Case Stories

The Business of Aligning a Family

Two large ships side-by-side breaking through solid ice as they move forward

This story is true, but names and details have been changed to protect anonymity.

The conversation sounded as though we were all discussing past, present, and future business challenges. What was really happening was we were all using business speak as code to discuss family problems. Generational family businesses like this one struggle to keep the work of the family and the work of the business separate. Business failures skew into personal failures which morph into relationship failures. Vice versa, relationship failures escalate into business failures.

The result is a difficult-to-navigate corporate culture in which critiques cut deep and victories go uncelebrated. The tragedy of this particular meeting with a prominent retail client was that all everyone at the table wanted to communicate through their pain and dedication to the business was, “I love you.” No one but us could hear that.

At the end of our three-month engagement, we presented the client with a strategy that could align incentives from the cash register all the way to the family table—if they chose to take up the challenge. They were grateful for the clarity. It didn’t heal their situation, but it began the process.

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