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Solving Family Business Conflicts Before They’re Out of Control

Family Business

The strong personalities and wills that make family businesses successful are also the roots of family conflicts. Too many of these conflicts have been allowed to grow out of control and have wound up in litigation, causing major rifts in families as well as in the businesses. They usually cause major strain on family relationships through one party buying out another or by family members continuing to work with each other in an atmosphere of tension.

Often I have heard comments such as, “My sister wants to keep our company small and is fighting a controlled growth,” or “Dad won’t let go of the control,” or “My brother and I are paid the same and he doesn’t carry his weight.”

Family members usually have different levels of involvement and will rarely agree on what those levels are, or how to set fair compensation for different levels of involvement. Are the perks reasonable? What about the children of the non-active family member? Should the business be required to give them good jobs as well? Can it afford to? These conflicts get much worse if a divorce takes place.

One way to avoid lawsuits is to agree to binding arbitration. This means that you let a third party decide who is right after the party hears arguments and sees evidence from both sides.

Another alternative dispute resolution approach is the so-called “rent-a-judge” method. Family members hire a judge who gives a binding or, depending upon the wishes of the parties, a non-binding opinion.

Some family disputes are being solved by using a confidential-non-binding process in which the attorneys representing the family members give condensed arguments to an expert advisor. This process—called a mini-trial—lets family members look at the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and facilitates a settlement through the exchange of information.

Of course, the best solution is always to try to avoid disputes of this scale altogether by structuring the ownership and responsibilities in a family business to suit the abilities and personalities of the family members involved. The sad reality is that these disputes are inevitable. When they do occur, the key is to acknowledge and address them right away, usually through an objective third party. The sooner you can act on a problem in your family-run business, the better your chances of avoiding the knockdown drag-out family feuds that cause the downfall of many businesses and the disruption of many families in business.

Allen E. Fishman founded The Alternative Board (TAB), the world’s largest franchise system providing advisory board and executive coaching services to business owners, Presidents and CEOs.

Fishman is also the author of several books in which he shares his business insights to help business owners, including two best-sellers:

Why Bad Business Ideas Happen to Good Business Owners

bad ideas good people

Matt Ridley is my favorite science writer. He has written for the Wall Street Journal a lot and has also authored what I found to be the most accessible and interesting book on the Genome. Ridley wrote another gem Why Bad Theories Happen to Good Scientists. The article focuses on confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is when scientists attempt to find evidence that supports their theories. A good scientist would operate with the opposite intentions — as soon as a they developed a new theory, the scientist would prove their theory with unsuccessful attempts at disapproval. However, in practice, scientists spend most of their effort proving their theories – sometimes with very embarrassing results.

Ridley points out that other professionals, doctors and lawyers in particular, have this same confirmation bias. The bias often intensifies as they become more senior in their fields. These professionals have been known to become so confident in their view of the world that they only seek out evidence that supports their own theories. They rationalize observations, opinions, and even evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

Anyone reading this post is probably thinking: “I can’t believe people do this. I wouldn’t do this myself.” But we’re only human. And confirmation bias is a natural human behavior.

Now think about your business ideas.

What long-held beliefs do you have about your business or your market?

Do you have evidence to support your beliefs?

When was that evidence gathered? With the Internet economy, the marketplace is changing fast. Is your “evidence” still valid?

Who on your team challenges you? Does your team support a “group think” culture of confirmation bias?

As the business owner, have you established a business culture where your employees are not afraid to challenge you and your beliefs?

 

The Power of the Customer Service Roadmap

In the age of the internet, finding a low price is pretty commonplace, but I’m always wowed when I have a great customer experience. In fact, a great customer experience absolutely makes my day.  If I am treated well, I’ll definitely tell other people.

The reason great customer service experiences stand out is because they are in sharp contrast from most of my other service experiences – which are neutral at best, and often downright poor. Usually, leaving a Starbucks, Whole Foods or Discount Tires feels pretty good, even if I later realize that these stores don’t have the lowest prices.

A great customer experience can become a key part of your brand. Anyone can copy what you do – but it’s much harder to replicate how you do it. Michael Eisner former Disney CEO:

A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures. A close examination of great businesses and brands reveal they are mastering the little things. They not only go above and beyond the little things but they put the spotlight on every interaction a customer has with them.”

roadmap

So what makes a great customer service experience?  The first thing you probably notice is a stand-out individual. Let’s say you shop at Safeway, where most of the checkout clerks are ambivalent at best. Sometimes, you’ll come across an individual who makes you feel like an important customer. From that day forward, you’ll seek out that superstar employee every time you visit Safeway.

Consider a visit to a doctor’s office or an emergency room; an opportunity for service innovation if I’ve ever seen one. The medical industry needs to wake up to the importance of service in creating a more positive patient experience.

The Ten Faces on Innovation by Tom Kelley, of IDEO, is a great read on the power of design. It’s not just physical products or software systems that are in need of professional design. Processes need to be designed as well – or in many cases, re-designed. Take for example their project with DePaul Health Center inSt. Louis. The staff wanted to create a more positive experience for patients – in the midst of one of the most stressful environments possible.

Among many discrete innovations, IDEO’s key insight was realizing the importance of giving each patient a roadmap of what they can expect in the emergency room.  The roadmap  spells out the steps of the hospital emergency room- from intake, all the way to discharge.  Here, IDEO found out that when checking into the emergency room, the parts are fragmented and stressful; but the whole is integrated and empowering.

The other key service innovation is keeping the customer abreast of their status each step of the way. Even though the technology has been around for years, it amazes me that so few customer support call centers tell you how much time to expect before you can speak with an actual human being. A time estimate is very helpful. If it’s going to be 30 minutes and I don’t have 30 minutes, I’ll call back later.

Have you considered integrating a customer service roadmap into your business plan? Opportunities for companies to offer a better service experience by handing out the roadmap when a customer first arrives are bountiful.

As an example, let’s look at walking into a car dealership. In most places you wander around until a sales person approaches you, and begins his or her pitch. What about this instead:

  • You walk into the dealership and someone is there to greet you.
  • The greeter hands you a single sheet of paper that describes what your experience will be.
  • The service roadmap describes how you can browse around inside and outside of the dealership on your own, until you find what you are looking for.
  • At that point, you are invited to come inside and speak with a sales person about the car(s) that interest you.
  • A sales person will sit with you, and walk through the details of the car, including price.
  • If you’re still interested, you’ll be able to take the car for a 10 minute test drive.
  • If you are interested in exploring further, you will meet at a sales desk, with a finance manager who will review your options for payment.

This customer service roadmap would create a less stressful environment for customers while they shopped for cars.  Ultimately, the customer would feel like shopping for a car is not a negative, or confrontational experience.  Good feelings can’t hurt your bottom line, right?

A car dealership is just one example. As we all know, nearly all customer service experiences are ripe for improvement. What opportunities do you have in your business to employee these techniques to create a more positive experience?

Avoiding the IKEA Effect

We have a family tradition for Mother’s Day where we go to a truck stop for brunch. Everyone gets a kick out of it. But it’s a really good truck stop. The place is called Johnson’s Corner. It was just like any other highway truck stop until 1998 when Travel and Leisure Magazine rated it one of the top 10 breakfast spots in the world. The cinnamon rolls alone are worth the trip. We typically turn it into a full day by visiting a nursery down the road to pickup flowers to start our Spring planting.

 

Johnsons Corner

 

This year, we had to change plans. We had a very large Spring snowstorm on Mother’s Day – not uncommon in Colorado. We battled the snow to go to Johnson’s Corner. But the nursery was out of the question. Instead, my wife lead a family trip down to IKEA. I hadn’t been to IKEA for ages. A new one was built in the Denver metro area a few years back. This place has a 3-story parking garage and is simply massive. Lots of folks had the same idea on a snowy Mother’s Day – the place was mobbed.

We picked up a few odds and ends there. We didn’t have much in the way of assembly. But as I observe people load one large box after another into their SUVs, I was reminded of the IKEA Effect. Shankar Vedantam, from NPR and “Hidden Brain” fame, did a story on the IKEA Effect. The theory is that the more you invest of yourself in something – time, money and emotions –the greater the value you place on it. The link to IKEA is that you become more invested in IKEA furniture than a fully built piece of furniture because you invested effort putting the IKEA piece together.

 

IKEA Effect

 

“IKEA Effect” is a clever name. But the concept of Not Invented Here has been around for a very long time in business. Some business owners and executives believe that if their business hasn’t developed a concept, process or system, it isn’t good enough for them. It’s true that a business can develop systems or processes that are perfect fits for their business. And, that a third-party process or system will need to be customized. But at what cost?

This kind of thinking also leads to the Sunk Cost Effect. Once a business has sunk tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into a project, well, you just have to get some kind of return out of it. This is understandable at this level of investment. But how do you prevent getting into this situation?

The way around this is to utilize third party, objective advisors and to fail early. Before you get too emotionally invested in your project, it’s wise to get significant objective review and input from someone with expertise in the area you are working on. Or, better yet, get advice from other business owners. As one TAB member recently said, only fellow business owners understand the “intricacy of the decision making” that you are going through. If you do receive feedback that, well, your baby isn’t as pretty as you think, don’t be afraid to stop the project early. Letting a bad decision or program drag on is only going to make it that much harder when you need to make the inevitable decision.

 

 

5 Advisors Every Startup Should Have in its Circle

5 Advisors Every Startup Should Have in its CircleStarting your own business can be the most frightening, yet rewarding, challenge you’ll face in your professional life. While the urge to be your own boss may have driven you to take the entrepreneurial plunge, surrounding yourself with the best team is the key to ensuring your startup will beat the odds and provide you with long-term success.

We asked Dave Halpern (an executive business coach from The Alternative Board with nearly a half century of experience) to choose the five key players a startup should have in its circle. Learn from Dave’s no-nonsense business coaching tips (in quotes below) as he explains why each of the following professionals are essential members of your extended team:

1. Attorney“Dot your i’s and cross your t’s – better yet, let a lawyer make sure all contracts are legal and binding.”

Takeaway:

A business may find itself in need of one or more types of legal representation over time. Contract writing, incorporation, licensing and intellectual property are issues that are best handled by professionals, and they can crop up at any time.

Hire an experienced business attorney for your startup. If they’re professional and trustworthy, they’ll immediately tell you when any issues arise that they’re not qualified to handle and should be able to refer you to someone who can.

 

2. CPA“You never want to take shortcuts when it comes to keeping your books and whether you’re accountable to venture capitalists, a future buyer or even tax collectors, a good CPA will CYA!”

Takeaway:

Save yourself trouble ahead of time – get an accountant to do the accounting. Though it can be tempting to do the books yourself (it’s just addition and subtraction, right?), accounting is a college degree of study for a reason – it’s complicated.

Why is it complicated? Ask the taxman! The tax burdens placed on businesses extend beyond just the tax bills themselves. The paperwork and procedures that companies are expected to keep for audits are onerous, and a good accountant will have an intimate knowledge of the processes involved.

 

3. IT Company“Since businesses are increasingly dependent on state-of-the-art and reliable technology, you’ll want a team (or at least a tech support rep) on call for any emergencies in your infrastructure.”

Takeaway:

Your operations are likely highly reliant on technology and even a simple glitch like your mail server going down can grind daily productivity to a halt. In-house run IT systems will require expertise for regular maintenance. Whether your “IT guy” is full-time or just on call, Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll inevitably come to need their expertise in a big way at some point.

Conversely, once your business expands, IT systems can also be outsourced to cloud service providers who can host the necessary hardware in their own secure and locked-down data storage locations.

 

4. Sales Expert“You’ll need this specialist to grow the business and either instruct your sales staff or, in smaller businesses, be the sales staff.”

Takeaway:

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could sell? Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Worrying about your company’s ability to maintain a steady stream of orders and income might keep you awake at night if you don’t have a proven leader in your sales department. Selling is a skill, and you’ll need someone on staff who specifically performs this skill – and well.

If you have a full sales staff, your sales expert can lead the team. If, however, you’re a small enough startup, your sales expert might be your sales staff. Still, this pro can help you grow your business to the point where additional salespeople are required.

 

5. Marketing Organization“A professional marketing firm will ensure your company is represented well publicly and that the word gets out in the most expedient fashion.”

Takeaway:

Branding, advertising and marketing strategy can make or break any company trying to enter the marketplace. You can offer the most brilliant product or service, but unless people know about it, your business is dead in the water.

If you’ve got a knack for writing, a current list of media contacts and time to keep up with rapidly changing internet trends — skills like social media management, content marketing, blogging and PR can be learned. Adding a marketing expert to your circle, however, will free you up to focus on the things that you actually enjoy doing for your business. Whether you bring one on full-time or only for sporadic campaigns, a marketing organization can pay for itself by providing your company with valuable public exposure.

In addition to these five key players, many business owners would add a sixth must-have person: a small business coach. Do you have one? Check out a few case studies of business owners who have increased profits and improved work-life balance by becoming members of The Alternative Board.

Can you think of any professionals who are essential to a startup business that we may have overlooked? Let us know in the comment section below.

What Can a Peer Advisory Board Do for Your Business?

peer advisory boardsIt can be lonely at the top, which is precisely where many business owners spend a lot of their time. Loneliness, however, isn’t known to inspire cutting-edge creativity or cost-slashing resourcefulness. As an entrepreneur, it’s creativity and economic savvy—among dozens of other things—that you require most.

There are many aspects of running a business that entrepreneurs must deal with on a regular basis: planning, financing, hiring, executing, marketing, purchasing and selling responsibilities all fall under their purview, even if other managers handle the day-to-day tasks. If you’re a small business owner, you know how it feels to wear many hats. And you’ve probably also noticed that the more hats you wear, the less effective you seem to be.

If you had the resources of a megacorporation to hire your own board of directors, you’d be set. But for now, it’s just you—sitting alone at the top. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Peer advisory boards provide real-world board advice and direction for the small business owner—advice that’s drawn from decades of personal experience in the business world. What can that kind of insight do for you? To put it clearly and concisely, peer advisory boards help you to achieve more than you can on your own. Here’s how:

How Peer Advisory Boards Help Business Owners Achieve More

1. Remove your blinders. Blinders are put on horses to make the animals better at their jobs—they allow them to focus, and increased focus leads to improved performance. You may have noticed this in yourself—better focus results in better work.

Unfortunately, a high level of focus can come at a price, making it very difficult for a business owner to have awareness of absolutely everything. Far from a poor reflection on your leadership skills, your ability to focus is one of your greater strengths. But this ability becomes much more useful when it’s complemented by the larger view brought by a peer advisory board.

The panoramic vision of a peer advisory board lets you remain focused on solving one issue at a time. You can take comfort knowing that possible opportunities or oversights will be brought to your attention by others. This is an indispensable tool for a growing business.

2. Challenge your goals. Setting and achieving goals is what building a successful business is all about, but entrepreneurs often focus on a specific end goal when other more productive and impressive achievements may be within their reach.

For example, you may have a goal to grow sales by 10% in the next fiscal year by increasing cold calls. But did you consider the possibility that you could likely grow sales by 15% with a new marketing campaign that includes a well-designed set of integrated marketing tactics and channels? You may be aiming to get a write-up in the local paper, but what if you could actually get coverage in a national magazine? The possibilities for your business are infinite, and it takes more minds to imagine more of them.

A peer advisory board is made up of experienced individuals who will a priori have ideas for your business that are different from your own. The saying “two heads are better than one” applies in spades to business modeling. Your peer advisory board will expand your tunnel vision, providing you with options you may never have considered.

The takeaway here? Maintaining focus on a major end goal is something that all entrepreneurs should do – but make sure that you’re not setting your sights too low, and always consider that there may be alternate routes that will get you to that goal faster.

3. Crowdsource intellects. Isaac Newton once wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Very, very few ideas are 100% original. Yes, Einstein developed the theory of relativity, but he used the math and physics approaches discovered by others. Yes, Joseph Salk created the vaccine for polio, but he was working with the chemistry and biology discovered by others. In a way, these innovators and inventors were working with the peer advisory boards of the past.

Like other innovators, your ideas will and must involve the synthesis of other ideas. Imagine the power of gathering your own entrepreneurial think tank into the same room or the same conference call. That is the beauty of the peer advisory board.

Don’t pressure yourself to come up with ideas that are always 100% original—it’s not going to happen! What you can do is combine existing ideas in new ways by tapping into the creative minds of people who want to advise you. Let them.

4. Synthesize abilities. How can a brilliant inventor realize her creation if she doesn’t have the plastic to build the prototype? Can we enjoy a chef’s gourmet dish if he has no access to pots or pans? Brilliant creations rely upon creators having access to the resources they need—things they themselves can’t make.

The inventor needs the model-maker. The chef needs the kitchenware manufacturer. You need advisors with abilities that you don’t have. Drive needs patience. Vision needs execution. Capital needs labor.

Imagine your peer advisory board in action: Owner A becomes the go-to for copyright advice, as her company has already been through an intellectual property lawsuit. Owner B acts as advisor in new payments markets, as he increased sales by 13% last year after deciding to accept Bitcoin. And everyone goes to owner C for industry referrals, as he’s been building relationships in business for over 25 years. Everyone wins.

The necessity of teamwork in highly competitive markets can make you feel like you’re in a tug-of-war: the addition of even a single person can decide the victory. Anyone and everyone on your peer advisory board can be that critical individual—the one set of hands that makes all the difference in the game.

5. Give confidence to your employees. For a shipmate, there’s nothing like knowing the captain at the helm is knowledgeable, trustworthy and capable. Gale winds and rough seas are as threatening to a ship’s crew as financial insecurity and intraoffice disorder are to your staff. They need to know that the person in charge knows what they’re doing. After all, their jobs depend on it.

The presence of a peer advisory board shows your employees that you are quite in control of operations. It shows them that they have been wise to place their trust in you. Regular meetings with a peer advisory board position you as the forward-thinking, deal-sealing business owner that you are.

High employee confidence also saves you big money in the long run due to a reduced turnover rate. The financial and time-related costs of hiring and training new staff are significant, and the longer your people stay, the more you’ll save.

Peer advisory boards promote employee confidence, and confident employees are more likely to believe in you, your vision and the company.

6. Provide moral support for you. Sole decision-making power can be alienating, and the limelight can be a very stressful spot. The more employees you have, the more stressful your decision-making will be. When the livelihoods of others are dependent upon you, pressure takes on a whole new meaning.

Gain confidence and peace of mind with a peer advisory board. Get genuine feedback and reassurance that the path you’re choosing is the right one. That you’ve considered all the options. That you’re operating with the long run in mind.

The imagery of a businessman feeling the tie around his neck becoming a noose is pervasive and does not have to be your fate. If you drink, let it be for pleasure and not to relieve stress. If you get massages, let it be for luxury and not desperately needed relaxation. In short, make your company work for you instead of working for your company.

In fact, that can be your motto at every peer advisory board meeting: “We don’t work for this company—it works for us.”

When these benefits come together, a peer advisory board can truly take your business to the next level. It can identify the errors you didn’t know existed, synthesize solutions you didn’t think possible and provide the confidence you thought you might never have.

The Alternative Board has been partner to many success stories of small business owners just like you. We are interested in one kind of person and one kind of person alone—the entrepreneur who’s ready to attain and further her company’s potential.

Take a moment to explore the benefits of TAB membership and envision your company with its own peer advisory board. We’re here to confirm—boards of directors aren’t just for megacorporations anymore.

 

How to Deal with Office Favoritism

Favoritism in the officeA Georgetown University study found that 92% of business executives have seen favoritism at play in promotions, but favoritism isn’t exclusively displayed by who moves up the company ladder the fastest. Favoritism can come in the form of event invites, additional vacation or sick time, tardiness that goes unmentioned, or a variety of other extra benefits that aren’t included as part of a standard employment benefits package.

This kind of favoritism can send the wrong message to your other employees, impacting both office morale and productivity.

Rick Maher owns the consulting firm Effective HR and is a member ofThe Alternative Board. We asked him some of the more pressing questions about office favoritism and what his firm has found to be the best solution:

TAB: What does office favoritism typically look like?

Maher: Special treatment usually manifests itself in extra days off, being able to leave a little early and a “look the other way” when the person comes in a few minutes late. These are small things that can add up to big frustrations for all other employees. Dealing with them can be tricky at best – no one likes a tattletale.

TAB: How can a frustrated co-worker address the situation?

Maher: How do you highlight the favoritism properly? The answer is the employee handbook – it sets the rules for ALL employees and the employer. Its policies should be applied evenly and consistently to all employees.

TAB: Give us more details on what an employee handbook should contain.

Maher: We advise our employer clients to use the handbook in all discussion with employees that are asking for anything “extra.” This helps them avoid giving people special treatment. Conversely, employees that are not “feeling the love” can sit with their employer and talk about written company policies and how they should be applied evenly. If the rules are written, they are easy to follow. They are for all involved to know and follow, so use them professionally and to your advantage when you are not the “teacher’s pet.”

The employee handbook, then, needs to be very well thought out in order for its implementation to be succeessful. It should include your company’s policies on time off, benefits, pay, promotion and intra-office communication. Inc. has published a comprehensive guide to help you get started or rework your existing handbook.

Of course, this all assumes that you have the right people working for you to begin with. Do you? Hiring in the age of the Internet presents its own unique set of perks and challenges. Get some key pointers from our blog Business Tips from the Top: Recruiting Employees in the Digital Age.

TAB’s Giving Away Books That Will Help Your Business – Here’s How to Enter!

9 Elements of Family Business SuccessThose who follow The Alternative Board’s blog and social media accounts have likely noticed the major focus on family-owned businesses in the past month. TAB began emphasizing this core theme by releasing the results of an exclusive survey of business owners which outlined the unique challenges family businesses face, such as succession planning (or the lack thereof). Shortly after this research was made public, the results were cited in articles from leading business outlets such as The Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine and Small Business Trends.

Additionally, TAB has published a series of blog posts and tips to help family business owners, including:

Family Business Tips from a TAB Board
9 Elements of Family Business Success
5 Questions to Answer Before Joining the Family Business
Tips from the Top: Family Business Issue

In the spirit of continuing to provide helpful advice to the family business community, TAB will be giving away free copies of the book: 9 Elements of Family Business Success: A Proven Formula for Improving Leadership & Relationships in Family Businesses over the next month.

This bestseller was written by TAB founder and chairman, Allen Fishman, and continues to be a leading source of information for family business owners worldwide.

All you have to do to enter to win this “powerful, greatly needed and comprehensive book on all the issues confronting family business”* is enter your best tip for family business owners in the comment section below, and leave your email address so we know how to contact you if you win! You can write a tip that’s helped you personally or simply copy your favorite piece of advice from any of TAB’s posts or books on the subject. Each week TAB’s editorial staff will choose one tip at random and notify the winner via email. It’s that simple, so enter now!

*Stephen R. Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Secrets of Highly Effective People

Business Tips from the Top: 7 Family Business Tips from a TAB Board

business tipsTAB Facilitator/Coach, Doug Roof, shares business tips and best practices for managing the complicated relationships involved in a family business. Doug recently facilitated a meeting of five business owners, all of whom lead a business with other family members involved. They were gathered to share best (and worst) practices based on their own experiences. The discussion focused on bringing the next generation into the business, and preparing them to take the helm. Here are the most significant family business tips that emerged:

Family Business Tip #1: The next-generation family member should start out “mopping the floors”. They need to earn the respect of other employees.

Family Business Tip #2: Establish the discipline from day one of differentiating between “talking business” as employer-employee, and “talking personal” as family members.

Family Business Tip #3: A young family member in their teens entering the business, even on a part time basis, creates special challenges. Their lack of real-world work experience makes it harder for them to understand the necessary separation between family and business relationships.

Family Business Tip #4: Family member employees need exposure, over time, to all areas of the business. Ascertain whether the organization can compensate for their weaknesses and allow them to play to their strengths if and when they assume the leadership position.

Family Business Tip #5: Be willing to accept the fact that the next generation family member may not be cut out to eventually run the business.

Family Business Tip #6: You must manage your expectations, which may be distorted because you are personally close to the family member. Allow them to surprise or disappoint you, and make necessary adjustments to your expectations and plans as they do.

Family Business Tip #7: Differentiate between compensation and business ownership. Compensate based on contribution to business results. Allocate ownership based on any family considerations you deem to be fair.

Running a business is challenging; leading a family business adds another layer of complexity which only family business owners can fully appreciate. What business tips and best practices have you found helpful in managing the complicated dynamics involved in a family business?

business tips

9 Elements of Family Business Success

family businessBalancing familial and business roles present unique challenges in every family business at times. These challenges can become awkward, and it is difficult to find advice on how to manage family business challenges as many business consultants tend to shy away from specific family business topics.

But, family business relationships can also be greatly enriching. They allow family members to share something that is meaningful in their lives. By setting expectations and positioning company operations, many family business challenges can be eliminated, or at least mitigated. In his book, 9 Elements of Family Business Success, TAB Founder & Chairman, Allen Fishman, outlines critical elements of running a family business.

1. Creating & Sharing Personal Vision Statements

A personal vision statement is a written document outlining what you want in life on a personal level. What personal goals are you working toward achieving in your life, and is your family business working toward helping you achieve that goal. This is important, not just for the family business leader, but also for family member employees in a family business. All too often, we find that the family business leader expects family member employees to live the leader’s dream, without taking their own personal vision into consideration.

2. Hiring & Firing Family Member Employees

The expression, “It’s just business—nothing personal” does not apply to family business hiring practices. Family business relationship problems often stem from bad hiring decisions relating to family members. To reduce these challenges, create a clear hiring & firing policy for family member employees, which should include considerations of family member eligibility, evaluation of family member employee’s performance, and grounds for family member employee’s dismissal.

3. Compensating Family Member Employees

The variables surrounding compensation of family members are quite complex and viewed more subjectively than compensation of non-family member employees. Compensation can become even more complicated as multiple family members enter employment in the business. Discuss business economics with your family member employees openly in order to manage expectations, and be sure to instill a consistent compensation plan—and stick to it.

4. Selecting the Family Member Successor

Without a chosen successor and a development plan, your family business will likely die along with you. It could also become an insurmountable burden to the family members left behind. However, you can put steps in place so that your business will have a much greater chance of continuing to successfully run under the leadership of your chosen successor. Few family business leaders think about a succession plan when they start the business, but remember it is never too early to begin planting the seeds of succession by developing your family business succession plan.

5. Grooming the Family Member Successor

Grooming the family member successor for your family business is a critically important step of your succession plan. This can begin informally at a young age, but at some point the family member successor will need to begin training in both the technical skills and soft-skills of running a successful business. Leadership skills are those that most often lack in a family business successor, as these skills are easily overlooked by the family business leader. Mentoring the family business successor and providing formal leadership training is a critically important element in a successful family business succession plan.

6. Aligning the Culture of the Family Business with the Company Vision

Company culture takes on a different meaning in the context of a family business because you have all the cultural dynamics that non-family businesses have meshed in with family dynamics. Family politics and business politics overlap, and the potential for conflict from the family culture takes on a whole new level of intensity. Help ensure that the family business continues to move toward greater success by aligning the inherent culture of the family members in the business with the company vision for the business.

7. Addressing Spousal Business Partners’ Multiple Role Challenges

Spouses working together can, and often do, create family dynamics that are more awkward than other family business relationship. The challenges relating to spouses being family business partners are particularly difficult, in part because the spouses not only work together but also live together. The first step in creating greater spousal harmony in a family business is to create clear definitions of “business time” and “personal time”.

8. Recruiting, Retaining, and Inspiring Non-Family Member Employees

Recruiting and retaining talented employees are challenges for any business owner. But with the added factor of the family dynamics, there are more barriers in family businesses to hiring and holding onto talented non-family member employees. Common concerns include career development opportunities, long-term job security, and resentment over preferential treatment (either real or imagined). By providing honest communication and feedback, you can manage non-family member employee expectations when it comes to their place in your family business. Find creative ways to incentivize non-family member employees and avoid double-standards wherever and whenever possible.

9. Transitioning Ownership to Family Members

The decision to keep the company in the family after the family business leader’s retirement is leaded with questions such as to whom, when, and how the company ownership will be transferred. The answers are the bedrock of a succession plan and cannot be avoided or delayed.

Family business challenges can seem insurmountable at times, but sharing the business ownership experience with your family members can be a very enriching experience. By recognizing the 9 Elements of Family Business Success and creating a structured plan to implement each element in your family business, managing the dynamics of your family business will be far less challenging.

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