Last night was a great night for watching movies about righting sinking ships.  First, I saw a few minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean.  I tuned in just as Captain Jack Sparrow and the rest of the crew were running back and forth from starboard to port in an effort to right the ship and return to the land of the living. 

Then came the Titanic, the ship that couldn’t be sunk.  Unless, of course, it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.  As the band played, passengers on that ship also got caught up in running back and forth.  For most of them, the outcome was tragic.

Sometimes, we see similar things happen with families, especially when one or both parents try to run the family like it’s an extension of the business or run the business like it’s an extension of the family.  In either scenario, there’s lots of running around and rearranging of the deck chairs; and it’s almost always damaging and sometimes fatal to relationships.

So what kind of icebergs are lurking out there in the turbulent and potentially harsh seas of a family owned business?  Entitlement is a big one.  It can rip through the cultural fabric of your business or your family.  Like the Titanic, you can go down in less time than you can imagine.

You need some good navigational charts to get through the ice flows.  If you’re not there yet, set some realistic expectations about how well you imagine family members to meet cultural and performance expectations.  Even more than other members of your firm, family members must have the cultural behaviors and attitudes that fit your company; and they must also meet or exceed performance expectations based on skills, knowledge, and experience.  During this series of articles, we’ll talk more about how to set and communicate those expectations.

Suppose you’ve already hit the iceberg.  Now what happens?  Well, you have a couple of choices.  You can run back and forth from starboard to port and try to right the ship.  It will keep you busy, but it probably won’t produce any result other than fatigue.

A different approach calls for taking some time to analyze the situation and put things in perspective.  Decide what’s going wrong and what the right cultural and performance behaviors look like.  Then, take some personal responsibility for having allowed the situation to exist in the first place.  When you know what you want to have happen, go to the person(s) involved and begin your conversation with this statement:  “Up until now, we have allowed (fill in whatever it is you have allowed).  From this point forward, we expect (fill in whatever it is you expect).  There are consequences associated with meeting or failing to meet these expectations; and they are (fill in the consequences).

This approach is so simple many readers may have some difficulty believing it will work.  This type of meeting does not have to be adversarial, nasty, or mean-spirited.  It can be very positive and constructive.  Suspend disbelief and give it a try.  After all, it’s your ship and your ocean. 

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