FRI 19TH OCT 2018


Bringing the family business community together

Look After The People...

15th January 2018 Clare Downes, Circle Communication

The fascination of family businesses and the need to look after the people and relationships supporting them.

Family businesses fascinate me and will continue to do so, I am sure…they can be the best and the worst - and the success or otherwise has little to do with business opportunity or potential and more to do with relationships.

Patrick Lecioni outlined in his book ’The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’: “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

Investment is accepted in IT, capital equipment, finance etc but is enough made in understanding people and how they work together - the core ingredient to real success is the performance of people. When the teamwork is based on the leaders and key members being family, this can produce outstanding results due to the deep understanding of one another. This level of knowledge of each other, can also stop many businesses from being the sum-total of the many parts, in the way that they should be. The parts are too busy pulling against each other for individual gain, to work together for collective results. I feel privileged to have seen this from the inside, as I have been let into many family (and other) businesses at different phases; from start-up to generational family businesses grappling with change to go forward. I have also grown up in and then sat on the edge of my family farming and food production business and seen, watched and also advised, with deep understanding but a non-participatory perspective. In addition to this, I operate within a family business – alongside what I do day to day, I am a partner in our tenanted farming business. 

I am going to focus in this piece on ‘grappling with growth’. I have seen many businesses grow almost by accident, or look to grow in order to ensure a future for the next generation, or perhaps to strengthen the business for a sale - to secure the future of the next generation in a different way.

Often family members may not have worked in any other environment, so lack external experience and insight. Each time a new stage of the business takes place, they are learning ‘on the job’. The issue with this is that there can be a reluctance to ask for help; they feel that it can show vulnerability. The real strength in business is to know when to ask for help and from whom. You will not always make the right choices but by being receptive to an outside opinion, you always learn something.

Business owners are happy to ask for legal advice, financial advice; areas where they feel that they need a professional in the specific field. Why do they not then ask for advice when it comes to supporting personal relationships? If these relationships are strong, the business is fit for purpose, is resilient and able to cope with good and bad. It is not a weakness to ask an accountant to help with finances, so it is not a weakness to ask for personal development support. A better understanding of you, your people - and an openness to develop makes for a better future. 

Growth can go so far with responding to demand; adding people and equipment but it then becomes inefficient, lacks structure and the supposed success is not enjoyed as it becomes all consuming. This is where the ‘enabling exchange’ between the corporate world and that of SMEs is valuable. This could be between family businesses of different sizes. Structure brings with it restrictions but also efficiencies of time and money and processes to adhere to. The agility of smaller businesses, are their strength; this is particularly seen in times of economic uncertainty. If the two types of business truly share, both can benefit. It is about being open to learn. You can add people for so long to a growing family business but then you need to be able to develop and manage these people. They need to be replaceable, so that a key departure does not leave you in a challenging position.

Too often in the S’s of SMEs, business owners can be reluctant to bring in new team members but once they are in place, they are left to self-manage. This can work until they leave. You need to learn to allow your team to breathe but also understand what they are doing. This may involve new skills - and you can ask for help! Just because you run a business, you are not expected to know everything in advance. You often feel the answers intuitively but just need someone to voice it to and ensure that you have thought it all through, before implementation. Give yourself permission to ask for support! 

The other question you need to consider when facing business growth is – is it for you? Growth is seen as a mark of success but you have to be sure that you want all that goes with it. Many SMEs start based on an idea or the passing down of a family business that needs to be reshaped for the current marketplace. You just get your head down and work hard but do not really consider the outcome and how this fits with your life.

Make sure that you review what you want your life to look like and make the right decisions for you – not what other people expect. This is where having the self-confidence to make the right choices is vital – and this can be hard to do on your own. Again – find the right external support, listen to the right people – and you will make the right decisions for you at that time.

They have to be your decisions – and then you will sleep easier at night with the consequences. Make the decisions before they make themselves. 

About the Author - Clare Downes is the founder and managing director of The Circle, founded to encourage, develop and promote positive communication.  Find out more and contact Clare here



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