How Families Work Together
By Mary F. Whiteside, Craig E. Aronoff, John L. Ward
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2011 Family Business Consulting Group
All rights reserved.
How Family Shapes the Future of Your Business
Nothing is as precious—or as complicated—as family.
After years of work together in the family printing business, members of the Smith family, a close and loving clan, are about to learn that principle anew as they gather for their first family meeting.
The candles have just cooled on a surprise 59th-birthday cake for John Smith, founder of Smith Printing, when he makes his announcement: After 37 years as head of the business, John will retire in a year. He has long dreamed that his children, Rob and Kathy, would take over the business. And he is looking forward to a vacation from the day-to-day pressures of managing the company.
Yet as John sits at the head of the company conference room talking about his heartfelt plans for his children and his company, an uneasy feeling creeps into the pit of his stomach. He had hoped that his children would respond enthusiastically. But although his daughter, Kathy—a 33-year-old Duke M.B.A. who has sparked fast growth as Smith Printing's vice president of marketing—is excited and bursting with questions, the session is in grave danger of stalling on the silence of son Rob.
As Smith Printing's finance VP, Rob bypassed a chance nine years earlier to set up his own accounting practice so he could create the financial-reporting systems Smith Printing needed to survive a recession and grow. But Rob, now 35, has never expressed an interest in leading the company. Instead, the plans John is setting forth now—for shared second-generation family leadership with Rob as the new CEO—seem to depress him.
Though John hasn't said much about Rob's reticence in the past, his son's silence is rapidly becoming too obvious to ignore. Why is Rob so quiet? John wonders. And what does it mean for the family and the business?
* * *
A strong, cohesive family brings a multitude of potential strengths to a business.
Business families often enjoy a sense of shared identity. They benefit from common interests and a shared "language," including private expressions, mannerisms, and communication styles. Family members know much about each other's strengths and weaknesses, and they have abundant opportunities to support each other. They have the satisfaction of learning together about one another and the business. Ideally, they share common values and a sense of mission and purpose.
Even more powerful but less understood, families share a multigenerational history of ancestors, events, and relationships. That history conveys potent behavioral patterns that influence the present and future. These ways of perceiving, feeling, and behaving are woven even more deeply into the fabric of family legacy than nationality, ethnicity, or creed. Any time a business family reaches a point of significant stress or reorganization, as the Smiths have, these family patterns can surface in significant ways.
The Smiths, a composite family created from our experiences with actual business families, don't know it yet, but the transition John has set in motion with his announcement will lead them to a deeper respect and understanding of the power and value of the rich family legacy they share.
A Tool for Achievement. That's what this book is about: how families work together. Like other books in the Family Business Leadership Series, it is a tool to help members of business families achieve a common purpose. By following the Smiths and other families through some typical experiences, it offers help in recognizing and understanding some of the patterns common in business families' heritage. Though the examples we cite in this book are based on the experiences of real families, none of them are actual families, and resemblance to any actual family is accidental. Nevertheless, the principles offered are intended to help all kinds of families make the most of their experience together.
The pages that follow examine how the workings of a family can affect a business. The book discusses the characteristics of normal families. It lays out the basics of "family systems theory," including its central idea of wholeness—that each family is a unique and emotionally meaningful unit with its own structure, beliefs, patterns of relating, and ways of dealing with stress. Just as important, it shows how those patterns can reverberate through the generations, affecting the lives and work of sons, daughters, grandchildren, and beyond.
Bringing about Change. The book shows how to tap the power of a rich family history and heritage to accomplish shared goals. It offers simple tools for improving relations, from writing a code of conduct to practicing effective communication skills. And it shows how to plant the seeds of change by example—by changing one's own behavior in a way that encourages others to work together more productively.
The book also offers help in interpreting trouble signs in family relations. It explains the role of the family professional in helping all kinds of families to reach their goals. Perhaps most important, it offers some keys to setting in motion a family process aimed at learning and growing together.
This process may take many forms. Studying good communication techniques as a group; attending family business seminars and forums; or reading and discussing as a family writings like this one, or others mentioned in the "Suggested Reading List" at the back of this book, can all be helpful. For larger families, inviting a family business consultant to speak on the dynamics of business families can be effective.
Some families use the family meeting as a vehicle for learning, including items relating to their family's unique strengths or values on family meeting agendas. (Family meetings are discussed in depth in Family Meetings: How to Build a Stronger Family and a Stronger Business.) Others find that preparing a family mission statement leads them into a discussion of family patterns of achievement or values. Some families also find it helpful to write a family history or construct and study a genogram, a kind of information-rich family tree that is discussed in detail later in this volume. As families study their legacy together, they often learn much about their own dynamics and the powerful family patterns that so strongly influence them.
Business vs. Family
Bridging the Boundary
Why should business families be concerned with the workings of the family? Shouldn't business and family issues be kept separate?
Indeed, the cultures of family and business can be nearly opposite. Business thinking at its best is a more disciplined, manageable process than, say, anticipating the needs of a child, organizing a family outing, or selecting a mate. Many business owners see great benefit in rigorously separating the two realms.
Yet the boundary between family and business rapidly crumbles when these same business owners begin talking about their most deeply felt life purposes and rewards. When they share goals and values for the business, family plays a central role. Many see the involvement of the family in the business as their greatest single source of satisfaction (or sometimes, pain). "Having my family work with me and continue the business has been the greatest payoff for a lifetime of hard work," some owner-managers say.
These same business owners often treat family ownership as a business asset. Many point to it as an emblem of quality. A company's advertising may boast that "our family has been making chocolate for over 100 years," connoting experience and cohesiveness of management. Indeed, a strong family's common goals, values, and shared sense of belonging can be rich, fortifying soil in which to plant a business strategy. Though "kinship" is a word that is seldom used today, its meaning in the past—of a bond that is constantly strengthening and reinforcing individuals, assigning them value and fortifying their patterns of working together—is a paradigm for today's healthy management culture.
Crucial areas of family and business planning are wound in a Gordian knot. Estate and strategic planning are interwoven with succession and personal financial planning, raising issues of inheritance, justice, entitlement, and equity in both family and business realms. And, as we shall see in Rob Smith's case, personal career plans can become deeply entangled with the needs of the family business.
Family business ownership means that family members share the same economic destiny, riding the peaks and troughs of the business's fortunes together. And family history in turn leaves a deep mark on the business. Because so many of the people working in a family business share the same family history, the business is more deeply affected than non-family firms by employees' ways of thinking, acting, and relating to each other. (See Exhibit 1.)
A growing number of business owners are acknowledging the powerful relationship between business and family and working to integrate the two in the most productive way possible (see Table 1). As discussed below, building an understanding of how families work can speed this process, creating new synergies that can benefit both business and family.
* * *
As a manager, John Smith is frustrated to see his son, Rob, so withdrawn. John has always treated Rob well in the business, rewarded his accomplishments, and tried to expand his opportunities. Now he is offering Rob what seems to him the business opportunity of a lifetime. Yet his son isn't responding. As a father, John feels a pang of concern.
What John does not know is that Rob's dream of starting his own accounting practice, though deferred by the demands of the family business, is still alive. With the family business running smoothly, Rob had decided a couple of weeks ago to discuss the issue with his father. Now, it seems, it is too late. Like George Bailey in the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, Rob feels his personal dreams are doomed forever to take a back seat to the family business.
John also has concerns about Kathy. Unlike her older brother, Kathy sees a role in the family business as a dream come true. As the younger child and a female, Kathy has strived long and hard to win her father's approval. In earning high honors at Duke in marketing, viewed by John as a man's field, she hoped her father would feel more comfortable in giving her responsibility in the business. When she expanded the company's marketing efforts to include more corporations in need of annual reports and other documents, the result was a 20 percent jump in output. For Kathy, her father's expression of delight and pride was as great a reward as her own self-satisfaction. Though Kathy's dream would have been to become CEO herself, she has accepted the likelihood that leadership of the business will be shared with her brother.
As a manager, John values Kathy's abilities and is delighted to see her so enthusiastic about succession. But as a father, he is concerned that she may be taking on too much. Kathy and her husband have both said in the past that they would like to have children at some point, yet Kathy seems heedless of that hope in her eager plans to expand the business. John finds himself wishing for grandchildren, and he can't help but wonder what Kathy is thinking these days about having a family.
Understanding Family Patterns as a Collective Resource
The life which is unexamined is not worth living.
What is the point of delving into the workings of the family?
Understanding how the family works has many of the same advantages as understanding how the human body works. It enables one to appreciate the value of good health. It helps avoid being victimized by unknown forces or influences. It helps to identify hereditary tendencies that can affect the body's welfare. And it helps the individual to explore new ways to function within the body.
For a family, a joint effort to understand how families work can be a powerful vehicle for appreciating strengths and values, for change and growth. This self-study process can help family members cultivate positive attributes and develop greater appreciation and tolerance for each other. It can bring family members closer, affording them new joys and rewards in working together. It can help members be calmer and less threatened by family conflicts. It can free the family to enjoy more humor to leaven their relationships. Above all, it can cultivate empathy—a capacity for understanding and appreciating each other both as a family unit and as individual products of the same family unit.
Freedom from Undesirable Patterns of the Past. Changing problem behaviors in families is far easier than most people think. Family behaviors that impede growth—poor communications, controlling behavior, pressure for unnecessary conformity, and so on—are often rooted in powerful and unconscious family patterns of the past.
The power of family legacy has perhaps been most fully recognized by anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, who suggested that the smallest meaningful unit of analysis in the human family is five generations. A growing number of business families, mindful of these intergenerational bonds, are trying to preserve the most constructive aspects of their legacy, tapping grandparents as mentors and encouraging oral histories and other family endeavors.
An even more thorough look at all dimensions of the family's legacy can pay added dividends. Many of the multigenerational patterns that powerfully influence family members' behavior are largely unconscious. When such patterns are outside the realm of family members' awareness, their power is vastly increased. When people are unaware of influences from the past, they cannot recognize choices or opportunities for change. They are more likely to be trapped in old patterns.
These patterns can be positive. Some families exhibit multigenerational patterns of success, with generation after generation of high-achieving and satisfied individuals. Siblings through the generations may show a strong pattern of teamwork. Parents may tend in generation after generation to support children effectively in their efforts to become independent. Women in a family may enjoy a pattern of family support, encouragement, and recognition for their professional accomplishments. Some families may display a continuing ability to pass on a cherished legacy, such as a business or property, perhaps increasing its value through the generations. Others may reliably help each other through troubled times.
For others, the patterns of the past are constraining or even destructive. Attitudes about expressing ourselves or dealing with conflict are handed down from generation to generation. Divorces or destructive relationships between parents and children or brothers and sisters can seem almost genetically transmitted in some families. In one example, each generation in a family founded and developed a successful business, only to have their children break off in pain and conflict to start their own businesses. This pattern is now in at least its fourth generation, which hopes to break the mold so that a family enterprise will have the advantage of multigenerational development.
Similarly, the offspring of a family of overachievers with one "black sheep" may unconsciously re-create the same set of relationships in their own families. Symptoms of emotional pain, such as alcoholism, incest, violence, and suicide, also tend to be repeated in families from generation to generation. When allowed to remain behind the veil of family unconsciousness, such patterns can continue to shape relationships and affect even the most successful family business.
The best way to use family patterns to advantage—and to dissipate the power of problem patterns—is to learn about them. Building recognition and understanding affords family members incalculable gifts: greater control over their behavior, and greater opportunity to live the lives of their choice. Just as the evil dwarf in the fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin" lost his power after the heroine was able to name him, negative patterns in the family legacy lose their power after they are recognized, acknowledged, and "named." (Continues...)
Excerpted from How Families Work Together by Mary F. Whiteside, Craig E. Aronoff, John L. Ward. Copyright © 2011 Family Business Consulting Group. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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