As 1996 is upon us, I suppose everyone is at least giving some superficial thought to new year’s resolutions. When you sing AuldLang Syne at the holiday parties, it’s supposed to be a reminder to put the past behind you and move ahead to a brand new life. Easier said than done. It takes a lot of effort to change old habits, especially if you have the enormous task of running a family firm where the needs of family are tugging at you at the same time you are trying to expand the business.
Struggling as I do every year to come up with my new year’s resolutions, my mind began to wander as I began this column and I thought about the days when I was a girl and my mother would take me shopping in the second hand and antique stores. One of those stores was Powell’s Books.
Most everyone has had the chance to drop into Powell’s bookstore in Portland. Dropping in isn’t really that easy since the store covers several buildings over several blocks. It is truly amazing to think of a used bookstore the size of Powell’s.
Having grown up in the Portland/Vancouver area I had the opportunity to see Powell’s go from a small relatively unnoticed second-hand bookstore to the multimedia enterprise of today. One has to wonder why Powell’s grew and other second-hand bookstores have not. Some of those other bookstores still exist today looking much the same as they did when my mother and I would browse for bargains. But Powell’s is different. They have a Mission.
The fact is that most families in business do not have a mission, or at least have never thought consciously about one. The family business was started because of a need to support the family or to give a creative venue for the entrepreneur. But once this goal was accomplished no further thought has been given about how to grow the business.
The truth is that most family firm owners do not think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Recent studies have shown that family firms do not grow as fast as other enterprises. One reason seems to be that family business owners are in the business of family. They are satisfied with making a good income that can support the family and send the children to college. There is no desire to burn the midnight oil and to become a millionaire.
However, there is a small group of family business owners who really do think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They are interested in making money, lots of money.
Yet they too have a difficult time making the business grow. In other words, their businesses grow no faster, on average, than other family firms. Again we can look to research for the answer.
Family firms fail to grow because of the complexity of balancing personal life and business development. Executives report that the most meaningful aspect of their lives are their family relationships, yet they gain the most rewards from work. How then do you balance these competing demands to make the most of each?
Take a moment to conduct a short exercise with your spouse/business partner. Each of you take a sheet of paper (8.5 x 11 will do) and draw a line down the middle, vertically. On one side write the heading “Business Mission” and on the other side write the heading “Family Mission.”
Now, without censoring your thoughts each of you write down your goals, values, dreams for the business and the family. Don’t worry about what the other person is writing. Don’t worry if business goals conflict with personal goals. Just write what you want and what you value.
Compare your lists and see where they are similar or different. Notice the contradictions and striking agreement. These lists are the beginning of an important development in your family enterprise. These lists represent the rudiments of your Family/Business Mission statement, a statement that will guide you to an integrated and balanced family and business life.
A second step to clarifying your Family/Business mission is to rank order your lists and/or perhaps to weight the items according to their importance to you. Again compare to your spouse’s list. As you work and rework your list, you may notice that there are some basic truths emerging. These truths are the values that you live by and will be the guide for making all future decisions.
Whether you are the type of family/business owner who desires to grow the business to multi-million dollar proportions, or are satisfied with a smaller successful business that supports the family, your mission will help you stay on track. For years, executives and business managers have known the importance of having a mission for the business, but seldom did they include the personal side of a mission.
With a family enterprise there is no way a business can be successful without including the values, goals and dreams of the family (and each individual involved).
As your mission statement shapes up on paper, evaluate whether you are meeting it today. If not, change whatever you are doing now! Always stay true to your mission. This is a key ingredient to all successful enterprises.
If you want more time with your children, design the business to accommodate. If you desire more independence from your spouse, perhaps it is time to restructure the business so that each of you have more distinct and separate roles in the business.
If your goal is to have your son or daughter work for you or even take over the business someday, begin designing a succession plan (even if the child is 12). If you are getting flabby and your cholesterol is high because you never have time away from work to tend to your health, perhaps it’s time to set up a health and fitness program at work.
Whatever direction your mission is taking you, take note and use January 1, 1996 as your start date for rejuvenating your personal life and your business life. Clean out old habits that keep the business from growing, if those habits do not serve the family or the business anymore.
Come to terms with the rate of growth that is comfortable for you; the rate of growth that keeps the family system healthy as well as the business. Not everyone is cut out for billion dollar international corporate life. Then again, if you are the type who wants to make a lot of money, clean up the sloppiness in your life and get clear about your direction. Afterall, how can a business grow if it has no direction?
There has been a lot of talk lately about “corporate culture,” as professionals become aware that businesses have personalities that guide them as much as competition and the bottom line. A family business is no different and in fact is the epitome of the integration of personality and business.
If you want to make 1996 a banner year, think of your family enterprise as a cultural extension of your family. The values that you teach your children, that your parents taught you and that your grandparents founded the family on, are the same values that you surround yourself with at work. Make sure they are really your values and that you stick to your convictions. Happy New Year!