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Family Business: Preparing for the 21st Century

“Family businesses that manage these five innate advantages are well placed to make the 21st century a family business century.”  This assertion is the conclusion of a Harvard Business Review* article I recently discovered.  So, what are these advantages and is your business prepared to fully benefit from them?  Here’s a brief summary of each along with the questions businesses and families need to ask themselves.

Think out loud – Carefully

You will find that anything you say has enormous impact on the people around you.  You may make an offhand comment and find that people have scurried around to do what they thought you sent them a signal to do, even though you were merely thinking out loud.  If you do think out loud, you may be viewed as indecisive because people feel that you change your mind too often.  Similarly, a hint of a negative comment about one of your employees is likely to echo through the grapevine and reverberate to a much greater extent than you ever intended or believed possible.  Consequently, you may not have anyone to talk about your own problems in the organization.  You may not be able to think out loud.  Many CEOs take on confidential advisers for this reason.  Doing so is not a sign of weakness or an indication that you can’t perform your job; it is simply a functional necessity.  You will probably find that you do need to talk things out, and it helps to have someone you trust serving as a sounding board.

Achieving Success by Contemplating Failure

As business owners we are driven to achieve success. It is who we are.  And it is why we are entrepreneurs; working harder than most with higher risk so we can experience that success. Failure is anathema to our very being.  But, by taking the precaution of contemplating failure we increase our chances for success. Harvard Business School Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management Amy Edmonson studies why businesses fail and suggests four questions you need to ask before starting a new venture in order to avoid failure.

Recognizing & Regaining Perspective

Is the glass half full or half empty?  How you answer depends on your perspective.  For someone who has always received a full glass and now is being told this is all the water available, this picture can be a perilous omen.  On the other hand, someone lost in the desert might describe it as salvation. Perspective is critical when making decisions within your company.  A distorted perspective can lead to the wrong decision, sometimes with disastrous consequences. 

Overcoming Decision Fatigue

I was perplexed at the outcome of a recent meeting with a prospective client.  It was with a business owner referred to me from a current client.  This owner clearly was motivated to grow his business but was “stuck in a rut”.  In discussing the terms of engagement, he recognized the value and cost-benefit of my services.  It was a positive meeting resulting in scheduling our first regular client meeting. Two days later the owner emailed to cancel this next meeting stating he was “just too busy to take the time.”  Needless to say, I was surprised.  Could he have found and hired another consultant?  Or was my fee to steep? My current client who referred this person assured me the owner could afford the fee and had not hired someone else.  My client said this had become a pattern for this owner; identifying potential solutions but never carrying through on them. This got me thinking

Business Planning vs. The Alternative

When I think of the need for planning, I’m reminded of the husband who volunteered to plan and prepare Thanksgiving dinner for his wife’s extended family.  Following his well-meaning plan, he started preparations the evening before including taking the turkey out of the freezer.  It was still frozen the next morning when he went to start cooking it.  Needless to say, his wife was not happy.  But at least his plan included ample appetizers, side dishes and desserts.  Imagine what it would have been like had there been no plan! Businesses are a lot like Thanksgiving dinner.  A poorly thought out plan will result in crisis.  Having no plan leads to

Management 101: Overcoming Frustrations to Reach Goals

Frustration is a common sentiment I hear from owners first seeking my advice. Their frustration stems from not having been able to achieve goals despite their unwavering efforts. Sometimes the owner had a plan but was not able to deploy it effectively. Or, the owner was always finding “great ideas” but ended up barraging his staff with a never ending list of “great ideas” not understanding why nothing got done. The other end of the extreme is the replication trap of being stuck in an endless do-loop, too busy to even consider alternative plans. These owners come to me for a fresh perspective; a different way of looking at their operations. I was reminded of the benefits offered by a fresh perspective from an unexpected source: A public school district.

The Small Business Forum: Owners Supporting Owners

In doing research for The Small Business Forum, I found two authors who succinctly describe a major source of frustration for business owners.  The first states: “One of the toughest things about starting a business is the feeling of loneliness and isolation…. The leadership position alone can cause loneliness and disconnectedness, and that sometimes results in self-defeating behaviors.”  I’m sure many owners can relate to this sense of “isolation” as well as the “self-defeating behaviors” listed by both authors:  Conflict avoidance, Procrastination, Intimidation or Subpar feedback to employees. How can owners overcome this? Both authors point to building and regularly consulting with a trusted team of advisors.  This is perfectly describes the purpose of The Small Business Forum.

Topics for Year-End Conversations

I recently broke a promise I made to my wife.  I promised I would not bring up politics at our family’s Thanksgiving Day table.  Well the conversation turned to college football and started to get heated. I quickly changed the topic and asked what everyone thought of our presidential candidate choices.  The tone of the conversation immediately calmed down. It is amazing which conversation topics turn heated and which are seemingly too uncomfortable to bring up. But some conversations need to be had