault in the family business.  It’s like the old saying it takes two to tango.  The sooner you can see how your behaviors, actions and attitudes are contributing to the situation the sooner you’ll be able to have acceptance about the situation

Number four acceptance isn’t giving up its freeing up energy to see new choices

When I encourage family business participants to practice acceptance, I think they hear it like I’m telling them to give up.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  So many people are stuck in being cynical or re-signed about the situation, I’m simply trying to move them from negativity to neutral to free up their creativity and power to see and take new choices.

Start today!  Find a way to find acceptance in your family business situation and you will have taken the first step toward finding peace, purpose and prosperity in the family business.

How do we expect politicians to get along when we can’t get along with our own families?

office-675868-mThe politicians have reached an impasse and have decided to allow the federal government to shut down because they can’t find common ground.

Quite honestly, this sounds like some family businesses I come across.  Because of their own style differences, as well as differences in values and approaches, these families decide to not work with each other.  Instead of shutting down the federal government they shut down the family business.

Politicians come from lots of different backgrounds and geographies and can’t get along.  That’s not that great of a surprise to me to see them at an impasse. It is a surprise to me when families who have grown up with so much in common, can’t find common values and common ground to keep the family business alive.

I appreciate strong-minded people, but I do not appreciate people who can’t find ways to find common vision and win-win situations.

Sure, in a few cases the differences are so stark and unfixable that the family business should probably be sold or shut down.  But in many cases, there is so much good and so much potential if people with strong egos and unbending ideologies would just step back for a moment and focus on what’s good and be confident that they could craft a win-win situation and avoid all the damage caused by the zero-sum win-lose politics.

Look at this week’s political fiasco and compare it to your own perspectives, mindset, and willingness to find the win-win in your own family business.  Don’t create scenarios in which you have to shut off the lights in the family business just so you can be right!