Family businesses surround us daily, from local mom-and-pop stores to the millions of SMEs that strengthen economies, to the bigger household names. When considering the hierarchy of management, many often think it’s a given that the next generation is to take over without hesitation. The reality is that a lot more goes into an enterprise’s continued success over the years, and, as family businesses expand from their humble beginnings to full-fledged organizations, balance needs to be learned while facing unique performance and governance challenges. Here are six lessons we learnt at Sedar, which started as a family enterprise, and is now celebrating 125 years of successful business and growth:
1. Maintain a vision A vision is what allows a company to move forward by giving everyone working in the organization a direction to follow. It helps focus on a unified and streamlined future. A clear vision makes it easier when hiring new staff, as everyone is aligned in the right way, and they need to ensure to do the same. At a young age, our fathers would always tell us how important it was to stick together as a family- and as a working team.
2. Embracing succession- both as a perpetual process and as a critical responsibility When Sedar first started in 1891, there were five employees. Now, as we celebrate 125 years in business, the organization is a leader in its field, with over 3000 employees. My father, also the CEO, would always talk about Sedar as a family, and never as a workforce. He always adopted an open-door policy, in the literal sense. Everyone, regardless of his or her position within the company could walk in for guidance or help at any given time.
3. Delivering strategic change In the case of Sedar, strategic change continues to be directed by the CEO, and encouraged and executed by the team. Albeit challenging at times, change is necessary, as it involves moving the organization or program forward to create or change something, and is effective once we learn to embrace it. Some plans have been and continue to be created out of the need for the organization to move in a certain direction, and other plans develop organically; it’s all about finding a balance.
4. Stay tuned to the big picture Change can be a difficult process and sometimes requires time. When rebranding and franchising, the main concern was losing our long-term and loyal employees. To prevent this, it was a lengthy guided step-by-step process to explain and allow the team to understand the new vision for Sedar. It’s not always easy, but it is critical to maintain the longevity of the company. Any successful change in a company will necessarily involve communicating and repeating mission and vision statements, which helps prevent people from becoming discouraged in the event of small failures along the way.
5. Engage all of your employees When in a family business, it’s always important to make room for non-family members to shine; otherwise, this will bring forward a lot of conflict and wariness; therefore a highly demotivated workforce. Leaders should continue to highlight the strengths of the strategic plans and involve important stakeholders in the process. Additionally, by engaging employees and volunteers, it will help them to recognize and take ownership of the change. Involving employees also helps to provide more minds to prevent possible problems.
6. Communication is key Just like in any relationship, communication is key for success and delivering a message. In the case of Sedar, in order to drive the team forward and have everyone aligned, it required communicating the reasons why change was underway and respond in a detailed manner to any question that was asked. Not only does this build loyalty, but trust and appreciation, as that’s what makes a business last longer and a team remain solid.