When a family business leader announces that the firm has switched CPAs, or is retaining a new law firm, others in the family may wonder about the reason for the change, but they don’t wonder about what an accountant or attorney does. It’s different with family business consultants. Relatively few family firms have experience working with family business consultants, so uncertainty and curiosity about what to expect is natural.
A family business consultant specializes in helping family firms deal with a wide array of challenges including succession, conflict, governance, communication, performance and strategic planning. The emotional content of family firms is what makes them different from other businesses. Family business consultants need exceptional skill when it comes to dealing with family relationships. That is the key distinguishing trait between family business consultants and other management and organizational consultants.
A family business consultant often begins an engagement with a discovery process highlighted by a family meeting. The meeting may be required attendance for everyone in the family, including spouses and those who don’t work in the business. At this meeting the consultant will begin to gather information about the family dynamics and business issues and also explain the process that will be followed. After the family meeting, individual interviews will be conducted, again with a broad range of family members, including owners, employees and others.
When issues are identified, plans will be prepared and changes will be implemented to address the issues. These may include organizing family retreats and councils, identifying successors and planning for succession, assisting development of job descriptions and compensation plans, developing governance systems, conducting training in conflict management and communication and assisting with drawing up strategic plans.
After initial implementation, the consultant will help ensure that the desired changes become embedded in the corporate and family cultures. Often, much of this work consists of helping family business members cope with the emotions that naturally arise in the face of change. Unless emotions such as fear, hurt and resentment are dealt with effectively, lasting change is doubtful.
Maintaining the changes is the final phase. The consultant will assist in setting up milestones and performance benchmarks. The family will be advised to schedule regular family councils help review and measure on the progress being made. Often, family business consultants are retained for longer periods and conduct return visits to see how changes are holding up and whether adjustments are needed.
Like other professional advisors, family business consultants are there to help families make decisions, not to make decisions for them. Armed with their understanding of the emotional undercurrents that are so important in family businesses, they are well-positioned to help business families make decisions that will help everyone involved achieve their goals.
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