Creating Momentum in your Family Business

One of the problems that plagues family businesses is stagnation.  This is because those who started the business worked hard to get where they are, and know that what they are doing worked to get them this far.  Some people call it founders syndrome.

That is great.  But did you notice the tense?  WorkED.  That does not necessarily mean it is workING now.  I have seen this from both sides.  I have been the daughter questioning tactics and the founder who insists “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Having been on each side of this issue, I have to say we get stuck in ruts and sometimes we need help to get out of them.

I am a born and bread entrepreneur and as such, I tend to lean toward change.  I find it exciting.  I love trying something new.  Many people find it terrifying.  I have one friend who puts it up there with sharks and public speaking.  I get it.  There is no safety railing on the new path.  You might fail.  Scratch that- you will fail- sometimes.

But here is the real question: Do you want o be comfortable in a business that is falling behind, or do you want to move forward?

You have to evaluate your priorities or you will end up like Sears.  A once thriving company that has sold off many of its iconic elements (bye-bye craftsmen, and Kenmore), still limping along on the strength of its land holdings.

Identify the areas of your business that need some special attention.  Once you have them identified, pick the one that is at the center of the Gordian knot and attack it!  Decide that the need to change is more important than your desire to remain comfortable.

If one of your family members is always going on about a specific area, look at it. Really examine what the market is doing in that area.  Are you still a front runner? Or have you fallen to the middle of the pack?  Sometimes things look like a huge mess out there.  CLUE:  That means you are at the back of the race and you will soon be on the sidelines.

As a business leader you probably have high intrinsic motivation and drive.  You are more likely to go the distance when you are doing something for your business instead of trying to please others. You create a positive vision and let your enthusiasm show. You are a rock star!  Don’t let your honoring of the past blind you to the opportunities of the future. Build on the momentum that you have already created. Hold onto what works while experimenting with new approaches. Do your research. Figure out what resources you need to address the issue. Start small then break major changes down into simpler steps.

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Life is a Beach Cake

Right now I am at the beginning of one of the hardest parts of the business of family.  Saying good-bye.

Just under 3 weeks ago my husband called a family meeting when he got back from class.  I was already in bed, my elder daughter was in another state and the younger one had been online and needed a moment to disengage.  Facetime engaged and all of us present, he told us that his mother had asked him to swing by after class to tell him something.  She had a mass on her pancreas and was going in for a biopsy immediately.

At that point we still had a lot of hope.  It could be benign.  It could be an abnormal growth that triggered her newly diagnosed diabetes.  There were possibilities.  Not endless ones, but some. We planned to bring the daughter back to Texas for a family beach trip that had been planned a little while ago, which now seemed much more important.

The next day my husband went with his mother and father to the hospital for the biopsy.  My daughter and I met them there. They can’t tell you there that it is cancer, but they can and did say there were growths on the liver, colon and glands and that the one on the liver was easier to reach so they would take the tissue sample from there.  We aren’t dumb.  We knew that meant it was cancer and that it had metastasized. A lot.

My mother in law did not want to call her other son who lived out of town.  This is the kind of news you want to deliver in person.  She didn’t want to interupt his and his wife’s day with this news.  But how do you not.  How do you tell them at the family beach vacation?  How do you make this choice?  Can’t we just not?  After all her parents lived into their 80s.  She called.  It was a speaker phone call with two folks conferenced in.  Sometimes the person talking ran out of words, or the tears were too much, so someone else took over.  To this point it is the worst phone call of my life and I have had some doozies.

Eventually there was nothing left to say and the nurse came in to begin the discharge process.  We dispersed to begin the process of processing the hole that had just opened up in front of us.  No little boys spending long weekends with Grandmama.  No Grandmother helping you plan your wedding.  No mother to cook for.  No wife.

Google is not your friend in these situations.  It brings no good news.  It gives percentage of those who get to host 5 more Thanksgivings.  Not what you want to read.  There are supposed to be 20 more, not a 30% chance of 5.  You rationalize that 5 years will allow all her grandchildren to remember her, but the obnoxious voice of logic says those numbers are for patients whose cancer is caught early.

They said 5-7 days for results.  Appointment on Tuesday.

We all went to the beach.  That was how we started to prepare;  making new memories as a family. We had a house with 2 grandparents, one aunt, two sons and their wives, and 5 grandchildren.  It was quite a rocking beach party:  drip castles, beach walking, wave breaking, fired up grill, beach buggy driving, beach cake (see picture above, photo credit to Chris Casey), fajitas, cuddle puddles, and pumpkin carving.  We have a ways to go in this journey, but I think we started it off on the right foot.