What is the Best Way to Continue the Family Legacy?
Did you know that one of the best things that you can do for your family business is to spend time with your family talking about your business? I don’t mean around the dinner table at night. It’s more than that. Sometimes we can get so focused on building, sustaining, or leading our business that we forget to nurture the family side of things. We are so focused on watching the expenses, managing staffing needs or sales, worrying about profitability or wondering about marketing strategies that we forget about one of the most fundamental aspects of the business – the family element.
By Anne Hussey
How are we doing at nurturing our family, educating the next generation, and communicating with future owners, siblings and/or parents?
There are many ways in which you can engage family members. It might be a day at a house on the lake, spending the time with all available family members. It might be a weekend away. It might be an afternoon at the company. Where you gather people together is less important than the action of creating an opportunity to bring family together. Think about setting aside some time to provide an update on the business – what’s going well, key milestones and what your focus is for the next 3-4 months or 12-18 months. You could include a tour of the company. Have you updated the facility, the equipment? Have you hired new key staff? Are there changes in your markets or products?
I’m just back from a long weekend at the Newagen Seaside Inn where we spent 2 ½ days honoring our family (32 family members attended, representing 3 generations) and our 184-year old family business. We typically schedule this around a Board meeting so that it’s easy to include our outside board members and our senior managers and their spouses or guests. We find hosting a formal Family Business Retreat to be a great opportunity for family and key leaders to interact and build relationships in a setting designed for gathering and communication.
As part of our annual Retreat, we always have time dedicated to education. This year the Director of Manufacturing provided videos of new manufacturing technology, and one of our independent distributors came from Arizona to talk about how he sells our products in his territories. Learning about the inside operations was balanced with developing an understanding of our markets and customers. One year it was how to read an income statement and balance sheet; other years it has included assembling some of our seating products.
Formal Family Business Retreats allow time for both relationship-building and education.
We had time set aside to work on new mission statements for different branches of our governance structure (the Family Assembly and our shareholder group). We had breakout sessions that encouraged participation from all, and we had shareholder meetings to vote on our board members and family business policies (e.g. family employment, social media and Family Assembly attendance).
Fun is an important aspect of our family culture. And yes, some competition too. This year, we made time for croquet, bocce and cornhole, as well as ping pong and bowling. Sitting around a fire pit, making smores, having casual conversations and sometimes songs, was a valuable way to connect with family members.
Incorporating fun and casual interaction into your formal retreat agenda allows for unique relationship-building time.
Our family members came from California, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Washington, DC to participate in this year’s retreat. We have learned that to create a sustainable family business, it’s critical that we remain a strong, committed and connected family. This takes work. But we didn’t start off with a 3-day weekend at a beautiful resort. We started coming together on a Saturday at company headquarters. Then a conference room at a local inn. We now have a budget and a committee to develop the agenda, identify the location, and collaborate with the CEO and the Chair of the Board. We’ve been to Sugarloaf, Mt. Washington Hotel, Point Lookout, Sebasco Harbor Resort and The Newagen Seaside Inn. And we’ve also spent the weekend locally when that seemed like the right place to be.
It can be as simple as an afternoon or as complicated as a weekend away. It’s the commitment to bringing family together to talk about the business, to really communicate with each other and to build the family relationships, that will sustain the business in the future.
Do you want help planning a family/business meeting or retreat? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 207.401.2020.