Tag Archives: behavior

Keeping the Brain from Going into Temper-Tantrum Mode When It’s Time To Change the Family Business

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

“You need to change” must be one of the ugliest, most unwelcome sentences in any language. Neuroscientists David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz have a good explanation why. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET), along with brain wave analysis technology, they can actually see neural connections in the brain for the first time ever. Rock and Schwartz contend that when we tell another person or groups of people what to do, such as change, the human brain automatically pushes back like a two-year old child. One reason for this is homeostasis—all organisms naturally move toward equilibrium and away from change. According to Rock and Schwartz, “Brains are pattern-making organs with an innate desire to create novel connections.”

It seems that when people come up with their own solutions to problems their brains release neurotransmitters such as adrenalin. So not only do our brains scream “No!” like a typical two-year old when told what to do, but they also follow up with another familiar toddler line, “I do it by myself!”

Rock and Schwartz suggest that their research provides a scientific basis for leaders to ask questions and let people come up with their own solutions rather than telling them what to do. Asking good questions to modify behavior goes back thousands of years; Socrates candidly admitted, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”

One way to facilitate change on a large scale, according to Drs. Rock and Schwartz, is to have some kind of event that allows people to have the opportunity to think for themselves. They site the work of Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University’s Institute for Neuroscience and others who have found sudden bursts of gamma waves in the brain right before people have moments of insight. This means a new set of connections is being made, which makes it easier to overcome the brain’s resistance to change. The researchers claim the best thing leaders can do when dealing with the challenge of change is to help their followers focus on solutions instead of problems and to let the followers create their own solutions.

In a business, when we pay people to work for us, it seems to be fair game to tell them what to do and that they have to change when it is necessary for improving business or the bottom line. If employees refuse, everyone understands the ultimate dire consequences—an escorted trip out the front door. But when change needs to occur in a family enterprise, especially when family members are also owners, it is vital that the family members spend time together considering the situation, asking the right questions, and discovering the answers together. Heeding the warning of the neuroscientists, if we simply tell family members what to do, or that they need to change for any reason, their brains are likely to go into temper-tantrum mode, and that’s not good for the family or for the business.

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Home- to-Office Transition Challenges in a Family Business

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, “  is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.

Dana Telford
Dana Telford

Often when giving a presentation about the challenges of running a family business, I use this quote to highlight the differences between the economic system we use in our family and the one we use at work.  If you are the main bread-winner for your family, it’s not reasonable for you to use all of the income you produce for your own wants or needs. Resources you bring in are allocated to family members based upon their needs.  Parents typically determine what is a “need” versus a “want” and set up a priority system.  Once the basics of food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation and communication are covered, the question of where to allocate resources is answered by finding the greatest need.  As an example of this, consider the family with a member who becomes ill and needs urgent medical care.  A family will sacrifice almost everything to ensure the well-being of the one member.  Once the member is brought back to health, however, the priority system and allocation of resources will change to fit the needs of the family as judged by parents. It’s a system that we are all used to and that feels natural and right.  And it is socialistic by nature.

I’ll state the obvious:  it’s important to make a hard break between our family and our family business. If a member of the next generation of a family business arrives at the workplace with an attitude akin to “Congratulations all who are here employed, I have arrived!  Me of Royal Blood!  Bow down and worship the future heir and bring gifts and resources to lay at my feet” we create problems for employees, family members and ourselves. At the family business, we must operate as capitalists, allocating resources based on forecasted return on investment and fit with strategic goals and culture.  Employees who don’t perform according to expectations lose jobs or get demoted, regardless of relationship to the owners or managers. Those who do perform get promotions, accolades, corner offices, bonuses, perks, more responsibility and prestige.

So how can we successfully make the transition between home and office in a family business?  How can we make sure that the Next Generation understands how important it is that the business can succeed only if it is managed by principles of merit and competition and performance?  Much of the answer is found in creating a set of shared expectations and understandings with family members, employees and owners to define which behaviors and attitudes are acceptable and which are not in the scheme of the family business system.   What does this mean on a workable, practical level?  Tune in later this week for a specific example or two of family rules and policies that can provide immediate help in keeping family socialism at home and capitalism at work.

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The Ties That Bind

David Ransburg

Have you already given up on your New Year’s resolution? If so, you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent study by the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology (http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/), only 8% of those who make a New Year’s resolution are actually successful in achieving their resolution.

So, why am I discussing this on a website about family businesses? The answer lies in one of the proven tactics for experiencing greater success when you find yourself struggling to take action: turn to a group for some support… and, the most fundamental group, or social network, is the family.

The mechanism behind the power of social networks is not completely clear, but what IS clear is that you will have better success in changing your behavior if you attempt that change as part of a social network.

What is really interesting is that it is not just people you interact with directly who impact your behavior. Extensive study by Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis (http://christakis.med.harvard.edu/av/video/TED_superorganism.mp4) shows that people who are as far away as three degrees of separation from you (i.e., your friend’s friend’s friend) can have a significant impact on your behavior… even if you never interact directly!

If your friend’s friend’s friend that you’ve never met can impact your emotions and your behaviors, then imagine how powerful the impact is of family members you work with frequently – even if that family member is a distant cousin based at a far-flung satellite office! The point is, even if the connection isn’t readily apparent, it is there… and, it is meaningful.

If it’s not just what each of you does individually that matters, but also the connection between you, then maintaining those connections is incredibly important. Like many things in life, connections will weaken and eventually disappear if neglected or mistreated. So, invest in those family connections… even the distant ones. That would be a New Year’s resolution worth keeping!

What are some of your New Year’s resolutions related to your family business?

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