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Helping Family Businesses
Prosper Across Generations®

Overcoming Fear to Make Needed Changes

We know of a large, old family business whose owners agreed to rapid implementation of substantial change. A number of family members involved described what happened as "major surgery": the board’s structure and size changed; naming a bridge president addressed immediate succession decisions; and other steps taken strengthened relationships between business and family. A fairly routine prescription quickly accomplished much. But could it be called "major surgery?" We’ve seen major surgery in family businesses: family branches amputated; failed family successor replacement with sibling; and even long-time CEO removal. In this case, however, none of those things happened. We don’t see this as major surgery. Nor would we call the accomplishments minor or cosmetic surgery, for the changes are profound, affecting the family business for generations. In fact, there was no surgery at all.

Well then, what happened? Actually what happened was more like therapy or counseling. Exploring the family business's history gained insights into current behavior. Introducing new structures supported changing motives and motivations. Other suggestions facilitated adoption of new ways of thinking and helped develop new rules for effective living.

So why did some family members perceive so much pain? In many ways, major surgery is easier and less painful. In surgery, permission is required, not active participation. The patient can be rendered blessedly unconscious. Not so in counseling.

In this particular case, quick, massive progress took place for two reasons: a very strong business and a tremendously high consensus among family members of the need for and direction of change. As in therapy, the patient won't change without the desire to change.

Still, many confronted with the decision to support major changes hesitated as though facing a yawning chasm. Taking the next logical step in the family business's evolution felt like a dangerous leap. Hearts raced with palpable fear . . . of change; of loss of power, status or control; of disapproval or risk of emotions.

Ultimately, fear led to pain, anger, and jeopardizing the health and strength of the family business. Fear led to prolonged battles and bad business decisions. Fear made necessary change feel like major surgery.

But, ultimately, this family realized that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right: "The only thing you have to fear is fear itself."

Fortunately, the family overcame its fear and now moves boldly forward into a new era.

In family businesses, seek the right and do it. Fear takes over only if you invite it in and feed it.

 

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