Change Management in the Family Business

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What does it take to implement real change in the business and family

Change is inevitable in life, the world around us, business and families. It is imposed upon us whether we like it or not. In family enterprises, change helps to highlight those that are aligned, and also those that aren’t. A business that is proactive and operating in a state of awareness is far more able to be open to change and to seizing opportunities. A family business that has become set in its ways and is misaligned will be reactive and forced to firefight.

For change management to be truly effective, the right conditions must exist. But what is “change management”?

The Play

Change management is all about people. How everyone reacts to change and the role they play is vital to ensure successful outcomes. There are four main factors associated with change management: internal (succession) or external (customers’ requirements), and proactive (controlling and initiating) or reactive (being forced to change out of necessity).

Change, by definition, will bring about unknown circumstances which trigger understandable fears. To embrace the positive qualities afforded by change, it is essential to have an environment of ‘play’. This doesn’t refer to frivolous clowning around but rather the creation of a safe and creative environment in which you are permitted to get things wrong as you test out new ways and strive for truly innovative options.

Play is the way children and the animal kingdom learn and develop. There’s no reason why this can’t be the case for adults too, especially in a business environment and as part of managing its change and evolution. ‘Playing’ with the latest gadgets, technology, and media provides us the opportunity to experience ‘free thinking’.

The freedom that play provides enables us to briefly shake-off the encumbrances of the mundane, and stimulate thinking, so it really is beneficial and important to build play into work, family, and life. Play in this context allows the best form of transitioning and succession to take place. This includes designing new roles and shaping the architecture needed to build the new world or next phase.

The Alignment

Creating the right environment is one piece of the puzzle, the other is having a very clear and shared purpose. Why are you doing all this in the first place?

Awareness and a recognition that we should always embrace change, is a step forward and allows us to challenge and consider alternatives. When transitioning, it is the point at which the greatest innovation and opportunities can be identified and seized. The key to this, as with most things in family enterprises, is the alignment; of individuals, family, business, the external world, alongside a clear, authentic purpose.

A business that demonstrates alignment will be more flexible, proactive, energized and able to move at a quicker pace. It certainly provides a competitive advantage. One that doesn’t have this will be slower, distracted (often by internal family dynamics) and in severe cases begin to break.

If you’re operating internally with alignment, it will resonate with the external world, and customers will sense it. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true; many family enterprises get stuck repeating past behaviours  and while the impact may not be felt immediately, it can be the beginning of a slow and painful misalignment which, in time, can even be fatal.

This misalignment causes a shift in behaviours which is the source of culture. The trick is to keep checking all critical players have an aligned purpose, and how this impacts the business and family decisions.

The Future

A bad back requires a chiropractor to make small regular adjustments and so does a family enterprise. To maintain mobility and lead an energized life, constant adjustments are needed. Otherwise, the lack of movement and flexibility will have a crippling effect.

To build a business fit for the future, it’s essential to look at living a ‘future proofed life’. Many will know of ‘future proofing’ as a term used with products and services, but if you take the definition slightly wider you’ll start to see its significance:

 “Future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimising the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.”

 Our ability to implement change is an essential ingredient for success in guiding our businesses into the future.