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2 posts from September 2013

September 27, 2013

Fear of conflict in family business

“One of the biggest fears of the founder generation is conflict.” 

The recent announcement in London, Ontario about the listingfor sale of Kingsmills, a fifth generation family-owned department store reminds me again about the challenges of family business succession. Family business succession stories tend to make the news
when things go wrong.  This is a story of success:   a family business founded in 1865, 2 years before Confederation, which has successfully transitioned through 5 generations within the same family until 2013!

In the U.S. 90% of businesses are family-owned, employing from 2 people right up to Fortune 500
companies.  Family businesses account for half of the U.S. employment and half of the U. S. Gross National Product. 

Canadian statistics about family business are a little harder to find.  I looked at statistics about “small” businesses, businesses which employ up to 100  people. According to a CBC report in  2011 these comprised 98% of all employer businesses in Canada, employing 48.3 % of Canada’s workforce.  In 2009, 28 per cent of Canada’s total Gross Domestic Product came from businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

According to TD Waterhouse's 2011 Business Succession Poll of 609 small business owners, just 24 per cent said they had a succession plan worked out for retirement. Of those polled, whether they had a formal plan or not, only 18 per cent expected to transfer it to a family member.

The single biggest issue facing family businesses is succession.  For a transfer within the family, the statistics seem to hover around 30% or less for a transition to the second generation, 15% transfer to the third generation and 5% to the fourth generation. In other words  it’s the very  rare family business that makes it to the fifth generation like the Kingsmill family accomplished in London.  According to that TD Waterhouse poll, succession to the second generation is not even expected by over 80 % of those owners.

That’s a large portion of the North American economy relying on family businesses and not a very robust outlook for those businesses to transition successfully past the retirement of the current owner.

What is stopping the majority of family businesses from considering succession within the family?  In my experience the roadblock is often fear.

One of the biggest fears of the founder generation is conflict.  Many of those family business owners will do just about anything to avoid conflict. The fear of conflict may cause the business owner to avoid succession planning for far too many years, or to close the business or sell it to an outsider when there are family members who would love the opportunity of transitioning into the business.

Two other big fears on the founders’ list are usually loss of control and loss of wealth. 

What can help to ease these fears?  Good communication within the business and within the family.  Tough questions about whether the business can remain viable and the selection or skill of a family successor cannot be addressed unless there is good communication.

A skilled mediator can facilitate the difficult conversations between family members to help the succession planning conversation start.  One of the usual outcomes of this kind of mediation is improved communication within the family.  Whatever the family members decide to do about the succession, with the establishment of good communication at least they will not be driven by the fear of conflict to avoid  decision-making  - and that is good for business and good for the family.

September 3, 2013

What If Your Supervisor is a Bully?

In many workplaces, the beginning of September brings back-from- vacation freshness, a welcome feeling of getting back to routine afterthe summer.   If you have concerns about your supervisor, the return of routine may put those thoughts back at the topof your list of what’s keeping you awake at night.  What can you do to manage that delicate relationshipwith your supervisor and be able to sleep at night?

Is it bullying?

Look at the bullying and harassment policies of your employer. Try to be objective in assessing whether the behaviour of your supervisor falls within the employer’s policies.   The courts have decided that supervisory authority includes the right to assign work, evaluate performance, allocate discipline, and perform other supervisory functions.  As an example, a supervisor has the right to provide performance feedback but a supervisor's behaviour might cross the line when the performance feedback is not constructive, or when  negative  feedback is provided within the hearing of other employees. 

Even if the behaviour of your supervisor is not within the definition of bullying, if it is upsetting, you might decide to take action at least to seek advice from a mentor or senior employee with whom you have rapport.  

Action Steps:

Keep records.  Do not rely on your memory.  Record dates, times, and details including quotes and witnesses as close as possible to the time of the event.  Keep all notes, voice messages, and emails.

Is the supervisor aware that you are not comfortable with the behaviour?  Use your skills of assertion.   See below for more details about this.  If you decide that your supervisor’s behaviour is within the definition of bullying or harassment in the employer’s policy, follow the steps outlined in youremployer’s policy.

If you are not comfortable approaching your manager, Human Resources staff, or other person named in the policy, you could approach a mentor or senior employee with whom you have rapport to help you decide what steps to take.  Remember to ask that person to keep the information confidential.  That person can help you assess whether your supervisor’s behaviour contravenes the employer’s policies and what steps to take even if you decide the behaviour is not within the definition in the policies.   

Even if you decide not to report the supervisor’s behaviour  through the process in your employer's policy, is there a way to suggest ideas to improve the company or department, for example to your supervisor’s boss without specifically denouncing the supervisor?  You might be able to influence change which could help. 

If you decide to talk to your supervisor,  here are some tips for assertion skills in this challenging conversation.

  1. Arrange a time and location when you and the supervisor will not to be interrupted and
    can focus on the discussion. Describe what you want to discuss in a neutral, non-judgmental way.  Depending on your workplace, you may be able to choose to have a union rep or othersupport person present.  As an alternative you may be able to provide your concerns to your supervisor in writing rather than in a face-to-face meeting.
  2. Don’t have this conversation when you are angry. Those movie scenes with the hero  shouting at her or his supervisor during a meeting or across the office cubicles are not recommended for career enhancement.  Before the meeting,  prepare what you are going to say, think about various ways your supervisor may respond, and how you will react to each
    of these.   You cannot control the supervisor’s behaviour; you can control only your own behaviour.  Make sure you communicate clearly and effectively. 
  3. Describe the supervisor’s behaviour neutrally and objectively.  Give specific examples.  Use the pronoun “I” to talk about your point of view in a way that is not blaming or attacking.
  4. Describe your feelings or thoughts about the effect of the behaviour for you.  Keep
    this objective and not a judgment of the supervisor.
  5. Describe what you need in the situation, the way you expect to be treated. 


I've been thinking about your comments in yesterday's staff meeting about me not getting my work done.  I've been uncomfortable because I have several concerns about my workload that I would like to discuss with you.  I feel that I got my work done as it was assigned  when the project was planned.  In the example you mentioned yesterday, the task  assigned to me was changed at the last minute.  I would like to discuss with you a way that we can work together so that we can both plan our work to minimize the possibility of errors and accomplish what we need  to finish the budget for our department.

  Be prepared to listen to the supervisor’s response and,  if appropriate, work out a resolution with the supervisor  that is acceptable for both of you.









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