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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

FREE TACTICS TO REFORM YOUR FAMILY BUSINESS

by Ira Bryck

Even at 55, I recall most of my college roommates, and what I enjoyed or detested about our tenancies. I hate to admit that most of my satisfaction correlated with what colleges claim creates roommate fulfillment: neatness and noise compatibility.

But if you’re not born of neat freaks who know when to use inside voices, here are seven tips that will contribute to success with strange bedfellows, in dorms, hovels, or even family boardrooms.

PLAY@WORK. To paraphrase psychedelic guru Timothy Leary, the Yanks and Red Sox desperately want victory, but if they kill each other, the game is over. A touch of humor takes the edge off conflict. Agree to count to 10 Mississippi, allowing your brains time to catch up. Compete (recreationally) who can better admit fault and take responsibility. Otherwise, see your insurance agent, ASAP, to fund your buy/sell.

APPRECIATE ME NOW; AVOID THE RUSH (© Ashleigh Brilliant) If you’re a sole proprietor on a desert island, you could claim full credit, but who’d be there to applaud? Lennon and McCartney were right: the love you take is equal to the love you make. What will it cost to look harder for the pluses in your partners? How likely is it they’ll absorb all your positivity, and reply only with cold pricklies? Get good enough at this to stop keeping score!

FUNCTION FOLLOWS FORM The most functional business families don’t resist governance, accountability, and policies. The rest of us must “fake it till we make it.” You could do worse than clarify the metaphorical road map, means of transport, not to mention seat belts, back seat drivers, and road rage.

TINKER WITH TRADITION Stop consulting Dad’s portrait! If he was so smart, why’d he let you run the business? Consider: What would Dad do, if he weren’t such a cheapskate? What in your past clues you to overcome today’s challenges? What can you “benchmark” from your competitors? Stop firefighting today; fireproof tomorrow.

DIG UP YOUR GARDEN Try this game I had nursery owners play at a workshop. I started: “I’m in the Garden Center business.” The next guy in the circle couldn’t say “garden” or “center,” so continued: “I’m in the Relaxation Business.” The next guy couldn’t say “relaxation,” so replied: “I’m in the Anti-Anxiety Business,” and so on. Then we brainstormed how to better provide anti-anxiety, color, fertility, etc.

NOBODY’S “ALL SET” The world’s oldest family business, Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, founded 578, recently succumbed to excess debt and a drop in demand for Buddhist shrines. A company that never retracts their antennae, whether to market threats, aging paradigms, or disunity, is my kind of company.

ORDER THE LOBSTER Dine monthly to deliberate your most crackpot, lofty, pioneering ideas. Leaders are obliged to oversee, better done at 10,000 feet than on the ground. If your company can’t spare you for 90 minutes and invest $30 on a creativity-sparking crustacean, there’s always civil service!

Figuring all this out is messy and noisy, even for the most compatible roommates among us; but it’s what you signed up for when you joined the family business.

- Ira Bryck is Director of the UMass Family Business Center (see umass.edu/fambiz); helps business families strategize and resolve; devises innovative trainings, and asks the right questions.

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