Communication A Challenge At the Heart 

Having recently completed another year of research and our annual survey into the challenges that family businesses face – not just now but into the future – we again seeing the ever present issue of communication. In fact the challenges around communication seem to be increasing. So why is that and what can be done?

We now have increasing generation gaps with the average age to be a first time parent increasing to 30 years old,  a 10 year increase. This in itself can mean that the world each generation enters is different by 30 years. The view each generation holds about how we communicate changes – just look at the way the current generation use technology and send a message within seconds and in just 140 characters.

With the average age of a family business CEO being 60 you can see that they might not necessary share the same view of communication. Add to this an increase in the number of blended family members working together through second marriages, step children, adoption and so on – again putting a few potential elephants in the room.

55% of those in and around family businesses would rather stay silent than possibly upset their kin. Poor communication isn’t always because of a fall out – but rather to avoid one. 21% of family business leaders (particularly the founding generation) will make decisions without discussion or consultation. 74% admit to communication being strained. Silence allows interpretation, assumptions and guesswork to creep in – and that hardly ever ends well.

We also have to understand that we all have a preferential style of communication – some of us are thinkers, some are more factual and others emotional. Because of both the complexity and importance of communication within family and owner managed enterprises, and knowing the risks presented by poor communication, we have partnered with the Shirlaws Group to offer readers of our 2015-2016 Annual Guide access to a complimentary online indicator to explore your own style – and that of your family and board members.

By looking at the team as a whole you can begin to develop and adapt approaches for far greater impact.

View our annual guides within resources

Can’t be clear enough

I was fortunate enough to spend time with a friend and business associate this week as he shared the story of selling his business and how he recently signed the deal and announced to a work force that the deal was done. This wasn’t a family business but I was struck by his journey and absolute clarity from the day he and his 2 partners formed the business.

Day one for them was spent shaping what each of them wanted in the future, so much so that they each created a visual montage of their future life once they’d sold the business – the business that really hadn’t even started yet. From cars to holidays and how time would be spent with family once a deal was completed in the future. Each of them had their picture of the future on the wall by their desk.

They also set out with a spreadsheet to calculate each year what the sale value might be – but only once they had each worked out the minimum figure they’d take if an offer was made. Between the three they had agreed on one figure based on thsi and that became critical 15 years on as they negotiated the sale. They exceeed this figure just a couple of weeks ago as they sold their business to Ernst and Young.

If you can really see something with absolute clarity it makes achieving it much more likely!