How “Boundary Disputes” waste time in Founder/Successor relationships

by IdeaTransfer on May 22, 2011

Boundary Disputes are closely related to Mishandled Baggage.  Again, very common in multigenerational succession plans but there is potential in every succession circumstance.  The disputes arise when business problems leak into home life—and they always will if left to chance.

Home is where all the emotional support resides, and business problems often require some homegrown emotional support.  That’s OK where there is only one family, but founder/successor situations involve multiple families.  And in family succession plans those ties can extend quite a ways.

When business issues are raised at home they seldom come with the original context and background.  Family members who are not in the business are likely to feel protective or indignant or fearful—or any of dozens of emotions that are negative, unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Negatives move fast between mind and heart and mouth, and soon what was a fixable problem at work becomes a battleplan at home.

This situation may have been best described in a recent comedy.  In the middle of an argument one character clearly missing a few cards in his deck authoritatively claimed, “Pandora comes out of the box.  He doesn’t go back in the box.”

So the best solution may be not to pull Pandora out of that box.

This is where the boundaries between business and family need to be drawn.  In an ideal world, founders and successors agree at the outset to guidelines about areas of business planning that are wide open and areas that are cordoned off.  Or, if that is complicated, then they agree to raise the question on a case by case basis every time a decision is being made.

The succession plan depends on strong and open communication between founder and successor.  Family members have to understand that when the turkey is on the table or they are in the car for a few hours, business discussions are left behind.  If successors are not in the family, the same rules apply—business issues should be resolved in the business environment.

Of course, it is not an ideal world.  What happens when the partition is breached?  As consultants we have taken the Henry Kissinger role often enough, but let’s hear from everyone reading this on this subject.

Those of you who have stories to tell about bringing business home or leaving it at the door—successes and disasters—please let us in on the lessons you learned and applied.


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