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4 Tabletop Tools For Family Businesses

I've learned to apply four invaluable tools as I consult with family businesses: a box of tissues, a mirror, a roll of duct tape, and a 2x4.

Farmers and ranchers are full of emotions. Just watch what happens when power is questioned, differing ideas are expressed, priorities collide, expectations are dashed, hardened habits are forced to change, standards differ, and personalities clash. Emotion-driven behaviors surface and build lock-tight walls against productivity and profitability.

When emotions and logic collide, emotions win. There's a time and place to acknowledge emotions so we can get to the facts.

Most individuals in a family business want me to fix someone else. They're eager for a change, and they don't mince words telling me exactly how someone else needs to change. That's when I know it's time to hold up the mirror and offer the reflection as a reality check on who or what they can control and where the change needs to start.

Sometimes the change can be as simple as a willingness to listen, speak up, or ask questions. Sometimes the change is tougher because it involves a change in attitude, behavior, or result. As I consult, it's always interesting to see who looks into the mirror first and accepts personal responsibility. Sometimes it only takes one and others follow. If not, I don't hesitate to pass the mirror and ask, "What do you see?"

I know what you're thinking: Tape the mouth shut so they quit talking and listen! Yes, that's a very important lesson – allowing one another to think and state information and opinions without interruption and with acknowledgement of being heard. Yet there's another use for duct tape!

Too often a dominant individual wants to state his case and then leave. The message? "I've said my piece. This is how it is. You don't count." Other times an individual doesn't like what was said and leaves. The message? "Why bother? I'll do it my way. I don't have to listen."

Get the duct tape! Staying may be uncomfortable, but leaving's not acceptable!

Sometimes it's hard to get someone's attention, to make a reality real, to diffuse a power play before the explosion. A wake-up surprise and a clear message are needed.

The purpose of the 2x4 is to rein in or interrupt anyone who forgets he or she is part of an intentionally formed family business. I've yet to meet a family of one. No one is at the table just to talk aloud to himself or herself.

See what happens when you place these four tools on your tabletop. If others can't see the fun or grasp the underlying concepts, remove the items and call in a family business consultant, counselor, or mediator. You're going to need a bigger tool kit.

I've learned to apply four invaluable tools as I consult with family businesses: a box of tissues, a mirror, a roll of duct tape, and a 2x4.

Jolene Brown is a popular professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. Her experience, realistic tools, and fun-filled spirit provide leadership and management solutions for the people of agriculture.

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