By David Weaver, Associate, Succession Advisor, The Rawls Group
Jack’s face reddened as he talked with his brother on the phone. It was more than obvious that he was not happy with the conversation which was further confirmed when he slammed the receiver down. We had just been talking about how frustrated Jack was that his brother was not following up on the direction he had been given and the tasks he had been assigned. Clearly, things had not changed.
While Jack is a fictional name, this scenario is not. I’ve seen this type of conversation repeated many times with clients that center around unmet expectations. Most of the time it involves a family member although it can easily be a GM or a manager. The difference is that with an employee, one can discipline, redirect, and if their inability to complete their job responsibilities continues, they can ultimately be let go. This is not a popular option for a family member, however, at least if you wish to be included at family gatherings going forward! While I may suspect that family dynamics play a part in this type of family business management squabble, a big part of the puzzle is finding the underlying causes of those dynamics.
In working with families to help understand perceived issues, one of the first steps I take is to determine if they are on the same page. Do they value and want the same things for the family and the business? If not, there is a disconnect and more of a challenge in matching expectations.
Creating and implementing strategic and operational plans can help set goals and lead to higher performance, but family members working in a business need to agree on priorities and what is truly important. Is it family, the business, the culture, performance, or all of the above? Crafting mission, vision, and value statements go beyond simply mimicking ‘what corporations do.’ Instead, it can help get everyone on the same page, agreeing on how they will conduct business, who will lead, and defines the very culture that is the essence of the business for both employees and customers.
If there is disagreement or underlying issues between specific family members, the source can be more behavioral. If you are a parent with multiple children, you can relate how they each are different – each with their distinct personalities, gifts, skills, and desires. Put these together, and you end up with decidedly different work and management styles. As we point out with our clients, we each possess distinct behavioral styles that can dramatically affect one’s expectations of others and how we communicate. If unable to define expectations or if not communicating with them in a manner they can understand, then it’s difficult to lay the blame with others. Those same mismatched communication styles can also lead to some pretty hostile conversations when performance falls short of expectations.
While unmet expectations may be easily identified as a source of anger, we might want to make sure we are describing the cause and not just the symptom:
- Are your expectations not being met because of one’s inability or unwillingness, or is it perhaps a case of unrealistic expectations? What is realistic for us may not be realistic for others. Expecting everyone on the team to play at the level of Michael Jordan when he played for the Chicago Bulls may have been encouraged and expected but hardly realistic. A driven and motivated future dealer successor will generally outperform other family members who may not want to put in the time or energy even though they may expect to become the dealer. Don’t stop setting high expectations, however, as it’s what drives us to perform well and even achieve greatness.
- Another reason for unmet expectations may be due to an entitlement mentality from the person who never seems to measure up. Growing up, were kids rewarded just for showing up? This trait may have followed them into adulthood where they continue to practice avoidance or overcompensation. Simply being the ‘dealer’s kid’ or having our name on the building is never an excuse to expect more than we earn in the way of respect and experience.
- While we’re at it, let’s also give the other person some credit. How many times have we become frustrated with someone simply because they didn’t do something the way we would have? Their values, beliefs, background, work ethic, can all contribute to how they interpret assignments. Many years ago, I used to work for a CEO who regularly ended his weekly address to managers and employees with the phrase, ‘And remember, good enough never is!’ But how do we know what is expected? Good enough? Stellar? That represents a pretty wide range!
Thinking back on these examples, here are a few suggestions to mitigate problems and give family harmony another chance.
- Gain agreement on establishing and preserving culture across all departments and stores by establishing mission, vision, and values as a family-owned business. Ensure everyone is on the same page about how we will conduct business.
- Learn more about the natural behavioral traits of those who are disappointing you. Working with a professional in administering behavioral assessments such as ProScan, DiSC, or Myers Briggs, can open new doorways of communication and understanding. Learning what ‘makes someone tick’ can go a long way in helping develop better communications, understanding, and mutual respect.
- Set realistic expectations. Recognize that not everyone will work with your fervor, commitment, and drive for excellence. Everyone has their place and it’s your responsibility to match the right person to the right job. This can be tricky with family as some are placed in positions simply to give them a job. One of our partners likes to use the phrase, ‘If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fencepost, you know someone put them there’. While it’s ok to train someone into a position, do not place people simply to provide employment for your family members.
- Meet regularly to clearly communicate expectations. While you’re at it, don’t forget to praise good work! Success breeds success and offering encouragement helps fuel the desire to continue delivering positive results.
- Do not tolerate entitlement most often characterized by unearned demands or self-righteousness. Again, align expectations with performance. Family members need to be treated just the same as any other employee or manager, gaining experience and earning respect. Look for ways to reward current performance, not just past performance.
- Define success. What does it look like for each position? Help employees and managers understand if they are simply meeting expectations or if they are excelling in their role. While somewhat easy to define both performance expectations and excellence above expectations for sales positions, other positions can create challenges. Even in sales, success is not simply defined by volume and gross. While somewhat fuzzier, try to encourage professional working relationships, team contributions, and other areas that contribute to a successful culture.
- Where family dynamics continue to be an issue, create Family Business Operating Covenants, a list of mutual expectations between family members. While not legally binding, Operating Covenants can be reviewed regularly to gauge mutual efforts in working together effectively.
Even with the above-listed suggestions, there will still be recalcitrant relationships and obstinate people who may not or cannot change their attitude or behavior to ensure their work effort is in line with operating guidelines, covenants, and culture. If someone ultimately is not a good fit in the family business, it may be time for them to find success and fulfillment elsewhere. Following the few examples above, however, should give you a great chance of maintaining your place at the table at future family gatherings!
about the author
David Weaver is an Associate of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm. David focuses his work with owners and management teams specializing in strategic planning, business performance, management synergy, and teamwork. He helps identify areas that affect performance and culture – transforming managers into effective leaders.