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Resolutions for Family Companies

Posted on Monday, January 4th, 2021

We are finally turning the page to 2021 and there will no doubt be thousands of articles written summarizing 2020 and all that happened – good and bad – and how we can look forward to the New Year with lessons learned and optimism. Rather than repeat all of that, I just want to put a couple ideas out there to Iowa family businesses for ’21.  Resolutions

I’m not asking you to do much – you don’t have to lose any weight (though I need to) and you don’t have to learn a new hobby or speak a second language. I would simply encourage you to do 2 things this year. Two. That’s it. (At least for a start.)

1. Have a Family Meeting. YOU CAN DO IT!!! I know what you might be thinking. Dan – “what if X, Y, or Z comes up? What if my son-in-law uses it as a platform to complain about his pay and how I don’t listen to his ideas? What if the kids see this as their opportunity to gang up and force me to think about my exit plans? What if my little sister spends the whole time complaining about how I have been favored all these years?”  

First of all, Whew! You’ve got a few things to unpack there. Second, they aren’t going away on their own. It’s a bit like the Barbie doll that got stuck in our septic tank this spring. The easy thing to try was plunging every sink and toilet in the house to push her out. All that did was stick ol Barbie in tighter (and raise my frustration levels). Next, I pretended it would just eventually “work its way out”. Nope. I learned the hard way through overflowing toilets and an angry wife that that wasn’t working either. Finally, I had to call in the big dogs to suck my problems away. It sucked. And smelled. Where am I going with all of this? Oh yeah – band aids and hoping the problem will “go away” never work. They don’t work with clogged septic tanks and they don’t work with human relationships. You have to address them in an honest AND kind way. Or with a giant sucking hose.  

A Family Meeting can help start those conversations. Create an Agenda. Get it out ahead of time. Have it in a neutral location – or maybe as part of a vacation this summer (hopefully we can have those again). Create some ground rules and start with less sensitive topics. YOU CAN DO IT!!! And if you need a little help, reach out to us.

2. Consider having an independent advisory board. I am putting the emphasis on “Consider” as I know I am already asking you to do a lot just with #1. I also realize that many of you don’t think you need one or stopped reading this article after the title and didn’t make it this far anyway. And just like #1, you’ve got pushback for me. Dan – “I don’t want to be told what to do, it’s my company” “How would an outsider be able to lend anything credible to my complicated business model?” “Why should I listen to you, you can’t even keep Barbies from getting flushed down your toilets.” Fair questions all of them – though I can’t be expected to keep an eye on everything that goes down our toilets, can I?

Anyway, an Advisory Board isn’t there to tell you what to do – they don’t have the time or desire to do that. They are there to give some ideas and perspective, maybe question your decisions, lightly hold you accountable, and help grease the wheels as an independent. And guess what? You can fire them any time you want.  

Simply talk to a couple of business owners you respect and see if they have one. How do they utilize them, what types of things do you discuss, who do you ask to be a part of it, what do they pay them, etc.?  

Ok, I’ve given you a couple ideas for 2021 that don’t involve running shoes or cutting the carbs. I hope you will consider them as positive steps forward for your family business. Beyond that, I would encourage you to join the Iowa Family Business Center and talk with your peers across the state that are building strong family owned businesses.