I was recently working with a client, a leader in the construction industry, and during our conversation…
“At the end of the day I want to be able to say that I contributed more than I criticized.” – Brené Brown
Difficult conversations at work are challenging and we often try to avoid them.
Did you set goals for 2020 early this year? Are you and your team still on the path to achieving those goals?
Are you an independent thinker? A big challenge in organizations is juggling the tension between independence and being a team player.
The year was 1958. Pat, a secretary at State Farm Insurance in Deerfield, IL wanted to do something to honor
her boss because she felt that all the work he did was rarely recognized or appreciated.
From the main Highway 29, which is to the west, rows of vines stretch eastward like green corduroy, a seemingly endless linear vision quest. Here, on this 400-acre parcel in the heart of the Oak Knoll growing area, sits one of the oldest and most successful family-owned and family-run businesses in the region. Trefethen was a family operation from the very beginning. In the early 1970s, John Trefethen’s parents, Eugene and Catherine Trefethen, passed the winery along to John and his wife, Janet, who ran it for more than three decades and grew the small-but-mighty business into a local powerhouse with national distribution and a penchant for customer service. Fast-forward to recent years, when John and Janet repeated history and passed the business down to their children: 34-year-old Hailey and 38-year-old Lorenzo. Today, the duo is poised to build on the family legacy and take the company into the next decade and beyond. Along this multigenerational journey, the Trefethens have stayed true to one thing: Each other.
“One thing we’ve always done a good job with around here is keeping everything about the family,” says Hailey. “Yes, we’re running a business. But we’re also running a family. The two can coexist.” —Family Business Magazine, Published July 21, 2021 Matt Villano
Family Businesses. While they have all the opportunities and challenges of any organization, they also have the added benefits and liabilities of their unique family dynamics. Those families who successfully navigate passing the baton from one generation to the next share some common practices. Based on my observations and feedback from clients, the following are key to ensuring that both the business and the family can thrive for years to come.
- The perspective needed to ensure successful transition to the next generation:
• Being grounded in history –understanding of the family’s history, values, traditions, and business origin(s)
• Being willing to move to the future – having a passion and openness to moving the family business into the future
• Being open to doing things differently – willing to try other ways, take risks and learn new things
- The importance of building an intentional culture:
• Articulating a clear WHY, defining purpose and getting aligned on why the business exists
• Defining the values and supporting behaviors in service of the strategy and the desired culture of the organization
• Mentoring the future generations
–Training – teaching the business to the next generation
— Delegating – sharing tasks and responsibilities, providing direction and support, and creating an environment where one can learn from mistakes
— Promoting family ownership for the future success of the business
- The willingness to make investments in business strategy and organizational development:
• Developing a strategic plan
• Prioritizing goals and objectives – creating a timeline, committing to tasks and following through
• Evaluating gaps and providing the necessary training for family members in the business to meet those gaps
• Hiring people outside the family when necessary to fill positions critical for success
- The commitment to develop strong relationships within and across generations:
• Making time for meaningful connection
— Creating shared experiences
— Working together on the business side and the family side; paying attention to both to be successful
• Creating space for meaningful conversations
— Coming to conversations with positive intent and a willingness to hear others’ perspectives
— Allowing for honest and authentic communication
— Extending grace when the conversations get tough or messy
— Learning about different personality styles and how to effectively communicate
• Sharing cross generational knowledge, learning, ideas
Finally, according to the clients I spoke with for this blog, what makes these practices most effective is the positive impact of working with a facilitator from outside the family unit. Having professionals familiar with family business who bring credibility, objectivity, resources, and skillful facilitation is key to a successful outcome. Even the most committed, cohesive and connected families can find themselves in situations where they need another perspective. A good family business facilitator can help the family business by accessing the family’s collective wisdom to uncover a clear path forward.
I’ve always wanted a personalized license plate. The state where I live, Virginia, has the highest number of personalized plates in the country. One in four. Each year when it was time to renew my registration, I took the easy route and renewed online instead of personalizing the plate, but I often contemplated what my personalization would be if and when I decided to get one.
BOYMOM? HRLDR? COACH? What would I put out there for all the world to see? This year, while pondering the personalized plate, I was reading Colin Powell’s book, It Worked for Me, and this excerpt really struck me.
Powell tells a story about a parking garage where the attendants were working for minimum wage. He noticed the employees had to stack the cars because of the tight space. He wondered how they chose which car would get out first. (Spoiler alert – it was NOT by the personalized license plates.) When Powell inquired about it, the attendants told him that when customers drive in, if they smile, they’re the first to get out. If they look straight ahead and don’t acknowledge the employee, they’re going to be the last to get out.
At the next staff meeting he held, Powell told his senior leaders, “you can never err by treating everyone with respect and a kind word.” A four-star general and life long military man talks about being kind? At a staff meeting? Is that strong leadership? How can that be?
And I began to simmer in it. I could not let it go. I obsessed over it. Why? Because it turns out that kindness is a core value for me, something that touches me deeply and underpins my view of the world. I began to ponder – Is authentic kindness possible, alongside productivity and profits? What if all leaders viewed employees not just as workers who complete a task, but as people who also deserve care and respect?
Kindness does not equal weakness. Kindness is a discipline. If there is anything all the events of the last 18 months have taught us, it’s that kindness needs to be leveraged.
How can kindness be leveraged in the workplace?
As leaders, the discipline of kindness enables you to build relationships, which ultimately leads to trust. Without trust as a foundation, employees may outwardly seem like they are following a leader, but they aren’t as likely to follow privately in a way that is consistent or genuine. Trust yields so much more than just compliance – trust promotes an open dialogue and exchange of thoughts and ideas, which ultimately provides a forum for giving and receiving honest feedback. Honest feedback is in itself a kindness that promotes a deep level of trust.
Kindness is communicating clear direction and letting employees know what to expect. Once specific expectations are outlined, kindness means stepping out of the way – so employees can step up and perform. Kindness is letting employees learn from mistakes they make and helping them see what they could do differently next time. Engage in meaningful conversations around how to fail, and more importantly, how to recover from failure.
Showing care is perhaps one of the best demonstrations of kindness. When leaders put others’ needs first, employees feel more loyal and committed. Kindness is the gift of your time even when your day is pulling you in a variety of directions.. So often we rush through conversations without listening intently or being truly present. Listening with an attentive, open, and quiet mind means prioritizing the person who is speaking rather than personal preoccupations like that proposal that must get out the door. Your undivided attention is an investment in relationship building. Kind leaders – great leaders are intentional about attention.
No one wants to be taken for granted, yet it’s so easy to neglect adequate thanks. Kindness is displaying gratitude to an employee for their work. According to a study by Bersin & Associates, companies that provide recognition have 31% lower voluntary turnover rates than companies that don’t. And it needs to be personal. In a recent conversation with an employee at a company I was consulting for, he told me he found out that he had gotten a bonus by looking at his pay stub. I commented that it must have been a nice surprise. “Yes,” he replied that it was a nice surprise, but he expressed disappointment that he didn’t get a verbal “thank you” or have a conversation about how his work was appreciated. What he really wanted was a “thank you” on a personal level, not just dollars in a paycheck.
Cultivating kindness helps leaders be relatable, trusted, and effective. It sets the tone for a company culture that makes a difference far beyond the bottom line. Powell also states in his book to always show more kindness than necessary because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know. A great suggestion that rings so true for today. People need our kindness.
A great suggestion for all of us. I finally got that personalized license plate which serves as my daily reminder: O2BKIND
How will you exhibit kindness in your leadership?
If we manage conflict constructively, we harness its energy for creativity and development. – Kenneth Kaye
Conflict is a necessary part of any healthy team. Disagreements are an inevitable, normal, and healthy part of relating to other people. We must be able to disagree about ideas. We must be able to acknowledge differences of opinion and work towards the best outcome. Yet, whether at work or at home, many of us do everything we can to hide from it, suppress it, pretend it doesn’t exist.
In other words, we’re not doing the best job at confronting conflict. And often when we do, passive aggression rears its ugly head and we take shots at one another in veiled and indirect ways, or it erupts into outright heated arguments. Few of us have been formally taught the skills to foster healthy conflict.
Extensive research has demonstrated that conflict, when managed properly, strengthens relationships and teams and can serve as a catalyst for better solutions, innovation and growth. So, if you want to have a healthy team, you need to find a way to have healthy conflict.
Establishing a team charter with expectations and processes around how to communicate, how to give feedback, how to disagree, and how to manage conflict is a critical first step. Lay down some ground rules about how to constructively disagree and follow those rules consistently over time. It’s really important in any conflict that all sides feel heard. You want people to talk to one another and not about one another. Equip your team with the ability to give and receive feedback.
From there, remember to:
• Encourage dialogue and values based conversations. Have the group share their core values—these are often the source of our long standing conflicts. When things get heated, chances are there are conflicting values at play. And those values are often right vs. right struggles, not right vs. wrong. Help team members talk through which of their values buttons are being pushed.
• Pick a devil’s advocate. Get everyone to build their skills for healthy conflict by appointing a different devil’s advocate in meetings. While in this role, a team member asks questions to probe ideas and challenge complacent group think. As more and more members of the team get accustomed to doing this, it will no longer be necessary to designate an official role.
• Ask questions and be curious. Don’t interpret silence in a room as assent. Don’t assume all those nodding heads mean that everyone agrees. Ask people to state their position and talk about why they believe it’s so. At the end of the conversation, if everybody agrees you’ve got agreement you can trust.
As leaders part of our job is to help people hear one another – to help them seek understanding, not necessarily agreement. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to model good communication skills. In conversations, slow things down, listen deeply, ask questions, have people restate what they’ve heard, and check for understanding. Stay focused on the desired outcomes and goals of the team.
I was walking out to the mailbox when I noticed an elaborate project being built in my neighbor’s front yard. It looked like quite the engineering feat; I commented on the workmanship, and we struck up a physically distant conversation – him on the front porch, and me standing in my driveway. I discovered he was my neighbor’s dad who was visiting for a holiday weekend. He had great stories to share, and I was interested in hearing them.
As he shared some of his stories with me, I wondered if he might have a personal core value of continuous learning or education or service. Whatever his personal core values might be, I connected with his stories as they reminded me of similar work that my mom has done with teens and young adults. Brené Brown says she defines connection partly as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued.” Connecting with someone, even briefly can give you what you need to press on. The connection can be as simple as a kind interaction with the person who serves your Starbucks, a shared laugh out loud joke with a colleague, a text message with a family member, or a conversation with your neighbor’s father. Those small interactions can satisfy our need for community.
According to Psychology Today, social connection improves health, strengthens immunity, helps recover from illness faster, and even increases longevity. Studies show that social connection should be as much of a complete wellness routine as exercising and eating the right foods.
Studies also indicate that we can increase connection through practicing compassion for others. Compassion is an organizational value at InnerWill, and connecting with grace and empathy is one of our behaviors. Focusing on giving to others is a way to feel more connected. Find those things you are passionate about and look for ways to contribute in those areas to make a positive impact. You might be healthier as a result!
Your holidays and the ways you usually connect might look different this year. I haven’t seen my mom since Thanksgiving 2019 as a result of COVID and I miss her. COVID has changed how we connect and some of it just flat out stinks, so let’s just call that out. And yet, what hasn’t changed is our ability to choose – to choose to be grateful. It’s a choice that we can intentionally make. I’m grateful for connecting with a neighbor’s dad and for his choice to share some stories that positively impacted my day and reminding me that I have plenty to be thankful for.