Woodbury:Farm Family Business 07/15 14:53
Success by Different Measures
These three traits help gauge your family business achievements.
By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser
How do you measure family business success? Some highlight the growth in
their financial net worth. Others count the number of family members currently
involved in the operation. Still others pull out the history books to show
they're still in business together after several generations. But in the thick
of family business conflict and uncertainty -- as only family members know --
you might sometimes feel Winston Churchill's definition is more apt: "Success
consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
Two decades of consulting work, and a growing body of literature, has shown
me there are certain identifiable hallmarks among members of successful family
businesses. Among these traits are honesty in assessing strengths and
weaknesses, humility in dealing with others and frequent and sincere
expressions of gratitude. Let's consider each briefly.
Humans have a nearly limitless capacity for self-deception. This attitude is
also present in family businesses, where you can be lulled into thinking that
your timing, business smarts, negotiating skills or other strengths are the
sole reasons for success, and these outweigh your weaker points.
Great family businesses aren't deceived by their own success. While
admitting they have many strong business skills, they recognize they also have
numerous improvements to make. Some of the areas identified recently in
facilitated family business conversations include family communication, staff
training and performance evaluations, financial reporting, business
partnerships and decision-making skills. Great family businesses know they have
things to do in order to be better, and they get to work.
ACTING WITH HUMILITY
If honest self-assessment is mostly an internal virtue, then humility best
describes a combined inward and outward expression of successful family
business members. Great family enterprises, instead of proclaiming how
successful they are to the world, approach their future by improving on their
own internal benchmarks. They may still celebrate their progress, but that
recognition happens more quietly, largely out of sight.
The external dimension of humility, or how you present yourself to the
world, can be especially difficult in the age of social media and food
politics, where we are encouraged to tell our story and tweet our every thought
or observation. Humility, as New York Times columnist David Brooks notes in his
recent book "The Road to Character," is "an awareness that your individual
talents alone are inadequate to the tasks that have been assigned to you."
Acting with humility means admitting this inadequacy to others, and believing
that others contribute to your success.
If honest self-assessment has an internal focus, and acting with humility
implicates both internal and external processes, then practicing gratitude is
primarily directed outward. Thankfulness in the family business takes many
forms. Family members express thanks to one another for care and good work.
Leaders demonstrate gratitude to their employees, going beyond human resource
policies and gifts to sincerely communicate their appreciation. Managers
express thanks to their suppliers, demonstrate their appreciation toward
landowners and help their customers feel esteemed.
Some families hold the philosophy that demonstrating appreciation or giving
to their community or industry comes back to them in multiple ways. Others see
it as a responsibility. Whatever the reason for expressing their gratitude,
families that exhibit thankfulness are generally seen in a more successful
Honest self-assessment, humility and gratitude aren't isolated or
independent characteristics of success for a family business. They relate to,
and build on, one another, forming a general recognition of greatness by those
who deal with them. As you ponder what success means to your family, do these
criteria have a place in your definition?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Lance Woodbury writes columns for both DTN and our sister
publication, "The Progressive Farmer." He is a Garden City, Kansas, author,
consultant and professional mediator with more than 20 years of experience
specializing in agriculture and closely-held businesses. Subscribers can access
all of his archived columns under News search. Email ideas for this column to
Copyright 2015 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.
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