This is the typical process I go through very frequently with family businesses. They first contact me and we set an initial meeting. I listen to their issues. Normally they describe the symptoms, but they are at a loss as to what is the root cause of the problem or problems they are facing. The symptoms are almost always the same. Here are the most common ones:-
- A family business ownership or leadership that is tired and burnt out. They think it is because the team members around them are not good enough. They feel that they are like hamsters on a wheel – all their time is eaten up by the business, with no time for anything else.
- There are financial problems, mainly being imminent cashflow difficulties. They have no idea why in the past the business did well, but is not performing well anymore. They many times live trapped in some sort of nostalgic bubble of the past, trying to apply what worked in the past and feeling lost why it is not working anymore.
- Family Business Owners in their late 60s or 70s, wanting to pass on the running of their business to their children but are now suddenly unsure they are able or want to run the business.
The root causes are very frequently the same, though in different contexts. In essence these are:-
- A bad work culture, based on tight centralised control, with no clear processes and performance measures. This culture is self re-enforcing, tiring endlessly both employees and family business owners. Micro- management is the order of the day, whereby proper delegation and empowerment are non existent.
- Lack of proper timely reporting and data culture. Decisions are taken on the fly.
- Due to point 1, there is never ever any time to plan and think strategically. Issues are faced when they become a crisis and not when they are clearly visible on the horizon. Hence the business is run by always dealing with one imminent crisis after another.
I normally prefer to start small. So I prefer to review key financial information, their organisational chart and meet the top key persons, to start getting an initial feel of the issues at hand. Based on this I issue a detailed proposal of what needs to be addressed.
This is where I realise we may have hit a snag. Normally the reasons are always the same:-
- Tthey are afraid to have any internal secrets shared with an external advisor.
- They realise of so many improvements and gaps that need to addressed and are afraid of how they will find time to manage the changes needed.
- Some decision maker would be reluctant to pay for any external help, thinking that it will not bring the needed value, whilst underestimating greatly the cost of leaving the present issues unsolved and wrong cultures unaddressed.
- They think that now is not the right time to get external help, as they first need to sort out some thing. That thing never gets sorted as it is linked to a myriad of another issues and a holistic approach and overall change in mindset is needed which is too big to be handled by the family business leaders on their own.
You may think, that since I am a family business consultant, what I am saying is because I have an interest to have family businesses get external help. I wish I could convince you it is not the case. The truth is that it aches me to see family business owners and their employees suffer when they could be using their efforts to improve both their lives and the performance of their business. Change is possible. You have to believe in it and have the courage to take the first step and get the help needed to start your journey along the improvement path. An experienced advisor has lived the present issues your family business is facing with other family businesses and is well experienced to help you figure out the best way towards a better future.
A way out of the tunnel is possible. I have seen it happen. Otherwise I would be out of a job.