Coping with loss… is it too soon?

Are you coping with a loss in your life? Is someone you work with? By the time we’re in the workforce, most of us have experienced grief in some way, but rarely does the loss of a loved one or a significant trauma in our lives become a topic we’re comfortable discussing at work. In their new book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore ways we can all help each other cope with the losses in our lives.

Last night I had the opportunity to hear Sheryl and Adam talk about their book, which focuses on how Sheryl is learning to cope with her husband’s death a few years ago. You probably heard about it, since Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and Adam is a well-known psychologist and author. They are good friends and thoughtful, sensitive, and often funny speakers. The audience was riveted. I certainly was.

Perhaps the most surprising learning for me occurred when Sheryl talked about the loss of confidence she experienced at work. The idea that Sheryl Sandberg felt she could no longer do her job well stunned me. Sheryl Sandberg-the woman who wrote Lean In– lacking confidence?

I’m starting to wonder if both men and women feel a bit “de-skilled” when they are in the midst of managing a loss or an unwanted change. Most people I’ve worked with put on a brave face and throw themselves back into work, and I’ve assumed they felt better back in a routine. Until I heard Sheryl talk about her own feelings, it never occurred to me that losing confidence might be something they struggled with, or that “getting back in the saddle” too soon might not be such a great idea-for the person and for the organization.

Sheryl is in a position to influence Facebook to rethink its policies and management practices related to supporting employees who are dealing with upsetting events in their lives. As a daughter in a family business, you probably are too. Read Option B, and think about it. By reviewing and raising questions about how your business supports employees through difficult times, you might be making one of your most valuable contributions.

Making the Most of the Moment When a Nextgen Joins the Family Business

Posted with permission of Massachusetts Family Business. Copyright The Warren Group 2016. For more information visit www.thewarrengroup.com.

by Amy J. Katz

The offer of a first job is a major milestone for many young people. The moment they accept it is exciting, for it confirms their belief in their potential, an affirmation of their skills and talents, the beginning of financial independence and the opportunity to define themselves apart from their parents.

For young adults who decide to work in their family’s business, often called “nextgens,” the experience of accepting that first real job is quite different. For some, it is a natural progression from after-school and summer jobs at the business, and a fulfillment of expectations that were clear from early childhood. They make their decision with the trust that over time they will have the opportunity to develop their skills and interests and en-joy the privileges that will likely come their way.

For others, the moment comes when they decide to join the business after time spent working in other settings. They re-turn to the business eager to share their insights and to influence and improve the business. Occasionally, the choice follows a time of questioning and doubt about whether they can work for their parents, achieve what they have achieved, and ultimately, whether they have the commitment and capacity to sustain the family legacy.

Whether the choice is expected or surprising, the moment of choice has life-long implications. Dr. Megan Jay, a clinical psychologist, calls the 20s “the most defining decade of adulthood.” In family businesses, a son or daughter’s choice to commit to the family business is a defining moment for their parents as well. It can be they first time they understand that their children truly appreciate the family’s history and that their hopes for the succession of the business might be realized.

As with many life decisions, the impact of choosing to work in one’s family business – that crucial moment – may not be felt immediately. It takes time to navigate the complexities of being in the spotlight and – rightly or wrongly – being viewed as a powerful person. So when a senior employee praises a nextgen’s contributions, it’s a sign that the choice was a good one. A brother who tells his sister, “You’re good at that; I’m good at this,” conveys the respect that is vital to an effective sibling partnerships. A daughter who has the freedom to lead a new division realizes that she can be an entrepreneur within the business. These are the experiences that build confidence in one’s choices.

Of course, there are frustrations, as with any new job. The first time a parent says firmly, “Don’t call me Dad here,” can be unsettling. A nextgen who expects a quick promotion can be stunned to receive critical feedback from a non-family supervisor. When the leadership team of a family business resists a nextgen’s push for new software, the experience can be humbling. And perhaps most difficult, a nextgen who has idealized a parent may feel disenchanted and even angry as the realization that the parent is flawed sets in.

But that moment of decision, and the learning that comes after it, while challenging at times can eventually provide both parents and their adult children a chance to recreate their relationships. In that moment of decision to join the business, nextgens can provide a way for families to renew their connection to each other and to the work and values that have shaped their lives.

What can make “the moment” a decision to celebrate for years to come? Nextgens deserve the opportunity to consider the pros and cons, to under-stand the expectations of their new role, and to ask about the potential for career growth, development, salary and benefits. Parents and non-family executives can take the nextgen’s interest in working at the business seriously, without any assumptions that he or she will easily fit in. They can create thoughtful inter-view questions that ask the nextgen to describe their strengths and areas where development is needed. They can also create scenarios about how the position might evolve, explain employee policies and practices, and articulate clearly what success will look like. In other words, parents and other executives would do well to give nextgens the satisfaction that they have been officially hired for a specific position.

Amy Katz

Family businesses often pride them-selves on having an informal, “family” culture. But bringing in the next generation can be surprisingly disruptive for nextgens, their parents and non-family employees. By giving the nextgen the time and space to make a true decision, and by preparing the organization for the nextgen’s role, the moment a next-gen joins the family business can be a significant and joyful event that sets the stage for the future.

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Posted with permission of Massachusetts Family Business. Copyright The Warren Group 2016. For more information visit www.thewarrengroup.com. Click here to download a PDF of the article.

Dreams and Directions

mary_miller_105_v3A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Miller, who is the CEO of JANCOA, a company that provides janitorial services throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.  Mary is a warm, funny, and determined leader, and Jancoa has been recognized for its caring approach to employees and for the excellent janitorial services 550 employees provide.

“I love getting people excited about their future,” said Mary.  She’s certainly put that love into action.  Mary’s husband Tony founded the company 45 years ago, and Mary joined him 23 years ago. They put in a place a program that gives employees the opportunity to realize their dreams–at work and in life. In fact, the program is described in a book by Matthew Kelly, called The Dream Manager.

Many of JANCOA’s employees are immigrants and refugees, people who, in Mary’s words, “have gotten stuck and stopped dreaming.”  JANCOA provides them with the opportunity to dream about their future and the support to remove the barriers which have gotten in their way.  It’s a very inspiring business.

changingdirection_coverWhen I asked Mary about what it’s like to work in a family business, she began by sharing her own personal story.  I was surprised to learn that before meeting Tony, she was a single mother, bankrupt, and facing eviction.  Knowing Mary as the upbeat business and community leader she has become, I listened intently.  “I had to change the way I looked my possibilities”, she said.  “If you want to see the sunrise but you’ve got your chair and your camera set up facing west, you’ll never see it.  Sometimes you have to look in the opposite direction to see what’s possible.”  In fact, Mary has just written a new book, called Changing Direction: 10 Choices That Impact Your Dreams. I hope you’ll check it out!

Several family members now work at JANCOA, but of course I was particularly interested in Mary’s relationship with her daughters at work.  One daughter worked in the business but then decided to become a nurse, a choice Mary fully understands and supports.  Her oldest daughter Christy recently returned to JANCOA after several years away to focus on business development, and Mary calls her the “Queen of Wow.” Mary acknowledges that the two of them have had to learn to communicate differently now that they’re working together.  “She’s learning to relate to me as a CEO and a grandmother.”  And Mary is learning to accept the changes Christy recommends…”as long as she prepares me for them.”

Amy Katz

As our interview came to an end, I commented on the way Mary had changed her own direction.  She laughed and said, “I’m a work in progress.”

Aren’t we all!

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Ask Amy: Knowing When It’s Time to Leave

Dear Amy,

My dad and his sister are partners in the family’s successful car dealership. I’m 24, and I really love working with my dad–he’s very caring and understanding and I’ve learned a lot from him.  Unfortunately, he’s planning to step down in the next year and my aunt is very power hungry.  She’s a lot younger than he is and I know she plans to continue working for at least another 10 years. She is feeling very defensive that I’m there–none of her two daughters are interested in joining the business, which I know is a disappointment to her. Also, she doesn’t like things done in new ways, and I feel like there is no negotiating with her. I’ve had meetings with her to discuss things that need to stay the same or things that need to change-and even though she’s nice, after the meeting she threatens all the employees that if they listen to me they will get fired. I don’t think this is a nice way to treat employees, but I also don’t know how to get through to her.  Please help!  

Laney

Dear Laney,

What an awful position for you!  Your aunt does sound very difficult. I’m going to ask you a pretty direct question:  Do you have to stay there?  The reason for the question is that you’re still at a very early stage of your career, a time when many young women have the flexibility to make choices and even to try out several jobs before they decide what’s right for them.

The challenge of “should I stay or should I go” can be a very tough one-many daughters wrestle with this question off and on, depending on what’s happening in the business or in their personal lives. You’re young, and I’m assuming you’re flexible. Perhaps this is a good time to at least explore other options. Keep in mind that you have had some good business experience, you understand the need for businesses to adapt and change, you are sensitive to employee concerns, and you personally want to have influence on the way things are run. The experiences you’ve had and the skills you’ve developed will serve you well in any workplace.

Amy Katz

Sometimes people assume they’ll join the family business and never question their choice or consider other options. I hope you’ll take the time now to do just that. Fighting what sounds like an uphill battle may be worth it one day….but 10 years is a long time.

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Do you really need an MBA?

woman-bis-schoolA good friend of mine recently expressed her frustration because her husband, who decided to make a career change, has been slow to network, circulate his resume, or show the kind of initiative that would help him find a job. My friend has held several great positions throughout her career and currently leads a sales department in a large organization. I wasn’t surprised that she was having trouble understanding her husband’s behavior.

I thought for a moment about how to be helpful. I reminded her that she grew up with a father who was a very successful businessman, who talked about the business all the time, and who encouraged assertiveness and a “sales mentality” in his four daughters. I explained that her dad taught her and her sisters about the business world in the same way that daughters working in a family business learn about it-they grew up with it!

Her husband, on the other hand, grew up with a father who was a science professor at the same college his entire life. Until recently, her husband had followed in his dad’s footsteps, teaching the same subject, in the same college. Like his dad, he has a Ph.D., but little to no experience selling himself–or anything else. He learned how to be a great teacher, but not a businessperson.

This was an “aha moment” for my friend. She hadn’t realized how much her father’s business had helped her develop her business savvy and skills. She realized that her husband was just inexperienced and probably a bit uncertain about what to do-and that she might be more helpful to him once she got over her surprise and annoyance that it was so hard for him.

I thought about my friend when talking with a group of daughters recently who were questioning their expertise in business, “because I never got an MBA”.  I reminded the daughters that they have a lifetime of knowledge based on their history in a family business.  The issues they were talking about-deciding whether to retain a difficult employee, managing changes of all kind, the need for new products-were really about the challenges of handling unexpected situations at work-something every business owner faces on a regular basis. An MBA might help, but the deep knowledge and experience they had developed throughout their lives were equally valuable (and maybe more).

My simple message?  Don’t sell yourself short. I’m confident that you know more than you think you do, and probably, more than most people in business know.  It’s in your DNA!  Of course, if you think an MBA will help–go for it!

Ask Amy: When You Feel a Little Bit Used

Dear Amy,

I’m working in a large and successful family business in the financial services area.  My last name is the name of the business, and it’s well known in our community.  I’m proud of my name, and just as proud of the many philanthropic contributions and sponsorships our company is known for.  In fact, every employee in our business is encouraged to serve on a board, or to volunteer for a particular cause they find meaningful.

And that’s where my question lies.  I am well trained for my position, but I’m hardly a senior leader.  My focus now is on learning my job, doing it well, and thinking about the role I might take in the future.  But I’m getting too many calls now about influencing my mother and father  (who own the business) to make charitable contributions to a variety to organizations.  I’m finding this very frustrating…and also distracting.  I don’t get calls from the organizations we already support–they know who to call.   The calls to me are from organizations we haven’t sponsored before.  And some of the callers sound around my age-so I think I’m viewed as the millennial who can get them “in the door.”  I guess I’m feeling a bit used.  

Do you have any suggestions about how to handle this?

Celia

Dear Celia,

Your question is similar to one I answered a few weeks ago, when another daughter described getting calls from frustrated customers because of her last name.  It’s wonderful that you are part of a successful business and that you are proud of your family’s contributions to your community.  But I can certainly understand your frustration.

Here are some ideas to consider:

1).  I know you know this, but keep in mind that it’s not easy to ask for money.  Whether you’re a development professional, a staff member, or a board member at a not-for-profit agency or organization, asking for money makes people uncomfortable.  If you serve on a board one day, you’ll probably be in that role yourself.  So as you respond, you can be very gracious and warm and respectful-but also clear and straightforward as you suggest that the caller contact the person responsible for handling donations and sponsorships in your business (you probably have that person’s phone number handy already!).

2) Are you fully aware of your company’s strategic goals and interests in philanthropy?  Many organizations focus on certain issues and make their investments there consistently.  This is a good time to understand the choices that your parents have made thus far-and why-simply as part of deepening your learning about the business and your community.

3) I think it’s highly likely that you will continue to get these calls.  It’s also likely that you will be viewed as someone with “donor potential”.  Perhaps these calls can also be an opportunity for you to develop your own interests in philanthropy and community service.  So (within reason) you may want to take the time to listen to the caller’s request, to ask good questions so you understand their organization or agency, and then to consider whether that organization might be a good fit for your talents and interests.  Perhaps you’d like to be on a task force, or attend an event, or serve on a board there.  I’m suggesting that you “reframe your annoyance”…and view each call as a chance to consider ways you might develop your own skills and interests.

Amy Katz

4) One of my first podcasts was with Penny Friedman, an expert on philanthropy who has considerable experience with family businesses.  You might enjoy listening to her ideas, too.

Good luck!

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2016 Book Recommendations

This week I’ve decided to answer a question I hear a lot from my clients, particularly at the beginning of each new year:  “What books do you recommend?”

So, here are few books that I think women (and men) in family businesses will find thought-provoking and inspiring:

Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges:  In a book that builds on the ideas she powerfully expressed in her TED talk, Dr. Amy Cuddy gives practical, theory-based advice on how to develop and convey confidence.  You will be touched (and maybe, comforted) by the many stories she recounts of people who have written to her about their own struggles with confidence.  Dr. Cuddy’s insights are inspiring and the illustrations help you put them into practice almost immediately.

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, by Laszlo Bock, Chief People Officer at Google, describes the practices and policies that have made Google a place where recruiting and developing and retaining talented employees is a top priority.  Don’t assume that because your family business is not a large enterprise or a tech company in Silicon Valley, this book is not worth your time.  Trust me, it is.

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). This is another book written by someone at Google, but it’s quite different from Work Rules. Written by Chade Meng-Tan, an engineer at Google, this book builds a fun, thoughtful case for the personal and professional benefits of meditation and mindfulness.  You may not achieve world peace after reading it…but you will feel more peaceful after trying some of the exercises.  And, according to Meng-Tan, your inner peace is a step in the direction of creating peace around you.

Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others. I recently interviewed Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI, a global talent management firm. Tacy and her co-author, Rich Wellins, are both industrial/organizational psychologists with a deep knowledge of how leaders develop and succeed.  The book is like a bible for leaders-first timers and experienced leaders as well.

Amy Katz

Whether you listen to audiobooks, use a Kindle, or actually hold a book with real pages, I am confident that these books will make you think differently about your role, your business, and yourself.

What are you planning to read in 2016?

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Ask Amy: What’s in a name?

Dear Amy,

My family owns a trucking organization and we cover several regions across the United States. I’m learning the business through my role in logistics in our national office, and I’m enjoying it a great deal and plan to make my career with the company.

So here’s my question: My last name is the name of the company, and while it’s a source of pride for me, it’s also a problem. Customers and vendors call our offices and ask for the directory of employees, and once they hear my last name, they inevitably connect to my extension. So I end up hearing customers’ complaints, and feel obligated to respond to them and direct them to the right person. I also feel that I should let my dad and uncles know what I’m hearing, but some of the complaints are about specific employees. My supervisor is aware of the issue, and thankfully understands it, but I still feel caught in the middle.

Kate

Dear Kate,

I’m not sure that I have a lot to add, since it sounds like you are very much aware of the sensitivities and you handling them quite well. You’re respecting your supervisor, you’re responding to customer concerns appropriately, and you’re trying hard not to let your name get in the way of your learning.

I do think that the issue you’re raising about letting your dad know about the complaints is important. I’ll give you my opinion on that, though I know others may disagree. I believe that when an organization is strong and its employees are committed to excellence, customer complaints or concerns can be handled and resolved quickly. I don’t think CEOs or high-level managers need to be involved in every problem. You’ve involved your supervisor, which is great; let your supervisor decide what needs to be shared more broadly. Actually, I consider your current “front line” experience with customers and vendors a significant part of your learning now; in fact, it may be the most important thing you can learn in addition to the technical information you’re learning about the logistics field.

Amy Katz

Your name is important, but your commitment and competence and “emotional intelligence” will prove to be most important over time, and these qualities are particularly important now as you form relationships with other employees and earn their trust. You wouldn’t want to jeopardize that, and it doesn’t sound like you are. I think you’re handling your role in the best possible way!

Good luck!

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Ask Amy: New manager needs help giving constructive feedback

Dear Amy,

I work for my dad in his accounting business and I am now managing two people (not accountants-I’m not one either). So this is my first time as a manager. I’m getting frustrated a lot because I see problems with the people who work for me and I am not good at giving negative feedback. I’m concerned that I may not be cut out for managing people. Any suggestions?

Rebecca

 

Dear Rebecca,

Your discomfort with giving difficult feedback is something that almost everyone who takes on a management role struggles with, whether they’re a first time manager or a very experienced one.  Giving critical feedback definitely takes practice-and diplomacy.

Keep in mind that a lot depends upon the context.  Are these employees who’ve worked for your dad a long time…and maybe knew you when you were a child?  Or, are they just about your age, and new to the business?  Are you seeing the same problems in both of them?  Are you micro managing them? Sometimes people make more mistakes when they constantly feel “monitored”.  Are you aware of their unique strengths and learning needs?

My point in raising these questions is simply to emphasize that it’s important-right now-to begin to practice the kind of personal reflection that allows you to view your employees in context.  I once worked with a great consultant who said that when he’s evaluating an employee he considers their experience, their orientation to the business, their training needs, the work conditions-in other words, he considers just about everything before he concludes that the person is really the problem.  This analysis, he told me, gives him the confidence that he is not blaming someone for problems well beyond their control.  And if the person really is the problem, then he goes ahead and asks the person to give their view of what’s interfering with his/her work performance.

One other thing to keep in mind is that most of us want to do a great job, and to learn and grow in whatever position we take on.  Feedback can be a wonderful source of learning.

Amy Katz

Rebecca, you are already “processing” your experience as a manager.  You’re paying attention to how you’re handling a role that I think requires a great deal of skill, patience, empathy, and self-awareness.  It’s challenging, but don’t throw in the towel yet!

Coincidentally, I’ll soon be doing a podcast with Dr. Tacy Byham, who wrote a book about first-time managers called Your First Leadership Job.  I hope you’ll listen to it-I’m sure she’ll have some great tips for you.

Good luck!

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The Next Generation of Yuengling Beer

This week, instead of my usual Ask Amy column, I’m sharing a video with you recently produced by the New York Times. It features the family responsible for the Yuengling Beer business. It caught my eye because when I was writing my book a few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Baker Yeungling and Jennifer Yuengling, two sisters who work in the business. I remember talking with them about their dad, about his commitment to working every day, and their growing awareness that succession planning was becoming an important issue.


The video not only features Wendy and Jennifer and other members of their family, but it also portrays how important a family business can be to a family, and how challenging it can be to manage the transition to the next generation of leadership.

Wendy and Jennifer are committed to the business, yet, unlike their dad, they want to spend time with their families and set clearer boundaries between home and work.

I hope you enjoy the video, and appreciate the candor of the Yuengling family, and the thoughtful way that Wendy and Jennifer are approaching their dad about the business that has shaped his life for so many years. They respect him tremendously, yet they will likely make different choices as their lives and the business evolve.

The Next Generation of Yuengling Beer http://nyti.ms/1iFCne7 via @nytvideo