I have been using this space of late to discuss family businesses. Most printing businesses—even the largest ones—are family owned. Family ownership is not always a positive factor. Often, it complicates things as we mix two volatile potions: the challenges of a business and the dynamics of a family.
First, let’s review a point from my last two installments. Most important is that, all too often, family members play out their familial conflicts on the stage of the business. We emphasized family boundaries—that family members must be regarded solely in relation to the roles they occupy at work. Not Jim, but sales manager. Not Dad or Henry, but owner or president. In other words, we want to minimize the family focus.
We also discussed the value of children being placed in positions for which they are best suited, rather than on the basis of birth order. Too often, the oldest son becomes president when he may be less suited for that level of leadership than another sibling. An advisory board can empower the current owner by putting together an effective succession.
Today we move on to the management of family conflict.
Don’t fool yourself. If there is a lot of anxiety and discord flowing through the family system, those toxins will infect the business. Anxiety and conflict cannot simply be contained in closed-door meetings. They will flow over and poison whatever they touch. I have yet to see an exception to this. The overflow causes other people in the organization to tread carefully, or worse, attempt to manipulate family factions to their benefit. In either case, the business loses.
What to do?
First, you need to insist that the excessive conflict and stress get resolved. I mean insist to the extent that someone may have to leave if equilibrium cannot be reached. A consultant with family business savvy can help. If he or she is worth the trip to your business, that consultant should realize that whoever is at the top of the organization will have to pull back—detach—from the emotions and calmly lead the way to a solution.
If the owner/president is volatile and a major part of the family problem, the business will suffer until he or she is gone. That person must pull his or her ego out of the struggle and seek a calm resolution to the matter.
But it doesn’t end there.
Somebody Has to Go
If the conflict is between two siblings—often brothers—they will have to learn to detach emotionally and conduct themselves rationally as they try to reach a working equilibrium. If that cannot happen, one or both will have to go.
This can be done. It is not easy, nor is it quick, but it has to happen.
Things can be especially problematic if there is a husband and wife at the top of the company and they do not see the children though the same lens. I have seen this more times than I want to mention. In such a circumstance, the company is paralyzed—polarized into factions. The only way out is to either move one of them out or turn the company over to a non-family member. There are simply no other alternatives to this continued stalemate.
On the Plus Side
Admittedly, the foregoing sounds very grim, but there is a ray of sunshine. If the family-owned company absolutely commits to becoming healthy—and accepts the “somebody has to go” reality as the alternative to not seeking resolution—it is likely that its members will drop their weapons, end the stalemate, and seek profitable peace. Bringing in an outsider who is truly an expert may be a necessary step. That person can act as the lightning rod, rather than the founding father or mother, when tough decisions have to be made. That enables him or her to guide the family out of the storm to a calmer and more constructive place.
Dr. David Claerbaut has spent more than 25 years consulting in the graphic arts industry. You can reach him directly at 702-354-7000 or email him at email@example.com. Learn more at www.MyPRINTResource.com/10746916.