Coffee, Tea, and Strategy

Have you ever heard the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast”?

I’ve heard that phrase at several business meetings and conferences lately. It’s attributed to Peter Drucker, the highly renowned management consultant.

It took me awhile to understand what that phrase actually means. Eventually I got the eggs and toast image out of my brain and realized that it simply means that an organization’s culture-its values, traditions, and the way people relate to each other-is a powerful force in business. It’s so powerful, that at “the start of the every day” it has an impact on all the strategies, tactics, and plans that the business has in place.

Culture is that important….especially in a family business.

If you’ve recently joined your family’s business after working somewhere else, it may be an eye-opening experience to observe first-hand how the culture of your family affects the way the business works. And if your own plans and projects have been questioned or sidelined by a relative who’s working with you-or one who’s not-you’re likely to get frustrated.

But hold on…there are ways to deal with this.

I recently heard Drew Mendoza speak at The Goering Center for Family and Private Businesses in Cincinnati. Drew is the Managing Principal of the Family Business Consulting Group in Chicago, and an excellent and very entertaining speaker. He spoke about the importance of taking the time-a lot of time- for family members across all generations to talk together about the family AND the business.

Drew was very clear that the more families spend time talking about their history and their values before they try to develop a strategic plan, the better. He also made the point that just recognizing who’s in the family, including everyone’s age, gender, and education, is vital to the process of developing a plan for the future.

Over time, these conversations can help to create the trust needed to develop a plan that helps assure the continuity of the business and the family. The time spent together can make it far easier for everyone, whether they join the business or not, to understand how decisions are made, and why. And to trust who’s making them.

Drew believes that asking an outsider to help family members talk together is essential. An outsider, skilled in leading groups, can be an objective guide who helps family members talk openly and honestly about the issues that are important to them. If your family is not currently working with a family business consultant or a facilitator, then you might suggest to your family that hiring someone like Drew and his team might be important. Or, there may be a trusted friend who can help guide the conversation among all of you.

You can be the catalyst for conversations like this.

Here’s are a few ideas:

1) Talk with family members about the possibility of bringing the entire family together for a series of conversations about developing a strategic plan.

2) Explain that hiring a facilitator is important, and why.

3). Offer to contact a few people who might be good facilitators and set up some interviews. It will be important that the person your family selects is a “good fit”.

4). Ask a few family members to work with you on planning the meetings. Perhaps you can ask one or two relatives from each generation, a few who work in the business and a few who do not. It will take some work to make it all happen: getting people interested, sending invitations, arranging the logistics, etc.

Hopefully, the process of planning for the family meetings will be fun-maybe you can meet over breakfast! Your teamwork with other family members in planning the meetings can have long-lasting benefits-to you as a future leader, and certainly to your family’s business.

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