ACCORDING to Family Business Playbook, a major issue in family businesses is that often “the owner/founder and other managers are not inclined to communicate openly. This tendency undermines the team aspect of management, hinders succession planning, and can result in missed opportunities for the company.”
To continue my article last week, I am sharing the remaining issues and possible solutions in unifying the family towards their shared vision of aspiring for 100 years.
Lack of transparency
Not everyone in the family is completely informed about specific matters.
To empower family members, they can be assigned their own specific roles. However, since they are the ones responsible, they tend to miss out informing, reporting or even consulting other family members about their actions. This creates gaps in communication. What is supposed to be common knowledge for everybody would not hold true anymore.
Active family members feel that they do not have to explain their decisions, because they are in control. In other cases, family members who have created their own factions in the business only discuss matters by themselves, and do not extend information to the others for reasons related to competition and distrust.
Forgetting to inform (verbally and more importantly through written forms) the other members of the family—especially those who might have been absent in family meetings about the problems—solutions, plans and changes in the family business can cause discord and will lead to friction and conflict. Naturally, non-active family members would react if the continued neglect is not addressed by active family members.
If open communication is recognized as an issue, then an outside family business advisor may be necessary to facilitate a gradual change in behavior. Convening a family council to formulate a communications plan is a good start. The initiative should come from the top. Unfortunately, in most cases, the problem begins with the senior leaders themselves. In cases like this, it would be necessary for the family business advisor to push the issue for resolution.
My one piece of advice is for family members to never stop communicating. Internal communication is vital. It allows transparency, constructive feedback, and puts everyone in the family all in the same page. Communication rekindles relationships and lightens up the atmosphere and gives a sense of belonging to those who might be feeling lost or alienated.
Address issues, no matter how sensitive. Avoid preconceived judgments, and practice honesty. Organize events (family reunions, parties, team buildings, cooperative learning activities and collaborations) that create opportunities for the family members to work and train together, know more about each other, support and enjoy each other’s company.
Policies would have to include regular family meetings no matter the distance. If distance is the problem, online conferences can now be conducted. Professionalize meetings by creating agendas, materials for attendees’ references and minutes. Minutes can now be easily distributed via e-mail and instant messaging platforms. Casual talks are healthy, but it might not be as well directed and comprehensive as structured family business meetings.
Distributing memos is important to facilitate communication, and prevents inaccurate information born out of a “he says, she says” scenario. It is not enough to rely on verbal meetings and reminders. Putting it into writing formalizes commitment, galvanizes professionalism and promotes best practices within the organization.
Simple communication guidelines are important and must be developed to set a common understanding about how and when all members of the family should be informed. In this way, information could be disseminated to everyone without delay.