“Boys, we have to talk about Brody,” Barbara Drummand said to her sons. Robert turned to his brother Sinclair and rolled his eyes. Their Mom always took Dad’s side when it came to employee issues. As Vice President for Drummand Electrical Supply he felt his job was all about relationships. It was his responsibility to keep customers happy but also to maintain harmony in the office. This was another example of how difficult that could be at this company – in this family!
Sinclair was quiet. Everyone depended on his financial wizardry to keep the company viable. People rarely knew what was on his mind since he was so tight-lipped. Yet Robert fumed on. “This is the last straw. Dad has gone too far. Brody has been with the company for 25 years and he has always been there for us. Just because he missed one deadline does not mean we should come down so hard on him. I’m sick of Dad yelling at people around here.” Everyone starred at him as he stormed out of the conference room.
This interchange may sound familiar to some and to others it may seem overly dramatic, but it is not at all unusual between family members in a family business. Many family businesses could qualify as reality shows and some have! I do not say that as a bad thing. I believe it is a GOOD thing. In fact, it is part of what makes family businesses indomitable.
Separating family issues from business issues in a family business is not an easy thing. Much energy is spent on accomplishing this, but I wonder if that separation is beneficial. In my experience, integrating family and business is often what makes family businesses more successful. Yet most family business leaders (young and old) seek to do the very opposite.
What if we could integrate the “functional” behavioral elements of the family into the pragmatic elements of the business and minimize or even eliminate the dysfunctions?
Yes. It is possible.
In fact, it may be the most critical factor for saving the future of family businesses.
In a non-family business conflict between principals often results in fractured relationships and eventual dissolution. Yet in a family business, conflict is the order of the day. It is tolerated and even anticipated. If that conflict can be facilitated to be constructive then differing opinions can result in higher level outcomes.
In the same way, “family relationships” are the glue that hold the business together. Even in the light of generational differences, diverse values and divergent strategies, family members may insistently complain but consistently persevere. The stakes are higher. Family members who hold senior positions in the business often exhaust all options before just walking away from the family business particularly if they have motive to address their behaviors and commit to change.
Finally, family businesses often provide a foundation for the security and opportunity for the next generation. This often reduces the motivation toward self-serving behaviors for those holding senior-level roles.
The critical factors are ensuring an effective succession strategy, a legacy plan, viable governance structure and a focus on self-reflective behavior for the family business leaders.
In short, behavior precedes performance. When family business leaders recognize how their behaviors impact one another, they have an opportunity to shift those behaviors and in doing so, they will be able to more functionally integrate with their fellow family business leaders as well as with other members of the management team.