We live in a world of conflict overload. Not only is conflict overexposed, but it’s sensationalized and marketed as essential to a “healthy” or “normal” lifestyle. We see conflict in a variety of ways every day. It sells movie tickets, drives reality TV ratings and sensationalizes news coverage.
But when conflict is left unchecked – especially within the context of a family business – it can destroy family relationships and ruin a business. In my experience, family conflict erupts when families lose sight of common or shared values.
Shared values are the cornerstone of sustainability and long-term growth for any family business. Values are demonstrated through our behavior and reflect the guiding principles, standards and vision that drive the culture of a family business. Without defining a shared value system, each family member works at the expense of their own interest and the best interest of the company.
Conflict may be found when the family’s values are in opposition to best practices. Or, they are trapped by poor values such as destructive communication practices, conflict avoidance or protecting the status quo. They continue to work with the short-term vision of “what’s in this for me?”
For example, Jane wants to professionalize the family business by implementing a higher standard of employee conduct; John values maintaining a lifestyle business that means rolling in at 10 a.m., bringing his pets to the office and rolling out by 4 p.m. Jane values the professionalization of the business. John values maintaining a lifestyle business. Or, perhaps a son (Gen 2), pushes for an aggressive growth strategy by increasing volume, while his father (Gen 1) embraces slower growth by developing higher margins over time. In both of these examples, each family member champions their individual value system. Because their shared values have not been clarified, or are not congruent, conflict arises and all members – and the enterprise – are unproductive.
But, there are some simple steps you can follow to help define your family’s shared values and determine what will help your company become more competitive:
- First, recognize your foundation. Like a family tree, every family business is made up of roots (the founders) and branches (the successors). The roots of the family business, in a very large way, define the company’s values, decisions, and strategies. It is important for successive generations to understand their family’s heritage and appreciate the motivations that led to establishing the family business.
- Second, write it down. If your family’s shared values are not written down, they run the risk of becoming distorted or forgotten over time. Having a hard copy of your family’s shared values will help future generations hold fast to the family’s foundation in a world that is constantly battling for their attention. Being able to remember what is truly important is vital in securing the future success of your family business. Not having a documented set of shared values gives each generation the opportunity to re-define what is important to the individual, rather than what is in the best interest of the company’s long-term success.
- Third, evolve. It is extremely important to honor your family’s past. But growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That means your family’s shared values may evolve over time. As needed, your family should collectively reassess its shared values in a manner that facilitates open, honest and intentional discussion.
A positive way to implement change and collectively embrace shared values is through a family retreat at an offsite and neutral location. Every family member involved in the family business, or not, should be included. Topics to be discussed can include family business objectives, family member interactions and healthy forms of communication. The focus should be on identifying things that are helping and hindering the success of your family business. Consider inviting a family business consultant to facilitate your discussions, help you stay focused on retreat objectives, and build in fun.
One of the most important elements in revitalizing your family and your family business is to stay focused on shared values. When your family can collectively claim, “this is who WE are, and this is what WE value,” your family will reduce conflict and your family business will be better positioned for long-term growth and success.
If the conflict feels insurmountable than REGENERATION can help you bridge those differences and turn that conflict into something positive.