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A Business Owner Asks, "How Do We Get to Disney World?

Aug 17, 2007
"Let's go to Disney World!" is the cry heard by millions of parents each year. "But how we get there?" parents often cry a few weeks before the trip.

Planning for the long-range success of your business can be boiled down to the same three step exercise you use to map out your trip to see Mickey.

First, (and of greatest importance) you have to get a handle on where you are right now, as a business and as a family.

Second, you need to determine where you want to be. As Will Rogers said, "it really doesn't matter that you are making great time if you're heading in the wrong direction."

Finally, you need to sort out the available alternatives will allow you to move smoothly from where you all are to where you want to.

Repair for most of us, a great place to start is with a meeting where we can begin the process. In a family owned business, family members from different generations may have opposing ideas, and these need to be considered as you plan for the future. Even if all members are in general agreement, no one may know how to discuss his or her point of view.

Frequently this lack of honest, unemotional communication is complicated by a lack of understanding of the techniques available. While planning for the future of the business and the family, these emotional issues are often overlooked or ignored in favor of "tax savings" for example, to everyone's sorrow later on.

The Family Conference: A Productive Planning Strategy

An excellent beginning is to hold a family conference. The family conference as a positive step toward assuring the future for everyone. The idea that "someday this will all work out" is a pipe dream. Nothing good happens by accident, without planning. The family conference helps you understand that your goals do not have the conflict with the goals of your father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter.

The objective of the family conference is to develop a set of suggested activities and planning ideas that you and your advisers can use to achieve your goals. Our quarter-century of experience has shown that the family/owners already have 90% of the information necessary to creatively plan for the future of their organization.

We believe that success comes only when the focus is on the needs and feelings of everyone involved.

What's needed is a framework for discussion, a process that allows them to construct effective dialogue to remove past slights, align expectations and create shared goals for the future. The results will provide their advisors a blueprint for creating the results the family seeks.

The Strategic Conversations Process: Before, During, and After the Family Conference

The 5 Key Principles of Strategic Conversations are:

1. Set the context for the interaction:
In order for a conversation to be "strategic," the stage must to be set with certain understanding and agreement. This process is a critical first step for it clarifies the objective and creates an atmosphere where trust can be built. You can see how important this is when the individuals involved have long histories with each other.

2. Initiate the dialogue:
Both an action step and a mind-set. As you communicate, your mind will be oriented so that you will receive and process input and respond to it in a focused and strategic manner. It is not necessary for each person involved to understand the principles, as long as you do. Having a "conversations on purpose" not the usual chit chat. The process identifies the subject as important.

3. Feedback for clarification:
"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. In its normal state, interpersonal communication is actually more often misinterpretation. All parties to the conversation believe they are being clear in what they are conveying, and the receivers think they are getting the message.

The truth is, most of the time the message being received is only partially correct. In order to have a strategic conversation, all parties to the conversation must be clear. The Strategic Conversations report provides examples of clarification strategies.

4. Show Appreciation:
The ending of a conversation is an important event in and of itself. All too often, a conversation ends too abruptly leaving one or more of the participants feeling awkward or uncomfortable. Then, the uncomfortable feeling is the last memory with which the participant is left. The act of showing appreciation is an effective gateway to transitioning to the close of a conversation and summing up the value of the interaction. There are examples of the power and art of showing appreciation in the 5 Keys To Strategic Conversations report.

5. Extend yourself:
This element opens the door for a future interaction of this type of communication. It can invite a closer relationship, if desired, or simply establish a connection. Modeling this type of behavior will encourage others to behave in a similar manner, leading to clearer, more accurate strategic conversations. Paying forward is an effective way to insure productive future conversations. The report contains tips on how to extend yourself in ways that will positively impact your communications.

Imagine, personal and business relationships without conflict. Decision made in a cooperative environment with "everybody rowing in the same direction" all the time.

Is it possible? It is when you have internalized the principles of "Strategic Conversations" and integrated them into your very being.

Is it easy? No, nothing worthwhile ever is. But since you have used, to a greater or lesser degree, each of the principles over time - you will be able to do this, given the commitment.
About the Author
Wayne Messick is co-founder and senior consultant at part of a global consortium of business strategists.
Click here for no-charge access to the research report 5 Keys to Strategic Conversations .
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