Hubler For Business Families

Formalize the Love in Successful Family Businesses - Part Two

The common family vision - both a promise and a rallying cry

Key Takeaways:
  • An ideal common family vision should unite the family around its shared values.
  • Each family member should aspire to achieve his or her vision, with the understanding that no one will ever get 100 percent of what the person wants.
  • Once the family vision has been established and agreed upon, each member should recite it every day - it's both a promise and a rallying cry.

As we discussed in Part One of this article, it's not unusual for family businesses to put off dealing with issues as a way to maintain family unity. Unfortunately, that approach usually backfires, as we saw in the case of Jones Construction.

Jones was in real trouble when I was brought in to help the company. The stepmother and her daughter-in-law were not talking, the son was not joining family celebrations, and the dad felt isolated. The company was successful and profitable, but the family was in turmoil and it was beginning to affect the business.

Address the issues
We began with an initial family meeting to find some common ground. We talked about the issues, concerns and challenges that the business and family faced. In follow-up meetings we developed an action plan to address the issues that were identified. Here are a few of them:
  • Updating and producing a well-constructed buy-sell agreement
  • Preparing a common vision to unite the family
  • Developing a financial exit strategy
  • Discussing and determining who will lead the company and who will produce a business plan
  • Leveraging contributions to the 401(k) plan
  • Getting everyone talking!
They had a lot of work to do. The family meetings started by creating the first-ever Jones "Common Family Vision." Each family member wrote his or her own individual vision and shared the family values most important to that person - so important that the family member wanted to see them perpetuated in the company. This helped balance the critical zone where family values and business requirements come together.

Create a family vision
An ideal common family vision should unite the family around its shared values. Each family member should aspire to achieve his or her vision, realizing that no one will ever get 100 percent of what the person wants. However, each person is called upon to make a contribution to the common good out of the person's generosity, love, sense of abundance and the trust that "if I make a contribution now, other family members will do the same when their turn comes."

It's so important to do this that I encourage each member to recite the common family vision every day. As both a promise and a rallying cry, it continually reinforces the reciprocal commitment that family members have made to each other's success in the team.

Jones Common Family Vision
The strength of our family business is our dedication to one another, our employees and the quality of our work.

We create a legacy of integrity that is committed to acceptance, kindness and respect for each other that allows us all to grow, have fun and enjoy our work.

Strengthen communication skills
Once the Jones family had written its common vision, they started having regular family meetings to strengthen the family's communication skills. I introduced them to the Collaborative Team Skills process to make it easier. Collaborative Team Skills is a practical, skill-building program about communication styles, talking skills, listening skills and problem-solving skills. The program starts with a simple yet highly effective thought: "Say it is so when it is so." This helped irritations from accumulating and terrifically improved the communication skills of all four core members. Each family member worked diligently to improve his or her communication - and it worked. Just learning how to share feelings made a huge difference in resolving issues. They learned to share a hurt feeling instead of acting out the hurt. It may sound like a play on words, but in action it was a game changer for the family.

With improved communication skills, the family used its meetings to discuss expectations. All relationships are bilateral, which means one person needs the other to carry out their respective roles at work or in the family. It's the same idea as stardom: A movie star cannot be a star unless there's a supporting cast. This is true in all our relationships. In a movie, the cast knows what to say and do. But in life and work those actions are ambiguous or assumed. Yet each of us has expectations about what a good co-owner, spouse, sister-in-law, father or son does. We need to discuss those expectations so that everyone knows. And when the family talked about expectations, everyone began to understand and respond, and things improved.

Understand each other's wants

The dad and his wife were able to share what they needed from each other in order to thrive. For instance, the dad needed the space and time to do things the way he wanted, rather than how his wife wanted. On the other side, the wife wanted to be heard and respected for her opinion.

The stepmom and daughter-in-law worked hard to learn how to negotiate their expectations. They shared what they needed to thrive and learned how to make appropriate adjustments. For example, each of them agreed to check out her assumptions and give the other the benefit of the doubt before just assuming the other was trying to hurt her.

The dad and son also learned to get comfortable sharing what they expected from each other in order to thrive, communicate respect and show their love. I was honored to witness a moment when they renewed their commitment to each other. They continued on to comfortably work as a team to confront and resolve succession planning and other issues the company faced.

Real-world examples
Here are a few examples to demonstrate how significantly the dad and son brought things into balance:
  • They hired an operations manager consultant to guide them in reorganizing the company. In that process they clarified their roles, developed a business plan and are considering hiring a general manager to run the company.
  • The dad is working with a new company accountant to develop his financial exit strategy and determine how his son will acquire the dad's half of the business.
  • Both the dad and son are working with their new company attorney to revise and update the buy-sell agreement.
  • The dad and son are working with their new 401(k) vendor to correct previous errors so that all recipients achieve maximum benefits.
Make relationship commitments
Jones Construction is a small family business that made family meetings a pathway to a whole new sense of family and business. The family will hold two family meetings a year as a way to maintain progress. They tell me that every day they recite their common vision and reciprocal commitment to each other's success. They will use the communication skills they learned in the Collaborative Team Skills process to efficiently manage their differences.

Large or small, complex or simple, startup or generational, in my opinion, business families enjoy life, family, relationships and business much more when they take the time to formalize the love.

Read Formalize the Love in Successful Family Businesses - Part One here.

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