For family business big or small, family dynamics is often their heaviest weight to lift into the next generation. There’s an essay on weightlifting and life by Henry Rollins that’s well known in the fitness community (by folks in my generation, anyway). In it, Rollins talks about how finding weightlifting as a young man helped him build strength both physically and mentally. Rollins affirms that circumstances and people will change throughout life but that, “…two hundred pounds is two hundred pounds”. I think one of his points is that the “iron” is a constant, something that will always challenge him and that will always be there to guide him like a beacon in the night.
The same way in which the iron is there for Mr. Rollins, family dynamics are a constant force to be dealt with for family businesses. Never will they be more necessary to address than when a family business is going through the ultimate challenge of continuing the business from one generation to the next. In my experience with clients, our first meetings can include rigorous discussion of their needs and concerns around estate planning as it relates to their business and their children. Talk of business performance, management synergy, leadership, strategic planning and efficient corporate structures. And yes, these are all important considerations that are both interrelated and interdependent from one another. But the driving factor that motivates people like no other, is the underlying Family Dynamics. If they are strong, the fear is usually how to keep them that way, to not rock the boat. If they are weak, then the fear is how can the business continue without them getting better. Especially if the Patriarch or Matriarch is no longer around to help keep them together. The dynamics of the business family and the ways in which they must be organized through Family Governance are always close to the core of the issue for our clients.
So, what’s the solution? Communication. Simple in explanation but difficult in execution. Just like two hundred pounds will always be 200 pounds, talking to one another productively will always be the answer for making family dynamics better. At the very least, we almost never see it make things worse. However, you wouldn’t just walk over and pick up two hundred pounds and put it over your head, would you? I’m guessing that you might opt to build your strength up over time, so that you can lift that kind of weight. Likewise, there should be some structure to the conversation. A forum to provide a safe place for building the skills necessary to listen to one another’s opinions and to encourage productive communication between business family members about the business as it relates to the family. This is one of the most critically consistent factors that can help lead a family business out of the current generation and through the next generation successfully.
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