One of the staple horror movie scenes shows an actor under the influence of a full moon undergoing a dramatic transformation from ordinary human into a fanged and howling lycanthrope. In what could be described as a werewolf transformation in reverse, family businesses can transform the frightening idea of conflict into a helpful tool for keeping the enterprise strong and healthy.
Before this beneficial shapeshifting takes place a family enterprise must confront the reality that conflict even exists. That’s not always easy. Outsiders often have the perception that family businesses are run by like-thinking kin who always get along. Reality, of course, is that family businesses have as much conflict as other firms, if not more. The initial step in managing conflict is to see that conflict.
The next step is not, perhaps surprisingly, to try to eradicate conflict. Conflict can be healthy. It reduces group think and encourages introduction of ideas that may be contrary to the stated philosophy. That kind of ferment helps a business grow and change to meet changing conditions.
Rather than get rid of conflict the goal is to deal with it effectively so that people can disagree but still respect each other. This is not always easy. Family conflict tends to be emotional, highly charged and hard to moderate and manage. Still, it can be done. One of the best-known examples can be seen in the A&E television show, Duck Dynasty, which portrays the inner workings of the Robertson family and their successful duck call business.
As the TV show makes clear, the Robertsons have their share of conflicts. In addition to the usual intergenerational and personality-based friction that all families experience, they must deal with the pressures of great wealth and instant celebrity. Each episode develops one or more of these discords, which can range from how to manage family employees to how to spend the business’s profits. Often, at least for a time, these conflicts can appear to threaten the family’s ability to operate the enterprise. Yet invariably, by the end of the show, all is settled. How do they do it?
The Robertsons’ formula is simple, effective and applicable to other family businesses. Basically, they have regular, frequent family meetings — in their case, a weekly sit-down dinner — at which family members get the opportunity to air concerns and discuss problems. These unscripted, informal meetings are powerful tools for expressing and recruiting members to a common vision of what the business is supposed to be.
Conflict management doesn’t have to happen at dinner. But no matter what the format or venue, effectively transforming conflict from scary monster to potent management tool relies on some common features.
To begin with, managing conflict means encouraging rather than opposing expression of different viewpoints. Silencing conflict, on the other hand, only allows it to fester.
It’s also important to realize that the best time to manage conflict is now. Whenever issues arise that excite opposition from family members, they should be aired as soon as time permits. Meetings don’t have to be weekly a la Duck Dynasty, but should be monthly, quarterly or at least annually.
Finally, the content of the expression is important. Family members should avoid focusing on past history and instead focus on forward-looking solutions. Simply re-playing old tapes and recounting old grievances is unlikely to spur progress.
Invariably, a werewolf tale features a skeptic who refuses to see the danger. Don’t be that nay-sayer when it comes to recognizing the presence of conflict. And don’t assume that a magic silver bullet capable of slaying the monster is the answer. In family business, the right approach is to shapeshift conflict back, and turn it from frightening monster into benevolent helper.
If your family is struggling to make conflict a benefit to your growing business then REGENERATION can help.