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Bringing the family business community together

Everyone Should Have A Mentor!

17th November 2019 Kerrie Dorman, Head Mentor at Sinclair Dorman

From helping to get through the disagreements to harnessing new ideas - why every family business should have a business mentor 

All the nuances, daily grind and the jubilations of business are exacerbated within a family. It is not just down to the relationship dynamics. There are so many other ingredients to toss into the hot pot of running a successful business.

Moving with the times, sibling rivalry, parental expectations, nepotism, poor or even complete lack of succession planning are a few of the issues that are experienced within family businesses that mentoring can support, as well as helping to solve the problems arising from these issues.

A question I am often asked is ‘Who in the family gets the mentoring? Should there be one for all or one each?’ 

The answer - every family business and family members is unique - there is no mentoring solution that fits all. It depends on current relationships, responsibilities and levels of ego.

A family business has appeared on my path recently where the 80 year old father has a copy of every single email in and out of the company copied to him. The sister does not talk to the brother despite both operating at senior management level and there is rife, nepotism from father to daughter. Release of shares from father to son have also been put on hold - which means there is  no clear succession plan in place - repercussions of which could prove catastrophic.

In this case I would advise mentoring for the father and arbitration for the brother and sister. Of course, easier said than done as the father does not believe in mentoring or arbitration. To ease the pain, the brother has engaged with a mentor for the time being. Mentoring sessions provide him with a safe, confidential environment to vent frustration and are a sounding board for future plans that he should be able to discuss with the Senior Management Tean. The sessions also allow him to discuss the effects on the employees of the very public tension within the family.  As a result, he is calmer, can see through the family haze and focuses on the outstanding potential the business has  - which is why he is not prepared to walk away, as many would. 

On the other end of the scale, I’ve come across a family run business which resembled a mutual admiration society where reality had been derailed in terms of individual capabilities. Everyone thought each other fantastic! Mentoring was required to survive but sadly not recognised and they went out of business shortly after we met. 

Another family business I know is in the capable hands of the third generation. It survived the First World War and grew under the second generation. The grandson has innovative fresh ideas that have kept the business, now at a headcount of 350 at the top of its game despite a rapidly changing domestic market. He has a mentor to keep his ideas on the straight and narrow and keep him focussed and effective, away from *entrepreneur syndrome, which has been the death of many businesses in the hands of future family generations. 

The uniqueness of each individual situation will be assessed by a credible professional business mentor and a mentoring solution proposed, including alternative methods of support if required, such as multiple mentors, arbitration or legal agreements.

The point is, is that family businesses are different from others. Family relationships undoubtedly have a different dynamic - of course. It’s family. And these should be protected at all costs. However when you are dealing with all the ingredients of similar personalities with parental pride or frustration, maybe a pinch of ego and a dollop of control thrown in, it proves a very tricky environment for a business to succeed.

Outside eyes and the experience of a mentor should be all the more a ‘no brainer.’

About the author - Kerrie Dorman, Founder of the Association of Business Mentors and Head Mentor at Sinclair Dorman.

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