A common challenge for family members in business together is communication. How well family members are communicating impacts the family’s ability to work together effectively, a capability that is foundational to healthy families and healthy businesses.
One key to effective communication by leaders is being thoughtful and deliberate about WHO Knows WHAT and WHEN (WKWW). Information and its flow is a powerful influence within families and businesses, and WKWW sends signals as to one’s standing.
If family or business leadership conveys important information to one or more persons at the exclusion of others of supposed ‘equal standing’, this can signal that some have favored status. This will likely lead to anger, hurt feelings and an erosion of trust among those who feel they were slighted by not receiving the information. Further, those who received information may start to believe they are ‘special’ and entitled to different access – making it difficult to adjust to any requests to change the flow of information going forward without escalating resentments in the system.
A few thoughts on how to reduce the risk of these problems. First consider whether the information to be communicated is primarily a family matter, a business matter, or an ownership matter. Then communicate within the proper venue – family matters at family meetings, business matters at management meetings, and ownership matters at board or ownership council meetings. That way the right people will more likely received the right information at the right time.
The second thought is role clarity. For very good reasons some family members or management team members should know certain important information exclusively or before others in the family or on the management team. Having clearly defined roles within family and business governance will help set appropriate expectations as to the flow of information.
Finally, for important information that needs to be communicated, think through and visualize: the appropriate venue, the best person to convey the information, the sequence and the timing. Consider who will be most impacted by the information and the magnitude of any changes that will come along once the information is conveyed. Taking the time to visualize the roll out of the information will increase the odds that you will get the roll out right.
WHO Knows WHAT and WHEN? Getting this right will help your family and business go a long way to not hurting others feelings, an important part of working together effectively.