Date posted: September 4, 2015

AB Head Shot

Andrew Barter
Tough Problem

Business services
Strategy, business planning and execution

How long have you been working with family businesses?
After 20 plus years in the corporate world managing specialised teams, 6 years ago several of my work colleagues and I decided to set up a consultancy partnership called Toughproblem Consulting.  It was then that I really became exposed to working with family businesses and the complexities of the intersecting worlds of Family and Business.  You cannot replicate the power, passion and loyalty of family members who come together and operate a business together.

What’s one of the most common mistakes you see in family businesses?
A lot of 1st generation (and some 2nd generation) family members who do not seek opinions of others. Business owners by their very nature are successful and have backed themselves. If they remain in business for a long time then they can build this self-serving bubble around themselves and think they know all the answers. The person is sometimes too quick to go into “solution mode” without considering “what is the problem that we are trying to solve?” Good leaders and managers’ irrespective if they are in the family business or not asked themselves this question all the time, seek counsel of others around them, gather alternative views and welcome challenging debate. What this allows is a proper and informed conversation about what really is the problem they are trying to solve, help build consensus within the team which in-turns leads to a fact based decision and more likely a better long term outcome.   A productive day should not be measured in how many decisions you make, but how much how much time you give yourself thinking about how to tackle the tough problems.

What is your “uh ha” moment with your clients? When they realise…
Dare, I say it, trying to use business solutions and logic to solve family problems and emotions. Businesses operate under well-defined rules; develop a strategy, allocate financial and human resources, monitor performance and adjust accordingly. All the rules can get thrown out when family problems are bought into the business place. I commonly draw the 3 circle Family/Business/Ownership model for my clients and ask them “what hat are you wearing when you say that about another family member” and “do they know what hat you are wearing when you say that.” This allows the client to reflect on not what they are doing, but why and how they are doing it. Normally the client modifies their approach and brings reason into the discussion. I live by an old saying “you can win every argument or you can stay married, but you can not do both!”  This also works well for families too.