The good news is that we are living longer and have more time to develop and deploy a business succession plan. The bad news is that many of us will outlive our mental capability while filling important management and leadership roles within the family business. Unfortunately incompetence is usually the result of a cognitive capacity transition that is stressful for both family and management. The no-man’s land of marginal competency creates a dilemma which can imperil family harmony and the welfare of the business.  The question is, should you mind your own business and repress your stress or should you call the question and run the risk of offending parent(s), family, friends, management and advisers? Based upon my experience both options compare to a root canal without Novocain.  Such is the nature of a family business dilemma; damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  Dealing with potentially marginally competent business owners or leaders is an unfortunate, emotionally volatile, pathetic family business predicament.

So how do you deal with the Marginal Competency Dilemma? The only realistic answers are communication and collaboration. Unfortunately, if without warning you just discover that you are immersed in this unfortunate dilemma, the preemptive opportunity is gone and there is little that you can do, except make a choice between keeping your mouth shut, praying for the best, or potentially offending your parents, siblings and senior management. Allow me to encourage you to take the risk, there is just too much involved for you to not step up to what you have discovered. First speak privately, cautiously and highly respectfully with your parent or family member to determine their awareness of the problem that you have identified. When you ask, “Is everything ok?” your parent may affirm your concern, advise you they are taking protective action and/or ask for your help. If you get rebuffed consult with your closest family. If you have the perceived cooperation of siblings, cousins, etc go with the concept of strength-in-bonded-numbers. First meet as a small group to discuss the circumstances, confirm agreement with regard to the perceived marginal competency and develop a plan for expanding your “group of the concerned”.  If appropriate include only the most senior management who are within ear shot of retirement. Middle managers have too much at risk to take part of any confrontation of a family owner/leader. When you have the optimum group  discuss an intervention strategy. Predictably the development of something as emotional as an intervention strategy will require negotiations on the how and when of intervention so don’t be bummed if everyone does not see things your way.  The goal is to do something, create awareness and send out an appropriate “Under Surveillance” notice with as little family and management collateral damage as possible. The goal is not doing exactly what you feel needs to be done. Avoid arguments within the intervention group because these arguments will only detract from the goal of doing something, which is quantum gain over doing nothing. 

Then deploy your strategy to empathetically but resolutely confront the family member with the confidence that you can handle whatever occurs. Plan for a meeting after the meeting to discuss perceived reactions and plan your next step until you have achieved peace of mind. Let’s next discuss what to do when there is no current problem but there are looming issues or a troublesome family history. 

Read my last blog post of this series titled, “How to Address Marginal Competency.”

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