When I first met my wife, Patricia, I was head over heels in love. Although, just a few years after our honeymoon, our marriage appeared to be less than ideal. However, we decided we wanted to be married so we found a counselor to help us understand and deal with the good and bad we brought to our union. After 30+ years of counseling we have a marriage that isn’t perfect but one that is getting better every day.
Relationships between business partners encounter some of the same challenges faced by husbands and wives. As I facilitate succession planning across the country I hear the full assortment of partnership emotions such as:
- My son/daughter does not listen to a thing I say.
- My dad made me a partner but does not respect me or what I have to offer the business.
- My partner just seems to do whatever he/she wants without keeping me informed.
- My brother/sister has assumed control and does not really care what I think.
Let’s assume less-than-ideal business relationships are marriages; a business marriage, with dependents in the form of key managers, employees, and vendors. If that’s a reasonable assumption, is there any reason why partner counseling should not be considered in the same context as marriage counseling?” Unfortunately, it appears that “partner counseling” is less common than marriage counseling. From my perspective, one reason is there are not enough trained succession planners who will present this idea of partner counseling.
One of the main objectives of partner counseling focuses on achieving a mutual commitment by the partners to acknowledge and address issues, which requires a simple commitment to regularly discuss developing circumstances. A counselor ensures meetings take place and issues are addressed so problems can be quickly reconciled. This is not rocket science; simply meet regularly, stay engaged, and discuss issues.
Some partnerships need guidelines to define acceptable behavior. A counselor can help define these mutually agreeable, reasonable behavior, and attitude expectations which are referred to as Operating Covenants. Covenants are promises, not contractual obligations. As such, the first Operating Covenant is, “No one expects perfection but everyone expects a good-faith commitment to fulfill all mutually agreed reasonable expectations”. The process of setting these reasonable expectations takes time and deliberation but builds a solid foundation for the partners to work interdependently as a partnership team and as leaders of the business team.
There is no reason to take a partner-whipping, significantly reduce the probability for achieving Succession Success™, and continue to put the welfare of family members, key managers, employees, and vendors at risk. When you are in the middle of an emotional swamp, it is easy to be paralyzed versus working to find higher ground. Partner counseling can provide you the high ground you need, save you from unnecessary frustration and stress, also significantly increase productivity, fun, and the prospect for Succession Success™.
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