The pleasure and pain of growth
23rd August 2018
The successful growth of a business needs to focus on the growth of its people. So often the development and integration of systems and processes are the priority. Our asset that most determines success in business, is our people. In family businesses this key asset can be far more impactful than in non-family businesses. It can also be misunderstood, particularly when bringing family and non-family together. The best collective results are achieved when investment is made in people.
We set-out thinking - to grow a business is to be successful. Sell more, do more, have more...but have more of what? When we start, we think that more means good and if we can start a business, surely we can grow it. It maybe that we have actually started it, or a generation or two before us. Whichever way, to come in at the growth stage should surely be the easy bit? Business owners usually find that this is not the case. This duty of business preservation and development is heightened in a family business where you are deemed a custodian for generations to come. You are constantly reminded of previous family members who created and initially grew this wealth - and now it is your turn.
Often in a family business you can come into this role heavily weighted with responsibility, with little or no specific training. You may have worked your way up through the family business or earned your stripes elsewhere. Sometimes you have not even done this and are put in a position of responsibility by virtue of your name alone. Whichever route, it is not easy managing growth in any business and the challenge can be greater in a family business because of the level of expectation and the difficulty in being able to walk away. Along with this, can come a difficulty in asking for help. You may not want to expose perceived weakness to other family members and will not want the team to think that you do not know what to do. Just because you have a certain family name, it does not mean that you know everything that there is to know about business growth and how to effectively manage this process.
Growth can come in various ways. Often after the initial start-up and organic growth period, progressive development may need some help. You may look at mergers, acquisitions, new areas for the business. All of these come with more people. People can be the biggest issue for a growing business. The integration of new team members from other businesses is a delicate process that is often not given due consideration. It is not just about merging systems, processes and working practices but most importantly the integration and understanding of cultures.
You need clarity of your own business culture and ethos, before trying to bring a new group of people into this. Often in a family business the culture at the outset is dictated by the founder or founders. As a business grows this philosophy is more difficult to maintain. If you then add in a new team with a differing set of values and beliefs, the task becomes even more challenging. A clear set of values and behaviours combined with a defined vision, makes this process much easier. If your team know what principles they operate to, the transition of new team members will be made easier. It will help you to recruit, retain and foster the future of the business.
In growth there is also often a need to extend beyond the family for skills. This can be difficult to accept and also not always be the easiest environment for a non-family senior team member to step into. This is where clarity of purpose is vital, so that it is not a closed-club for family members only. Also, it is important that everyone is aware of the benefits that non-family members bring to a business. You need to trust, confide and learn. Select carefully and then fully embrace the value that they add.
People are at the heart of a family business. Where people are involved, conversation must be had. People need to articulate concerns, vulnerabilities, feelings. Nobody goes through life without a need for support at some point. We learn from experience and we need to try new approaches out, straighten thoughts in our mind and reflect on how we feel and others around us may feel. This all only helps us to be more effective leaders and better members of a team. Hopefully potential issues are resolved before they become actual issues when open dialogue is part of the culture of a family business.
When you are considering how you grow your business physically in terms of turnover, infrastructure etc...also consider how you grow your people. However great your product or service is, it will be greater if your people are prepared and equipped. It will also be limited in its delivery if the people are not able to cope and are looking inwards rather than outwards. Still, today, in this era of technological design and development, our asset that most determines success is our people. In family businesses this key asset can be far more impactful than in non-family businesses. It can also be a misunderstood and under prepared asset, if the investment is not made in understanding every individual to ensure the best collective results.
As a starting point, it could be useful to address some key questions:
- Is there a clear culture in your business that is sustainable beyond family?
- Do your people understand, operate and deliver in line with your values?
- Is there a process of transition into the business for non-family members, to ensure successful integration?
- Are family and non-family members valued equally for their contribution?
- Are you really looking after your people at all levels and listening to them?
- Do you manage any growth activity effectively around the needs of your people i.e. merger, acquisition, or quite simply business growth?
- In what ways do you recognise that people are your most valuable asset – and is there scope for improvement?
Since 2001, I have been working within business via my own successful brand communications agency; www.monkhousefoodanddrink.co.uk. This has given me a privileged position of seeing into the workings, challenges and aspirations of many businesses; start-up, managing growth and change, generational family businesses and larger corporations. I use this experience, coupled with my executive coaching accreditation and client experience - to work closely with individuals, teams and businesses. Coaching, strategic business thinking and marketing communications - often end up combining through my work. At other times they operate separately; all depending on what a client is looking for. I add to this my experience of running my own successful agency for seventeen years - and my understanding of family businesses as a partner in a family farming business and a daughter from a farming and cheesemaking family business. I understand behaviours, culture, values and the day to day necessities of keeping a business and the people within it, on track.