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33 Business Insights for Regional Family Business

33 business insights book cover

All the latest research suggests that the key concerns for Families in Business are how to successfully grow your business, who is going to take over the leadership after you, and how to find staff with the right attitude that is positive and customer focused.

Family business owners are not always looking for handouts from government, what they need is intervention by Government to create a fair and equitable environment in which to operate.
The following business insights are based on my experience with working in and advising business owners, facilitating business workshops for Business Victoria, and as chair of monthly business owner forums who come together in a confidential forum to share their own knowledge, stories and experiences.

 I will be posting a new insight from my book "33 Essential Insights For Business Owners "

There are no two individuals the same. Over the years I have seen many parents become extremely frustrated with family members who are working in the business and the conversation usually starts with  ' when I was their age '. As soon as I hear this I know who is most likely at fault. It's a sure sign that there is lack of understanding that the next generation have different values and, what was the norm in the past, is not applicable in 2014.

The next generation are operating to a different set of life issues, family emotions and a business environment that is constantly changing. Just because they want to spend less time tied to the business than you do, it does not mean they are less interested or less capable. 

On many occasions the older generation have to learn to let go, allow other family members to make mistakes and be able to sit  down and  discuss what is happening what are the lessons to learn from any adverse actions. Establish a communication process that allows for open discussions and work together to make positive progress.

Be warned , they could be smarter than you. That hurts the ego sometimes.

 Take a lesson from the successful family business that is The Cooper Family Brewery in Adelaide. Family members are not allowed to work in the family business until they are thirty years of age and have worked elsewhere first.

Show me a family without emotion and I will show you a family without soul. The challenge is to harness all those different personalities and individual traits to work in harmony for the common benefit of the family business. so it can keep on creating wealth for future generations.

The failure to do this will lead to disputes. anger, spitefulness and the breakup of marriages and families. The founder or external chairman who can bring these powerful forces together without losing respect for each member and understanding each individual's right to be different, is a very skillful person indeed.

There is nothing more tragic than a family that has been torn apart through arguments over family business issues.

It takes an enormous amount of give and take by all parties to achieve harmony sometimes. There will be individual wins and loses however, compromise is required and the important outcome is that the business is successful and sustainable in the longer term.

Often the founders fail to appreciate that the following generations are not clones of themselves. Its 2014 and not 1960.

The culture of any organisation is built on the behaviours and the beliefs of all stakeholders from the founder through to the newest employees. It's the way people conduct themselves, the way they talk to each other and your customers.  It's the respect they have for each other as individuals and their overall attitude and enthusiasm.

In my experience, it is driven by leadership. That means successive leaders have to be able to lead in the fist place, be able to command and not demand respect.leading by example. You should maintain the founder's passion that has enabled the business to be were it is today. 

Take a look at Richard Branson  and the Virgin Group. There is a feel about the employees and the stakeholders that is different to most other work places.

The challenge as you grow is to implement corporate disciplines, processes and professionalism without diluting the family values and core purpose for being.

The most admired and successful family businesses are those who have maintained family values over the years. It is often the glue that keeps the business going through three or four generations.

There are great examples of families in towns all over Australia who have multiple members across generations working in the business who have kept the original founder's dream alive. That is to provide for the family and build a legacy of ongoing business success  for the future. It's pervasive within the various levels of the family and is a result of respect and understanding for what has gone before them.

Sometimes it is recognised as "that's the way we do around here". It can only come if the founders have fostered this from the beginning.

For many, the hardest decision you will have to confront is making a choice with regard to the business you now own and lead.

It is well documented that there are thousands of business owners who are looking to exit as they have reached the a time for retirement.

For a great majority, the business is also their superannuation.

Do you have family members to take over ? Have you nurtured a successor ?  Do you have to find a buyer ?   Is your business worth the money you think it is ?

What a waste if all those years of blood sweat and tears result in your business going out of  existence. Do you have the courage to make a decision right now and action an exit strategy or a strategy to continue ?

If your staff were interviewed and asked to explain what your vision for the future looked like, how many versions would we hear? Could they paint a picture of the future ?

If you don't know where you are going then how will you know when you have arrived? More importantly how would your staff know what they should be do to help you get there ? Would you hop on a train or a bus if you did'nt know it's destination. So how do you expect your business and it's key drivers, your people, to follow you? Create a vivid picture of what the end result will look like and make sure veryone around you can see and believe in the same image so they can ensure the work they do is leading you to that vision.

It is my experience that less than  fifty percent of family businesses have no strategy or written document that spells out the family succession plan. Given that we read press articles indicating that a high number of older family business owners intend to or are looking for way to retire in the next five to ten years, this is a real issue.

What have you done or discussed within the family to ensure there is a suitable successor to take over the leadership of the family business. You may have an external leader for the business. However, someone has to take on the family leadership.

If you were a director of a public company it would be considered negligent if a succession strategy was not in place. The same should apply to private business. What about need for your staff, your banker, your customers, your creditors and your family to see continuity into the future.

As the owner of a family business, the issue of succession planning should command a high priority. 

Would you build a house without a set of plans and drawings or try to make a movie without a script? Some will say that to be successful in business you don't need a business plan. Just as you could eventually get the house built or the movie made, you will get there in the end. However, there would be a lot of mistakes and wasted time and effort.

It's the process of working through the plan that is important, more than the document you end up with at the end. You should condense your plan to one page that can be used as a monthly control document and can be changed along the way to meet changing circumstances.

If you have loans with banks I would wonder why the bank has not requested to see a formal business plan.

It's what you do with the plan that is important. It should be reviewed every three or six months and constantly updated so it's relevant a fast changing business environment and to keep ahead of your competitors. It's your blue print for the future and, just as there are variation when building a house, You have to be prepared to make changes. Also make sure your business plan is in line with your family objectives.

 To develop your plan get out of your business for a day with staff and family, Stay overnight and have dinner to finish the day off and build better group dynamics. Finally, find an experienced facilitator to keep things on track and to maintain a sense of purpose.

A family business Charter ensures the family understand the rules by which all family members have agreed to as the guiding principles for how family members behave and communicate with each other. It is a valuable written document of the rules of engagement, avoids conflict and ensures that change is managed professionally.

The Charter is the formal document that defines the family values and beliefs on how to handle control and ownership. It details how the business is to be managed including board membership, salaries, and the competencies required by family members working in the business.

The Charter details the way members can enter and exit the family business, what happens if parties divorce, separate or are charged with criminal offences. It also deals with how in-laws are to be included in the business. A properly constructed Charter ensures the family business has a better chance of surviving through future generations.

Sometimes referred to as the family council. It normally comprises those family members who are working in the business and those who are stakeholders. These family forums are an effective way to ensure the family values are maintained especially when the business is at a size when the senior leadership and management positions are filled with non-family members.

Family forum meetings should also include younger student family members so they can develop an understanding of the family vision and values at an early age. Its important that the next generation understands the legacy that the family business is responsible for into the future.

If there is no single experienced family leader then many family companies use an independent chair person to act as a facilitator to ensure no family member can dominate proceedings.

A family forum meeting can become an emotional affair if not facilitated professionally. It offers an opportunity for any family stakeholder to be heard in a non-threatening environment. It's important that everyone hears the same massage at the same time. 

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