Helen Froggett-Thomson from The Accountancy Practice shares some more of the strategies which they have employed to hand the business over to the next generation. The Accountancy Practice gained a coveted place in the finals for the prestigious Hertfordshire Business Awards in 2019, for Best Family Business.
This is the second part of a two part feature. If you’d like to read the first instalment covering points 1-6, which offer tips on how to avoid overwhelm, limit stressful encounters and guard against demotivation, please click here.
It’s important that when you work with members of your family, you aren’t in business mode all the time. Especially if you work from home. You NEED some down time. No matter how hard this may be to create. Forcing yourself to go out, say to the cinema or a gig, having a spa treatment or a meal out provides you with a different environment to recharge. And while you’re at it, ban ‘work talk’!
7. PLANNING LIKE A PRO: To avoid ‘talking work’ the rest of your waking hours, try to plan in set meeting times, with outcomes and action points agreed like you would for standard business meetings. Quick morning planning meetings can work well so you both know what’s going on that day, and agreeing your daily priorities can significantly decrease the chances of dropping the ball and ending up blaming each other for any problems. Don’t rely on memory and ‘who said what’. Create a list using whatever method works best for you. Make it as easy as possible for everyone to know exactly what’s expected and by when to help life run as smoothly as possible.
8. CREATE CLEAR ROLE BOUNDARIES: Try to create discrete and separate roles within the business with no overlap. This will mean that everyone has clear responsibilities and it’s best to document them. Simple but very effective and it’s something that often gets overlooked in family businesses where too much is assumed.
9. AGREE GROUND RULES : Bad feeling can simmer and boil over, and combined with historical ‘frank and open exchange’, can mean that tempers flare and arguments can arise. Which apart from being indulgent and damaging to respect levels all round, can have an unpleasant effect on non family members who witness any of these exchanges. ‘Things getting personal’ can be a disaster for a business. Emotions need to be curbed in the way they would for non family members. It’s easy to revert to old roles and it’s something to keep a watchful eye and ear on.
10. ASSUME NOTHING: I’ve already mentioned assumptions and this can be a big factor working with family. You ‘assume’ you can trust people and this can give you a blindness, a false reassurance. I would advise that you follow up things that do not resonate happily, in exactly the same way that you would follow up a unexpected comment or extreme reaction from a non family member. Letting things go because ‘it’s just mum having an off day’ or ‘you know what dad’s like’ is lazy and will cause problems that could mean the end of the business.
11. ADULT TO ADULT COMMUNICATION: It’s a good idea to turn the tables and encourage the offspring to ‘train their parents’ in how to be better communicators. I would strongly recommend looking into transactional analysis if you want to help your family business thrive. Adult to adult communication is the only way forward for any business and when running a business with your family, you already have the odds stacked against you.
12. THIRD PARTY INVOLVEMENT: If the going gets tough, consider involving a calm non family member as an unofficial (or official if needed) mediator in conversations which you know are going to be tricky or you know have provoked disagreement in the past. Make sure they know why they are there. Help prepare the ground rules by agreeing that interruption is not allowed, very difficult in practice– they may need to constantly remind people to hear the other’s point of view. And obviously arguing and shouting are a complete no-no. They must be prepared to call time out on a meeting that is getting heated, without getting sucked into it themselves.
13. LOOK AHEAD: Handing over the business should ideally be done over a two or three year period. It’s taken the original boss years to get their experience and insight and it’s unreasonable to expect the next generation to know everything overnight. Patience and respect need to be continually revisited.
14. PASSING THE BATON: Working out a plan together for sharing the knowledge on the key roles and responsibilities is critical to sustained and consistent success. Some of it can be gained from the parent and other areas would be best found outside the business (on open courses, networking meetings or industry events) to give the new director external perspective, to gain their ‘tribe’ in the industry and make a name for themselves as separate to the founder, and most importantly, discover new ideas with which to take the business forward.
Working happily side by side with your family can be one of the most productive, life affirming experiences for all involved. Helping to create a legacy to pass onto the next generation gives a sense of continuity and purpose, and like any business, it has its unique challenges and opportunities. I wish you and your family all the best!