Role confusion is dangerous

The C Family Business is a 52 year old manufacturing firm with operations in Southeast Asia and currently being managed by three branches belonging to the second generation.

There are a total of fifteen second and third generation family member employees-managers actively working in the business and their positions range from the President all the way down to the operating business unit managers.

My engagement was particularly challenging as the active third generation family members (cousins) were already on the brink of a major conflict. The only glue that held the family together then was the closeness of the second generation siblings.

In the course of my initial assessment, I felt that the way to move forward was to transition the enterprise from a family first to a business first mindset while addressing a slew of predictable problems related to entitlement, conflict of interest, envy and a sense of “owner mentality”. In-law participation was also slowly emerging as an added source of acrimony.

A Culture of Apathy and Indecisiveness

To avoid addressing these numerous conflicts head on, the three siblings chose to “sweep these problems under the rug” and looked the other way. This feeling of apathy made my intervention very difficult.

On the one hand, it was a tug of war of sorts between my role as family business coach and my singular resolve to put systems and accountability in place guided by the family’s dream of someday becoming a professionally-run, publicly listed and family inspired enterprise.

On the other hand, I was also confronted by every family members’ dilemma and reluctance to cut loose from the entitlements and perks they have gotten used to for many years! It took me all of two years to finally gain some headway.

Successful Intervention must be processed-driven

So what was the formula for success? Fundamentally it centered on eight crucial areas:

a. A collective decision to stop procrastinating and finally move forward to engaging a third party family business coach;

b. Established Rules and getting everyone to come to the table and agree on Governance;

c. Created a Shared Vision with the same set of values espoused by the founder

d. Initiated the implementation of the Agreed Principles immediately right after the signing of the Family Constitution;

e. Activated a working Board Level Governance;

f. Pursued Accountability where any breach by any family member will mean disciplinary consequences;

g. Educated everybody (Family and Non Family Employees) that ownership is different from management

h. A lot of patient capital from all stakeholders

To quote a portion of the email that Benny (the 37 year old grandson and eldest 3rd Generation family member) sent to me together with his Easter Sunday greetings a few days ago:

“Happy Easter Coach! We remain thankful for your continued guidance in making us realize that yes family is family, but business is business. At the onset, we disliked you for insisting that we all focus on governance and pressuring the family to comply but over time we eventually appreciated what you have done.

The realization happened when you insisted that we go through the process of several sessions in crafting the family agreements. The next change was when you asserted that the family council be activated right after we signed the family constitution as it squarely addressed family member roles and entry policies in joining the business. In short, everyone without exception understood that we needed to adhere to the same rules as anybody within the company.

To be continued…

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