Lessons from the Successful Family Business World

The content this week contains thoughts on important lessons from the successful family business world.

Successful family businesses often start with the premise that hiring, promotion, and performance decisions regarding family members are made using objective criteria–they take as much “family relationship emotion” out the decision as possible. Their goal is simply to avoid letting relationship based bias or favoritism get in the way of what’s best for the organization.

Furthermore, and very importantly, they make sure all family members know this from the beginning, even before they start work. The expectation is stated and clear: Your position as a member of the family is not going to interfere with the best interests of the company.

From the very start, everyone understands that the best interests of the company are the first priority in making decisions and nothing else, not even family relationships, are a greater priority.

These family businesses understand something all businesses should. Bias toward individuals can, sooner or later, get in the way of business success.

The quote:

“Several companies have explicit policies against cronyism, with good reason. Hiring a family member simply for a relationship can be troubling and may not necessarily serve a company’s interests. But by and large, financial firms in particular commonly hire people who have certain connections, whether through family or a business relationship.” ― Andrew Ross Sorkin

Andrew Ross Sorkin. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/andrewross657440.html


The content this week contains thoughts on firing or “freeing up someone’s future.”

The national headlines make this a better week than usual to write about ways to approach the choice of firing someone.

In our view, there are only two reasonable reasons to fire someone (other than for criminal behavior). The first is when they do not meet clearly stated expectations. This is a “performance” based firing. Often, the responsibility for poor performance is shared by management as well as the individual. This is the case when there is a poor fit between role and person or a lack of training or resources to do the job well.

Sometimes, on the other hand, there is a lack of motivation by the employee and this lack of motivation translates into sub-par performance. If this is the case, you’re probably better off walking away than trying to change motivation. While there are no absolutes, if someone lacks motivation and they don’t respond to your attempts to inspire them, they probably aren’t going to become one of your even average performers.

In the end, if expectations are not being met, moving to redeploy or fire someone is a hard but necessary action for the health of the organization.

The second reason to fire someone is because he/she does not share your organization’s values. If someone does not share the values that drive you and is an under-performer, it’s an easy decision to make. Why keep him or her? This is in contrast with the situation of someone being a great performer but not sharing your organization’s values.

In the latter case, the great performance is at the expense of shared values. A common example of this is when someone does their job well but does not respect co-workers and/or customers. The tradeoff here is between employee morale and an individual’s performance above average for someone in their position.

I can say, we’ve never seen an individual’s contribution to the bottom line above average for their role, exceed the cost associated with turnover and productivity of offended employees. Mathematically, one could express this as (Revenue Contribution Above Average for Role) < (Cost of Turnover of Offended Employees + Cost of Lost Productivity of Offended Employees).

While it’s not easy to calculate the values associated with variables like “Revenue Contribution Above Average for Role,” the point, hopefully, is clear. Even top performers in any given role, cannot overcome the cost of their disrespectful behavior (because it inevitably affects multiple individuals).

Please let us know if you have questions. Firing someone, in most cases, is a hard decision, made only slightly easier by being clear about whether it’s for performance issues or values concerns.

The quotes:

“The single biggest lesson I learned was when a hire isn’t working out fire them fast. My biggest mistakes, and where I’ve seen the worst results, were when I gave someone too many chances, or let a situation drift on for too long because I couldn’t bring myself to terminate it.” ― Cindy Gallop

“We should be firing bad teachers.” ― Malcolm Gladwell

Cindy Gallop. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/cindygallo545502.html

Malcolm Gladwell. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/malcolmgla662351.html

In Praise of Anger

The content this week contains thoughts on anger.

Daniel Goleman, of Emotional Intelligence (EI) fame, quoted Aristotle to add color to his definition of EI. As Aristotle put it, “to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

Aristotle’s quote predates (by a long time) the work of Goleman and others on EI. It also highlights how anger, in the right measure and delivered in the “right” way, is very much a part of communicating to others with emotional intelligence.

Perhaps it’s just my blind spot but it’s easy to think that communicating with EI means never making the audience of your communication uncomfortable. That is not true. Indeed, masking anger or other strong negative emotions is emotionally un-intelligent. You rarely fool anyone about how you truly feel and removing anger altogether robs your audience of important information.

The trick is to modulate your anger to the point where people keep listening and do not withdraw in fear or ignore your distress. Too much anger shuts communication down. Too little anger and your message is easily dismissed. Like the temperature of Goldilocks’ porridge, you need your anger to be “just right.”

The goal of increasing your emotional intelligence is NOT to be like Spock (unemotional). It is to be more sophisticated when communicating so that how you are feeling does not overshadow the content of your communication.

Let us know if you have questions.

The quotes:

“When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.” ― Mark Twain

“When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” ― Thomas Jefferson

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mark Twain. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marktwain125615.html

Thomas Jefferson. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/thomasjeff132201.html

Ralph Waldo Emerson. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/ralphwaldo120981.html

Huddle Meetings

Huddle meetings have the ability to maintain focus on the priorities you set. They make accountability easier and provide a forum for repairing relationships that are strained (talking things out always beats allowing grudges to ferment).

Done well, they take 10-15 minutes. Done well, people share what they are working on, what they’ve succeeded at and where they are stuck. They also facilitate setting up a separate meeting to deal with “stucks.”

The ideal frequency depends on your team’s difficulty with accountability. Teams that are relatively new may need daily huddles until all members can be expected to work on their priorities independently. I don’t like to go more than a week between huddles, just the same, in case a “stuck” is left unattended.

Huddles are a powerful management tool. Especially when combined with clear expectations, clearly communicated. Make your life easier by implementing a daily or weekly huddle.


Become a Maestro

A maestro, among other attributes, has given up the role of contributing directly to the output of the organization. Instead, he or she, guides others in a way that maximizes their contribution. So too, the coach does not play the game (the output of the team) but instead guides the players to do their best.

Making the transition from musician to maestro or player to coach is not easy… or for everyone. For some, the fun is in playing the music or the game and not in leading others. Many try to have it both ways. They are player-coaches, if you will.

The trouble with being a player-coach is that it’s hard to be good at both roles simultaneously. It’s hard to maintain a high skill level at each role and, perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to maintain the difference in perspective required by each role.

My best counsel is to drop the musician/player role and to get good at being a maestro. It seems to me that your leverage is highest when you are at a maestro level because of how you can affect the people who work for you.


Celebrating Success

Celebrating success is a challenge for most of us. Indeed, the irony is that those who are the best at accomplishing things are usually the worst at celebrating them. Is that you?

If so, take the time to celebrate and while you’re at it, to express gratitude and appreciation for the efforts made by you and by those around you–your team.

The key instruction here is to TAKE TIME. Schedule it and make it happen. Fighting fires or attending to a crisis is easy compared to taking the time to reflect on past success. No need to wallow in nostalgia. But important to spend a few minutes EXPRESSING APPRECIATION and generating some GOOD FEELINGS about a job well done.

Know Thy Self

The content this week contains thoughts on knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The most successful leaders we have worked with are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and not resistant to relying on others to take on tasks that are not in their wheelhouse. They are also good at seeking the perspective of others whom they recognize as having a different point of view and, therefore, something valuable to offer.

For example, a current client has a unique technical expertise that makes him in demand in the market. He knows his strength is in conscientiously attacking a problem and working out a viable solution. He prefers to work alone and to take on one challenge at a time.

He’s an excellent technician but has little interest or practice in networking with potential clients or making sales calls to secure the next contract. He may be an exceptional partner with someone who is more people and sales oriented but on his own, he is likely to have trouble getting steady work.

The point is, of course: Alone this client has a small chance of thriving but, partnered with someone with complementary skills, the chances of thriving increase significantly.

This example has relevance for leaders at all levels of an organization because even though the details can vary, the fact that all of us have areas of strength and areas of weakness is invariable. The best leaders accept this fact and act accordingly.


The content this week contains thoughts on prioritizing.

Setting priorities sounds easy and sensible.

It is sensible but that does not mean it’s easy.

Even if you’re not one to procrastinate, it’s commonplace to lose sight of what’s important or a priority. That’s just the way we’re made. It’s why the squeaky wheel gets the grease and why we get drawn into fighting fires every day, no matter how big they are.

As a leader, your task is more challenging because, in addition to setting priorities for yourself, you have to set priorities for others and then communicate those priorities clearly (which means, defining what success looks like and when the task is going to be reviewed).

A couple of tips:

  1. Set your own priorities every day. Make a list (written or electronic) and keep it short. When a task gets done, replace it.
  2. Think about your list before committing to it. Answer the questions: What’s the most important task for me to work on today? What’s after that? And, so on.
  3. Appreciate the power of the discipline of creating a list of priorities. It’s simple to do and doesn’t take long but it takes your effort to make it a habit. Once it’s a habit, you’re in good shape (think of establishing the habit of flossing your teeth).
  4. Understand that people need you to constantly communicate your priorities to them. If “drift” (working on tasks that are not a priority) was eliminated, you could probably cut your workforce in half.
  5. Accept that priorities change and revise accordingly. It’s okay when it happens and practicing “letting go” is important (more so for some than others).

Hiring for Fit

The content this week contains thoughts on hiring for fit.

If you are reading this, the chances are high that you’ve been exposed to information on personality or leadership style (e.g., The Eight Dimensions of Leadership). So, you’re probably familiar with the notion of seeing people as extroverted or introverted and people-oriented or task-oriented.

The advice is to determine what the best fit is for a given role and the personality characteristics of the person being considered for the role. Too often, there is a mismatch between the demands of a role and the characteristics of the person in the role or being considered for the role.

This is frequently the case when a task-oriented person, whether introverted or extroverted, gets promoted to managing others (a role arguably best filled by people-oriented individuals). They may be exceptional at getting things done but unless the person learns to be more people-oriented (through coaching or self-awareness or both), he or she will inevitably start to “lose” some of the people who work with and for them. This, in turn, reduces productivity and engagement–a net loss.

Other common mismatches are introverted/task-oriented sales people, extroverted/people-oriented accounting specialists, and introverted marketing managers.

To combat mismatches, work to understand the personality characteristics needed for a given role and sort candidates based on introversion/extroversion, people/task-orientation. Look to those who have been successful in a given role in the past and understand their personality characteristics. Use assessments like the DiSC to guide you when judging fit.

There are always exceptions but it’s usually easier to have success when the fit is right from the start.

Business Mindfulness

For whatever reason, mindfulness, in general, does not get the attention it deserves in the business world. There are exceptions (General Mills, Aetna, Google, and others) but mindfulness is not a tool that’s regularly brought out like cash flow analysis, project management, leadership development, sales training, etc.

This is unfortunate because mindfulness can reduce stress and stress is common in every workplace. It may be due to the spiritual aspects of mindfulness and the basic oil and water mix of business and spirituality.

Have no fear, mindfulness, at its core, does not require a spiritual belief system. At its core, mindfulness is about staying in the present, in the “now.” The benefits of staying in the present are better concentration, better problem solving, better communication, increased self and other awareness and the resulting improvement in relationships, and resilience in the face of stress.

Staying in the present offers all of these improvements because, by staying in the present, you are less likely to let your mind take off down any of several unproductive paths. These paths include catastrophizing (thinking about the worst possible outcome), figuring out how to avoid any criticism or CYAing (interfering with relationships), and plain old “time wasting” by needless fretting. Going down these paths mentally is common, even normal, despite the inefficiencies.

To practice mindfulness, you need to learn to stop your thinking when you find your mind starting down any of the paths mentioned above or others. Easier said than done. But once done, it’s relatively easy to refocus on the present and return to more productive thinking (observing, interacting with others, planning, etc.).

In brief, implement this plan:

  • Notice when your focus turns away from the present.
  • Reorient yourself to the present by refocusing on what is going on around you and/or your breathing.
  • Return to focusing on the present (observing, interacting with others, planning, etc.).

Best wishes with your attempts at becoming more mindful in the business setting! As always, let us know if you have questions…

“The main business case for (mindfulness) is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be a more effective leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.”–William George