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Living in Dad's Shadow

“My father is so good at everything he does.  Everything he touches seems to turn into gold.  He is revered by his employees and respected in the community. I am not sure I will ever be as good as my father!” These were recent sentiments shared with me by the child of a successful business owner. Have you ever wondered what it would be like being a son or daughter in a successful family-owned business? On one hand, the perception is that it is such a blessing since business success affords the opportunity to enjoy some of the finer things in life. On the other hand, being the son or daughter in a family business can be quite challenging because the microscope is always upon you and at times it appears surpassing Dad’s or Mom’s accomplishments is insurmountable.

During my travels and interactions with business owners and their children, I frequently encounter adult children who feel as though they are living in their parents’ shadows. Generally, a person who has built a highly successful family business is extremely driven, hard working and all consumed by his or her work. Often the children of these driven business owners are raised in privileged environments and find it very difficult to create their own identity. Other times the children harbor resentment because their mother or father spent more time with their first born child, the business, than they did with their real children during their childhood years. The fact is that it can be very difficult to be the child of a successful business owner.

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Family Business Harmony – DNA Doesn’t Always Cut It

As a family business succession planner I am commonly asked

  • How do I help families find harmony? - And then more specifically;
  • How do I convert skeptical, envious, petty, self serving, back-biters into unified families? And;
  • How do I help them find agreement on goals and processes that will help achieve a mutually agreeable mission?

My response is that I don’t deserve too much credit because family harmony issues on their lightest days are far bigger than this little guy. What I can really take credit for is being a diehard optimist about the potential of family and not knowing when to give up. As you would expect, like most conundrums, there are multiple answers to questions about family harmony. I’ll take a shot at shedding some light on how some families find harmony and others just remain in a quagmire of resentment, angst and anxiety.

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Family Business Harmony - It's Not An Inalienable Right

To continue my thoughts on how to find family harmony, I think the second thing we all need to remember about  family unity is that none of us have a right or entitlement to a loving, supportive, unified family. Family love and support is not an inalienable right. I contend that outstanding family business relationships, just like outstanding businesses, are achieved as the byproduct of a mystical commodity known as hard work. Those who want to achieve family and business success work beyond the pain to achieve the gain. And if you have not had a dose of reality lately, just trust me when I tell you that wherever there are relationships, there will be pain.

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Remembering to Forget - The Secret to Building Family Business Harmony

My final thought on why some families are more effective at achieving harmony and unity is that successful families dwell more in the present than in the past. As even the presumed role model families will admit, it is not always hunky dory on the family front. The fundamental family motivation is “the good of the present outweighs the bad of the past”. My encouragement and advice to clients seeking family harmony and unity is to “remember to forget.” You have choices. First, do I want this/these relationship(s); do I want to have family in more than name only? If yes, you have to remember to forget the pain of the past as it can and will totally pollute the relationship prospects of the future. Being practical, I am not talking about forgetting that your brother-in-law is a convicted bank robber or that your son is a struggling drug addict. I am talking about the personal stereotyping and resentment that if allowed to taint every personal interaction will build and sustain insurmountable boulders in the pathway to strong interdependent families.

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When Sybil Shows Up At Meetings - How to Deal With Emotions that Impact the Succession Planning Process

In some of my recent client meetings, I’ve felt as though some of my clients that have shown up were completely different people compared to my previous interactions while working through their succession planning issues. When I called one of my clients out on this “difference” recently, it was her remark that “Sybil had shown up,” calling to mind the movie depicting a character suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Not meaning to make light of a true multiple personality issue, I’ve been using the analogy ever since, applying it to the dynamic process that I’ve learned succession planning can be.

So, how can an advisor work effectively with the dynamics of succession planning? First and foremost, we all need to remind ourselves that we’re dealing with people and people are, fundamentally, emotional. Therefore, we are dealing with emotions. Further, we need to understand that those emotions are playing out in the relationships of the people involved in and impacted by succession planning.

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Keys for Resolving Conflict in the Family Business

Recently one of my partners and I were facilitating a meeting between a father and his daughter to work through some mismatched expectations between them in the family business. We had already had several prep meetings laying the ground-work for aligning their expectations, which were all positive and headed in the right direction. They were both excited that we were going to be able to help them get some things out on the table as they typically would avoid one another and leave issues unresolved.

However, once the meeting started, the dad took the opportunity to unleash on his daughter with unanswerable questions and acted like a prosecuting attorney trying to corner the defendant into a guilty plea. My partner and I were completely unprepared for this, and of course, the daughter was equally caught off guard. When I gained my composure and realized what was going on, I interrupted the dad by checking in with daughter saying, “if I were you, I’d feel like I’m on trial right now.” She broke down into tears acknowledging that I was spot on with her emotional reaction. Fortunately, this led the way to salvaging the meeting and beginning the process of working through their differences. Later, we apologized to her for not seeing that coming and for not protecting her from her dad’s onslaught quicker.

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How to Deal With Entitled Family Member Employees

As a family business succession planner I am intrigued with the ten interdependent factors of the Succession Matrix℠: Owner Motivation and Perspective; Successor Identification and Development; Key Manager Motivation and Retention; Strategic Planning; Business Structuring; Management Synergy and Teamwork; Business Performance; Financial Planning; Family Harmony and Family Governance. According to the International Succession Planning Association® (ISPA®), each of these factors independently and interdependently impacts the successful continuation of a closely held family business through the next generation of owners and managers. Each of these factors can be an asset or a liability to the achievement of business succession planning goals.

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Entitled Family Member Employees - Who is to Blame?

So how is it that entitled brats can make their way into otherwise healthy family businesses devouring efficiency, productivity and teamwork? What is it that blinds a hard working, highly experienced, bright business owner to the ridiculous, sophomoric behavior of their children or in-laws who have become profound impediments to the successful continuation of the business through the next generation of owners and managers? Apparently, there are no black and white answers to these questions. Otherwise, I would not be witnessing this pandemic of family business chaos. Otherwise, there would be active dialogue and “How To” books on this subject from family therapist colleagues. Otherwise, I would be encountering “conscious incompetent” business owners who would be saying “We know what we are doing wrong, we know how to fix it, but we just cannot make it happen”.  To the contrary, what I am seeing are “unconscious incompetent” business owners who are excited to have their kids in their business and just don’t have a clue that their business is on the road to crisis, decline, and a significantly reduced probability of “Succession Success”.

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Entitlement - How to Eliminate the Threat to Business Success

What is going on with the boss’ kids? Will the boss fire me if I tell him the truth? How much can I take before I blow and get fired?  Those are common questions asked by the unfortunate employees who are stuck dealing with family business terrorists: enabled kids who think and act by different standards than everyone else who has had to earn their way in the business. The damage associated with enabled family member employees is brutal, and almost always substantially reduces the probability of successful succession. Enablement blocks successor preparation. As we all encounter, experience, and recognize the high price of family member entitlement, the question is: how can this cultural disease be prevented or cured?

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Warning! Why you should Set Performance and Expectation Standards for Family Member Employees

Now, for the conclusion of my letter to Successor. My straight talk concludes with a focus on his “good guy” leadership style, especially in regards to family members working in the business...

On the subject of a culture of tolerance versus teamwork, I am concerned about your “good guy” compulsion to expand the list of family member employees who are effectively, non fire-able employees. You may argue that you could fire anyone, but understand the definition of a non fire-able employee: someone, including but not limited to a family member employee, who will not be held accountable to the point of termination barring significant brain damage that impairs the attitude of the leader, harmony of employees, harmony of the family and/or a combination thereof.

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When Tax Laws Change, Estate Plans Need Review

I sat down with a long-term client earlier this week and was reminded once again of the importance of regularly reviewing your estate and succession planning. This client is the majority owner of a family owned company and has his children involved in leadership roles. He is in his second marriage to a woman who is not his children’s mother.

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Change In Heart, Leads to Change in Plans - Is Your Succession Planning Strategy In Alignment?

Another situation I dealt with recently during an annual review of planning involved what I refer to as a “five minute bomb.”  Five minutes before the end of the meeting with a client, when I’m preparing to leave and go home, he says to me “oh, there’s something else I forgot to tell you” and it is inevitably an intense subject that requires much more than five minutes to handle.

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Family and Business - Maintaining a Healthy Balance

When I think of the word balance, one of the images that come to mind is a gymnast carefully and bravely performing on the balance beam. As a sports enthusiast and competitive person, occasionally when I am channel surfing (which my wife loves), I come across a gymnastics competition and find myself captivated by the athletes and their level of focus, commitment and talent. Although I have never been a gymnast, it is apparent that becoming a successful gymnast and performing well on the balance beam requires an incredible amount of mental and physical preparation. Naturally, it also requires the athlete to have great balance. Like gymnastics, owning and working in a family business requires a tremendous amount of dedication and effort in order to achieve a healthy balance between family and business.

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Harmony, You Know It Don’t Come Easy

My apologies to Ringo Starr.  In case you’ve never heard of him, he played drums for the Beatles during the 1960’s until that family business came undone.  Wait a minute, you say, the Beatles were not family members.  Well, perhaps not by the traditional definition of family; but remember, we define a family business as two or more people together for purposes other than making money.  Whether you’re family, friends, or strictly business partners, personal and professional partnerships are a lot of work; and they require the eternal vigilance of the night watchman.

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Increasing Organizational Productivity - What Could Be Impacting Teamwork in Your Organization

Organizational productivity is dependent upon teamwork, which I describe as two or more people working together productively for a common goal. Team can be expressed or implied, conscious or unconscious but irrespective, organizational productivity depends upon the effectiveness of interdependent, collaborative effort. Teamwork can be fair, good or great, but teamwork cannot be bad because the contingency of teamwork is enhanced productivity. The English language does not give us a word that that describes the negative side of group collaboration which we generally associate with uncooperativeness, inter-organizational competition, backbiting and under productivity.

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4 Steps for Building Family Business Synergy - Changing "Dreawork" into Teamwork, Part 1

Trust is the single most critical component of teamwork. In the absence of trust in owners, leaders and colleagues, members of the “dream” (versus team) are looking over their shoulder and subsequently handicapped in their ability to focus on their assigned task.  Building trust is the first answer to how we convert a “dream” into a team that optimizes productivity and creates the Success Margin®. 

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4 Steps for Building Family Business Synergy - Changing "Dreamwork" into Teamwork, Part 2

Trust is the single most critical component of teamwork. Unfortunately, some people are just untrusting and believe in survival of the fastest and the fittest. Employment is just another opportunity to compete, win and validate their belief that they are capable of looking out for number one. Untrusting people expect others to disappoint and their fatalistic attitude generally creates a self fulfilling prophecy to the failure of a team. All forms of personal interaction have one purpose for the untrusting, improve their own circumstances.  They may be referred to as part of a group but the untrusting think individually and functionally, are team members in name only. 

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8 Seconds After the Boss Is Gone, I'm Gone - Keys for Building Respect Between Your Successor and Key Managers

Over the course of the last decade in working with family-owned companies, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard horror stories of family successors driving their family’s business into the ground. Often times, it is our clients’ fear of this happening in their own businesses that motivates them to hire us in the hopes that we can help prevent this tragedy. In spite of situations that I  have been involved in where, after some time, I begin to share the business owner’s concerns, I maintain hope that I can be helpful in creating solutions to avoid this disastrous downfall.

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Please! What Is Succession Planning and Why Do I Need to Involve Outsiders?

The process of succession planning is significantly different for a privately-held and/or family owned business compared to a publicly held company.  For our purposes today, we’ll be dealing with the privately held because most businesses fall into that category.

Depending upon your advisor’s field of expertise, the definition of succession planning takes on a variety of meanings.  For some, succession planning is all about wills, buy/sell agreements, trusts, and estate planning.  For others, it’s about business performance and for another set of advisors, it’s all about family harmony.

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What You Should Know About Long Term Care Insurance

Per my previous posts on this subject, “Business Succession and Long Term Care,” and “Long Term Care and a Living Trust,” I hope you understand and agree that the financial independence component of business succession planning should address Long Term Care contingencies.

Long term care is not a simple matter even if you have the resources to provide for whatever level of care you desire. Due to the medical circumstances associated with the need for long term care you will need an objective advocate who you believe would have your best interest at heart who may not be your children because as your children may be preoccupied, from the dark side, or you may not have any children. 

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