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Professionalising A Family-Run Business

“We’re a family-run business. We have a good team that we’d like to improve through training, and more importantly, we’d like to bring some professionals on-board as well. It’s so tough to find good people these days.”

“We’d like better systems and processes that can work well even in our absence, and will allow us to take holidays without the worry of wondering what’s going on when we aren’t around.”

“We’re doing well and now we’d like to grow our business. We realize that we need to do something more than what we’re doing just now, and also that we need to do some things differently.”

World over, you will find owners of family businesses echo these thoughts... whether they own a restaurant or almost any other kind of business.

It’s certainly true that finding and retaining good talent these days is difficult, even in a professionally run organization with a slick image that pays well. But before we get to that, there is something more important to start with.

Get your act together internally first

  1. If within the family, you don’t each have a clear set of responsibilities and speak with one voice, fix that first. Without further delay go ahead and allocate responsibilities and agree on the fundamental direction of the business to avoid work overlaps and conflicts.
  2. Be clear about who is going to take decisions in which area of the business and stick with that plan.
  3. Be in agreement amongst yourselves about whether your business really needs someone from the outside. If so, decide what you expect that person to focus on initially, what you expect him to achieve and in what time-frame, and how you all will truly “allow” him inside your business and give him the kind of support that will set him up for success.

This “outsider” may be a CEO, a consultant or some other form of executive that you need in the company to bring about the change you envision... basically a “Change Agent”.

Business goals in which you may need a Change Agent

In such circumstances, a Change Agent could help you not just achieve your goal but could also free up your time to concentrate on things that you really need to do or would like to.

The Right Change Agent must

Now let’s say that you agree that this is indeed the kind of person you need to hire, but feel that finding such a person is a tall order. You are right, it certainly isn’t easy.

I have found that you may not get someone with all these qualities in the exact manner that you envision. You must first be clear about which of these ideals are necessary and which are desirable in your candidate.

Next, you must consider the concept of an interim hire versus a permanent one. World-over, the tenure of an interim executive ranges anywhere from 90 days to 3 years... not very different from permanent CXOs these days, and at times better for your business.

Lastly, being as well connected as we are with social networks now, offers the opportunity to reach out far and wide to multiple and diverse groups who are likely to know a person who could fit the profile you are looking for.

Your approach towards a Change Agent

Once you have the executive on-board, do your best not just to keep him but to make each interaction with him a good one, and that starts with you making that effort.

The best place to start, as with any relationship is trust, and that begins with clarity.

It is said that professionalising a family business is often brought about by working on its people and processes, and that is true. But one must remember that working with people and processes means working with mindsets.

An organization’s mindset is made up of both individual and collective voices that rule decisions. Pay attention to which aspects of your organization’s mindset might be blocking its development.

Remember our beliefs and habits are usually a matter of our inheritance and our experience. Changing them takes an extraordinary amount of commitment, time and rigour.

Think of your own undesirable habits, both in your professional and your personal life, and recognize that even though you may like to change the habits which you know are harming you, actually doing so is easier said than done.

Also be aware of the presence of hidden agendas and biases, and the fact that taking corrective action is by no means easy.

So take the time to recognize what your Change Agent is up against and treat him accordingly. Remember that he is here to complete you and your team in terms of fulfilling your business goals.

Individual accountability is important, but if leads to finger pointing, then it subverts the ability to collaborate with him and defeats the very purpose of the association.

Should you see conflict between him and a devoted team member who’s been with you forever, try and first establish the facts before you take sides. If you’d like “objectivity” to rule supreme in your organization, it may be wisest to take the side of whichever suggestion best serves the interests of the business.

I am not implying that your Change Agent’s suggestions will always be better that the decisions your existing team and you have taken or will take. Simply, that one should allow for this new team member to infuse fresh thought, and deeply consider whether or not each of these thoughts will benefit your organization. If that fresh thought does improve things, put aside egos and embrace it. If not, decline that Change Agent’s suggestion inclusively... to encourage an enduring relationship, and also to send a signal to your existing team about how you’d like to do things from then on.

If you find non-alignment in your thoughts and his happening often, you may need to revisit your goals with him and if necessary also revisit the continuance of his services.

Regardless of your specific goals, remember that your main objective is to professionalise your business by improving its existing practices and habits. In this context, Benjamin Franklin’s words ring true: “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”

There are occasions when despite your efforts, either your Change Agent fails you, or only completes a part of your mandate. In such situations, trusting someone again or starting over, becomes hard.

Keep in mind that your true purpose of hiring this person is to nurture your family business by giving it whatever it needs; so that it can in turn give you what you all need.

You will be doing your business a great disservice if you allow circumstances or lack of patience to get in the way of being its true guardian.

Finally, to move from where you’re at, to where you need to be, be prepared to switch from management mode to leadership mode. As Steven Covey points out, “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

 


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