Every cat owner knows the sounds. The deep retching and heaving. The cough that sounds like your cat just may turn himself inside out to eliminate a fur ball. Next may come a few backward hops, as if to distance himself from the mess he just created. Turns out, sensitive family business can cause the same problem.
During a recent planning session with the five members of a multi-generational family business, the CEO of the company did the most accurate reproduction of a cat’s fur ball struggle that I had ever heard. When the laughter stopped he said, “You just hit on one of our family fur balls.”
A “family fur” ball is a topic that gets caught in the throat. Nobody wants to talk about it, and when it’s brought up, everybody takes a few steps backward to distance themselves from the potential discomfort of sensitive family business topics.
In this case, the family fur ball was the spouses’ role in decision-making in the family business. Although the spouses were not shareholders, they were frequently told that their opinions mattered, but they felt marginalized and ignored. What the shareholders didn’t want to say was that the spouses’ opinions really didn’t impact decisions in the business.
…it was clear something needed to be said.
The spouses were not employed in the business and were not familiar with the day-to-day challenges. The shareholders were hesitant to address the sensitive family business topics inherent in the different roles and responsibilities of family members, business owners and business leaders, but it was clear something needed to be said.
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Every family that’s in business together has fur balls. Ignoring them can lead to deep-rooted conflict that can erode trust within the family and the business leadership. Addressing the fur balls takes courage, but here are some steps to take:
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Addressing the family business fur balls builds family strength and supports the sustainability of the business.
The aforementioned multigenerational family business successfully addressed their fur ball.
Going through this exercise opened the conversation to address other sensitive family business fur balls. They are on a journey to improved family and business transparency.
Every family in business together has fur balls.
Every family in business together has fur balls. What are yours? How are you holding back the family and the business by not addressing them? What would it take to start the conversation about just one family fur ball?
Once you’ve addressed these questions, set a date and make it happen. There’s no point in waiting, it will only cause the fur ball to grow in size- and then will become the elephant in the room.
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I work with privately-held and family-owned businesses in the areas of succession planning, strategic business sustainability and governance. I pioneered the program Stewardship for Sustainability and developed The Business Sustainability Score Assessment to help these companies thrive through times of change. I have a PhD in Biochemistry from Temple University and an MBA in finance…
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