How do you conquer the fear of change in a family business?

change communication difficult conversations family business in five leadership top tips Jan 20, 2022

Change. Such a small word but can often cause such BIG problems in a family business. Especially when it comes to transitioning the leadership of the company from the current leader, to their next generation. 

That's because, on the surface, change is the antithesis of everything we associate with 'family business' - stability, longevity, loyalty, 'this is how we've always done it'.

But as business leaders, we know we need to be agile and adapt to the world changing around us. The last few years have shown us that if we don't change, we die. 

The problem? No matter how passionate and excited you are about a new idea or new way of doing things, sometimes it can feel like implementing it is literally like turning a ship around. 

You don't want to rock the boat with the loyal staff who have been with you for 10, 20, 30 years. You can already see their eyes rolling, the bitching and grumbling behind your back, the "I don't care what he wants, I'm just going to keep doing it my way" attitude. 

If it was just one or two people then you could deal with them. But the problem with resistance to change is that it spreads like wildfire. So even the keenest, newest members of your team who were initially up for it, don't want to be an out-cast amongst the rabble. 

What started as a brilliant, innovative idea that you could envision transforming your company has quickly become something that gives you a knot in your stomach. You become bullied by the most vocal resistors who, for some reason, seem to think this is their business. 

Well, you know what? It's not their business. And if it was, it would be on it's knees. Because change HAS to happen. Whether they like it or not. 

People fear change for several reasons: 

1. They don't like uncertainty; they'd much rather stay in their comfort zone, knowing exactly what's expected of them. Otherwise known as complacency. 

2. They fear they won't be needed; change is usually a time when people's competency comes under the spotlight. However, despite the best technology around, businesses still need exceptional people. If they're not exceptional then they ought to be fearful. 

3. It will involve more work; change doesn't happen by magic. It takes a lot of work to get it right and to implement new ideas. There are short-sighted people who are worried about having to work through their lunch break and there are people who understand the long-term benefit to the company (and in turn, to the security of their job). 

So how can we conquer the fear of change in our family businesses?

1. Plan ahead

No matter how far away that change may be (especially succession), it's never too early to start planning. Even if it's just for your own piece of mind to have a time frame and an outline of the steps you're going to take.

Knowing this will give you greater confidence when making decisions because you'll know they're in line with reaching the end goal. 

2. There's no such thing as too much information

Remember that uncertainty was the No.1 reason people hate change? So tell them as much as you can about what's going to be happening - even the stuff they might not like. 

Great communication with staff, suppliers and clients takes away any assumptions and second-guessing which can be toxic in a business. 

3. Sell the positives

The first thing people do when they're told about change is to look for every single negative they can. I don't know why, but it's human nature. So as the leader it's your job to communicate the benefit and the value that this change will bring.

If it's the change of leadership from you to your son/daughter then talk about bringing new energy, fresh ideas, a new focus on wellbeing and mental health, better digital skills, new contacts and networks. 

4. Give everyone an opportunity to be part of the change

If they're worried about their job being at risk then give them the chance to prove how they can adapt and bring value. If you need help implementing new things, ask for volunteers to lead the charge.

Not only will you discover some real talents and shining stars who can help you work towards your vision, it will also highlight anyone who's holding the company back and not willing to change. Even if it is for the future security of the company. You don't want those people in your family business. 

If you truly want to make change happen then stop being held to ransom by the objectors. This is your empire you're building. And the livelihoods of those who are on board depend on your courage to make difficult decisions in order to reach your goal. 

Want to chat with me? I'm always on hand for some friendly (free) advice. I've been helping families with succession planning for nearly 15 years so there's isn't anything I haven't seen. Call/text me on 07590 830 001 or email me - [email protected]

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