Dan and his 4 brothers and sisters owned their family business. Three of them were active owners and getting ready to retire within two years of each other. It had long been the plan that their collection of 7 children, the Next Generation, would all and equally assume ownership. The first time I sat down with them, they agreed on "who" would owner the business, they agreed on "when" they business would transition, they agreed on some of the "what" with regards the transaction - tax, estate, and valuation, but they did not have the HOW worked out. Both generations realized that they had ignored the emotional aspects of their family business on the first day of a formal strategic planning project. That’s when they called me.


Both generations were super excited to launch a much needed strategic planning process. So when the first session came to a screeching halt, Dan and his sisters were as shocked as anyone. Progressively, disagreements about direction among the next generation turned into turf battles, which escalated to ferocious accusations related to childhood rivalries. At the end of the meeting, Dan et al gulped at what they imagined the cost of this derailment might mean financially as well as the risk to their succession plan.


[side note:  When a family business puts operational and legal aspects of a transition plan before the emotional aspects of family relationships and the stages of developmental maturity, years of effort can be lost and resources wasted.]


When I stepped and introduced my 1x7x12 approach, it gave all of them an immediate sense of hope that a process does exist, and the tensions that surfaced would not derail them — it would in fact prepare them. 


First, I reconvened both generations with their Strategic Planner to secure the gains made up to this point, and to commit we’d pick it up again when the family dynamics were stabilized. Second, stabilizing the system started with the a series of activities with the next generation active in the company. The three cousins were very skilled as saying they were open to resolution while at the same time pushing up their chins and puffing out the chests with a great deal of self-righteousness. Without taking sides, I coached each cousin to do honest self-analysis on their contribution to the problem, to change the behaviors that put the future of the company at risk, and to dig deep and find within themselves a reason to mature, grow and forgive. Soon we were able to sit as a group where I helped the cousins communicate, offering them words when were at a loss, keeping them honest when they started getting defensive, and helping them to show one another appreciation when we all agreed it was deserved. 


[side note: The goal with adults entangled in old family conflict is not typically resolution, more often the goal is to neutralize conflict -- an important difference when dealing with adults who are unsettled about conflict from childhood.]


Once we neutralized childhood triggers among the cousins, we could move onto present day business dynamics, like teamwork and job performance. We pulled Dan and his sisters back into the fold to discuss their leadership. We discovered together that they had become somewhat lax in fulfilling their leadership responsibilities, and this void of leadership put undue pressure on the next generation, which made them more susceptible to their childhood triggers. Dan and his sisters took proactive steps to lead better: doing better and more thorough performance reviews, making time to be "sounding boards" for the next generation teaching them better problem solving skills, and demonstrating accountability gave them all confidence in each other. 


© 2018 by Stacy Feiner.

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