How Partners Balance The Great Family Business Oxymoron
A multi-unit franchise family business often erupts in a minor crisis that leaves someone believing there is an only choice solution. There are three oxymorons in the sentence you just read, and they are all italicized so you can spot them right away. Let’s make “family business” the focus for this article because, at some point, a family member is likely to become a business partner.
Loyd Rawls, The Rawls Group founder, believes that no one can run a business like a family or a family like a business. Based on the social dynamics of business and family, Loyd’s belief holds that business success relies on results and that family success relies on relationships.
Keeping results and relationships balanced among business partners and family members requires understanding that each member of the family walks around with several identities that shift from one priority environment to another. Work, Family, Social, Financial Health, Physical Health, and your Personal Operating System make up six different environments, and there could easily be more. For now, let’s consider the identity each partner may have in the work and family settings.
Here are some of the identities you shift in and out of several times a day: Entrepreneur, Business Maven, Financier, Functional Expert, Leader/Manager, Partner, and other related roles. During the same day, you may also shift between possibly conflicting roles: Parent, Child, Sibling, Extended Family Member (Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, Niece/Nephew), and Blended Family Member.
While work can create strong relationships among organizational functions, it usually creates stress on relationships; and your family members and future partners fall into that category. And there’s the rub. Navigating the results/relationships oxymoron takes balance, focus, discipline, and courage. Everything has to be in alignment for the journey to be smooth.
Alignment like that can occur when the family and the business have a shared sense of Purpose, Identify, Values and Beliefs, Capabilities, Behavior, and Environment. Often referred to as the “Logical Levels Model,” the success of family member partnership efforts begins with a shared understanding of Purpose: the ultimate reason for being here and the source of motivation.
Everything begins with Purpose. Financial reward is usually seen as an outcome of business success, not the sole reason for starting a business. The Purpose usually serves as the sense of motivation and inspiration that either pulls family members into the business or pushes them away from active involvement and possibly even passive involvement. A common mistake is assuming that family members, those you want as future business partners, know what the purpose spawning the business looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Unless shared early and often, they probably don’t.
Communicate the Purpose of the business early and often.
- What Purpose do you serve?
- How many times have you talked about “purpose” with future family member partners?
- Do they get it, and do they share the same Purpose you see?
Next comes Identity. Identity is the sense of personal presence you bring into a business and a partner relationship with family members. Any inconsistencies in your identity in each of the environments you play in, the more likely you are to be viewed as unpredictable, unreliable, or some other “un” word that compromises the relationships you can have with others. Whenever possible, be relentlessly reliable; and it is always possible. Reliability is a choice, and it is a choice that no one can fake, and everyone can make.
- How do you define your sense of who you are as you pursue your Purpose
- How easily do you shift from one identity to another?
- How would you describe your true, authentic self to someone else?
Values and Beliefs shape the decision-making process we follow. Values are non-negotiable, even when inconvenient. Beliefs are subject to change based on personal experience or new knowledge. Unlike values, beliefs can be correct or incorrect. Many beliefs can be fact-checked and can change as new processes or procedures are invented or discovered. For example, no one believed lunar flight and exploration were possible until it was done. Now, by comparison, very few doubt it. Values and beliefs are the staying power and the energy of motivation. Having business partners who do not share values and beliefs often proves to be a relationship disaster.
- What is important to you in terms of personal (family) and professional success?
- What do you believe about your potential?
- How can you get beyond your limitations?
Capability, or the application of motivation, includes talent, attitude, skills, knowledge, and style. Sometimes people have a ton of talent that never gets used, so it probably ranks as the least essential capability component. Often, the reason for misuse or under-use of talent falls back to different values and beliefs, a distinct sense of personal and professional identity, or no deep connection to Purpose. That’s a major red flag, and it could well be an indication that you are about to bring in a family member partner who will seldom work as hard as you do to achieve your definition of success. If that happens, caveat emptor!
- What skills do you currently have?
- What skills do you want to develop?
- When do you plan to begin?
When capability and performance do not seem to match, the first instinct is to let people know it is time for them to change their Behavior. Everything we’ve talked about before behavior lacks a physical form other than in belief and energy. Behavior, however, is something that can be seen, heard, and felt. Changing behavior without changing Capability, Values and Beliefs, Identity, and Purpose is the equivalent of hoping against hope, which is one of the more hopeless ways to hope.
- What habits or biases get in the way of evaluating your family member partner?
- How well do you respond to personal and professional change?
- How easily do you recognize change in others?
Environment, the context for motivation, is the playground for everything we’ve talked about in balancing the Family Business Oxymoron. It could be work, family, social, financial health, physical health, or your Personal Operating System.
- Do your environments reflect the person you are or want to become?
- Do the people around you support the “what, where, and when” of the business?
- What, with whom, or where else could business be better?
At the end of the day, if your business stays within the family, you will have some partners whose identities you may have frozen in time and space. They are not you; they are never going to be you. Give them and yourself a break. Be open to who they are and to whom you can become.
People who have a lot of time on their hands once researched the number of ways to make change for a one-dollar bill. To save you the time of going through this process yourself, the answer is 293 ways to make change. As you open the door to bringing in a new partner or becoming a partner with the previous generation, remember that your way of adding value is only one way. There are a couple of hundred more ways to consider, and doing so will help you and your new partners enjoy family gatherings, whether it be around the table at Thanksgiving or a vacation. Go for it!
Dan Schneider is a partner/director of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm. For additional information, visit www.seekingsuccession.com or call 407-578-4455.
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