Dealing With Family Business Dynamics
For many multi-unit franchise businesses big or small, family dynamics is often their heaviest weight to lift into the next generation - whether there is family actively involved or not. There’s an essay on weightlifting and life by Henry Rollins that’s well known in the fitness community (by folks in my generation, anyway). In it, Rollins talks about how finding weightlifting as a young man helped him build strength both physically and mentally. Rollins affirms that circumstances and people will change throughout life but that, “…two hundred pounds is two hundred pounds.” I think one of his points is that the “iron” is a constant, something that will always challenge him.
The same way in which the iron is there for Rollins, family dynamics are a constant force to be dealt with for many multi-unit franchise businesses. Never will they be more necessary to address than when a family business is going through the ultimate challenge of continuing the business from one generation to the next. In my experience with clients, our first meetings can include rigorous discussion of their needs and concerns around business performance, management synergy, leadership, strategic planning, and efficient corporate structures.
But the driving factor that motivates people like no other, is the underlying family dynamics at play. If they are strong, the fear is usually how to keep them that way, to not rock the boat. If they are weak, then the fear is how can the business continue without them getting better. This is especially true if the patriarch or matriarch is no longer around to help keep them together. The dynamics of the business family and the ways in which they must be organized through family governance are always close to the core of the issue.
So what’s the solution? Communication. It’s simple in explanation, but difficult in execution. Just like two hundred pounds will always be 200 pounds, talking to one another productively will always be the answer for making family dynamics better. At the very least, we rarely see it make things worse. However, you wouldn’t just walk over and pick up two hundred pounds and put it over your head, would you? I’m guessing that you might opt to build your strength up over time, so that you can lift that kind of weight. Likewise, there should be some structure to the conversation. You need a forum to provide a safe place for building the skills necessary to listen to one another’s opinions and to encourage productive communication between business family members about the business as it relates to the family. This is one of the most critically consistent factors that can help lead a family business out of the current generation and through the next generation successfully.
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