Keepin’ the Peace in a Family Business

In the realm of landscaping, tree care, and lawn care businesses, the blending of family and enterprise presents unique challenges and opportunities. The essence of this intricate balance was eloquently captured by Eleanor Roosevelt’s sentiment, “The trouble is that not enough people have come together with the firm determination to live the things which they say they believe.” This quote, often the concluding remark of Paul Sessions’ seminars, took center stage at the outset of his presentation during the NALP’s GIC Workshop at the GIE+Expo in Louisville, Ky.

Paul Sessions, serving as the director of the Center for Family Business at the University of New Haven, delved into the nuances of “Stewardship, Succession, and Peace in Your Family Business,” shedding light on the peculiar stressors intrinsic to family-owned ventures. With 80 to 90 percent of all U.S. businesses being family-owned, the statistics are sobering—70 percent do not transition successfully to the second generation and a staggering 90 percent of those that do fail to reach the third. The rarity of businesses that thrive into the fourth generation and beyond stands at a mere 3 percent. Among the myriad reasons for such failures, poor communication is paramount.

The fine line that family businesses tread between personal and professional realms necessitates robust communication channels. Skills deemed as common sense are, in reality, complex to implement, especially when emotions run high. Sessions explored this dynamic through a flow chart detailing reactions to conflict within and outside the business context:

  1. Conflict arises from an event or situation.

  2. Personal filters shape perception, where biases, prejudices, and beliefs cloud objective understanding.

  3. Justifications are formed based on these filters, often leading to negative assumptions.

  4. Emotional responses such as anger, sadness, happiness, fear, or shame emerge.

  5. Behavioral responses are triggered by these emotions.

Sessions advocates for a “pattern interrupt” between the emotional and behavioral responses, urging individuals to pause and reflect on their perceptions and assumptions. This introspection—questioning the validity and exploring alternative truths—aims to foster a more measured and positive action.

Transitioning from communication strategies, Sessions emphasized the significance of early planning in the succession process. Identifying family members who embody the requisite skills and values is critical. The challenge lies in impartially assessing family members, recognizing that passion for the work is vital and that roles should not be imposed. Yet, entitlement attitudes must be checked; longevity within the business does not guarantee suitability for leadership.

A well-articulated succession plan is foundational to clear expectations for the future. Such a plan must transcend thoughts and be documented, detailing strategic and developmental trajectories, transition timelines, and estate considerations. Sessions underscores the importance of sharing this plan with family members to ensure alignment and clarity.

As business owners contemplate stepping down, starting with relinquishing minor responsibilities can ease the transition. A gradual withdrawal, avoiding the pitfalls of “semi-retirement,” aligns with the structured approach advocated in the succession plan. Trust in this process and the decisions made is essential for a smooth handover.

In closing, Genette Gregson encapsulates the journey of a family business as a perpetual evolution, stating, “A family business is a never-ending journey, one that is continually evolving. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on something, things change, and you have to adapt quickly and efficiently.” This perspective underscores the dynamic nature of family-run enterprises, where adaptability and commitment to shared values pave the way for lasting success and harmony.

Be Well, Do Good Work, and Keep In Touch.

Fred Haskett

To Learn More Contact Fred at TrueWinds Consulting

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