Michael Stolp, SVP and Senior Business Advisor-BMC
During the holidays we take time to reflect on our many blessings. In family business those blessings include health, happiness, prosperity and the opportunity to work with loved ones. What happens, though, when family in business doesn’t always feel like a blessing?
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a timeless holiday tale. In family business, it’s a story that sometimes occurs, only without the happy ending. How do you assure yourself the Grinch doesn’t steal harmony in your family business?
In our facilitation practice we’ve had the privilege to work with different types of farms, ranches and agribusinesses throughout the Northwest. While each business is different, family businesses with enduring success have something in common: All family members extend one another grace and goodwill. Conversely, family businesses that struggle frequently have family members that harbor greed and/or a grudge.
Grace in family business is extending everyone the benefit of the doubt. Goodwill wants what’s best for someone other than you. It’s not about being completely selfless…it’s about focusing on something bigger than you. In a family business, it’s a focus on a common vision grounded with guiding principles or values.
Greed and a grudge squelch the spirit of family business. Greed is about taking more than you give. And those holding a grudge make people pay a perpetual debt. There’s never enough to go around, trust is eroded and relationships are spent.
Consider the story of two families: The Happies and the Hurtings. When the Happies lost their mother, they were left with a successful ranch. The estate settled with all but one question: What to do with mom’s grand farmhouse? In any other circumstance, the home would have sold for a handsome price. However, the Happies’ farmhouse is part of the ranch. Valuing the farmhouse confounds standard valuations and market comparisons. The Happies recognized this and sold the farmhouse to a sibling at a fair, but reduced rate. The sale was cemented with gratitude and relationships focused on more than maximum value or making someone pay for a mistake in the past.
The Hurtings’ story is much different. Their actions bear some resemblance to the Grinch. Instead of a legacy and lessons learned, they see dollar signs and material possessions. When the Hurtings’ dad passed away, poor planning left the siblings as unwilling business partners with unanswered questions. Without a common vision and shared values, the Hurtings struggle to communicate and make decisions. One sibling spent everyone’s time and resources to right a past wrong with legal action. Now, profits are dwindling due to infighting and lost synergies, and the once successful operation is on a path to failure and eventual liquidation. The only thing siblings have in common are convenient reasons excusing them from family events and holidays.
Fortunately, most family businesses are like the Happies. In the Happies, conversations about fair versus equal are understood and accepted. Family members appreciate one another and the family business’ legacy is more than land, equipment and livestock – it’s lessons learned and future generations’ sense of what it means to be part of the family.
Grace, goodwill, greed and grudges are soft topics. But you know them when you see them. More important than recognizing these characteristics in others is to recognize them in yourself. In Dr. Seuss’ story, the Grinch was isolated and misunderstood. Similarly, conflicts in family business often occur due to miscommunication and assumptions. Foster grace and goodwill in your family business in 2019. Make a commitment to communicate regularly, develop a shared vision and ultimately make your business more successful.