Changing working methods in a family business

Changing working methods in a family business

So you’re a family business, and you’re wrestling with all the palaver that Covid-19 has created.

New regulations. New – and ever-changing – restrictions. New ways of working to keep your staff (and your customers) safe. And, of course, to keep in line with the law.

It’s a lot to deal with.

Some of the changes you need to make seem pretty obvious. Others don’t. And some may seem obvious to you, but not to your staff. After all – let’s face it – no one likes change. Especially when they can’t see the point of it.

And you’re running a family business. With staff who are used to a working environment that’s more relaxed, more focused on people, and less hierarchical. Which means they may not be too keen to embrace new and unfamiliar ways of working.

You think – or even know – they’re essential. Your team may well regard them as ‘bureaucracy gone mad’, and respond accordingly. They may even think they’re helping. After all, they won’t want to see your business drowning in paperwork. Or losing its attraction – to them – by becoming rigid and inflexible.

But you, of course, need those changes to happen. Right now.

So what’s the answer?

Start with a good, positive thought. You’re running a successful family business – and that’s thanks, in large part, to your team. You know they’re invested in what you’re doing, and dedicated to supporting you. So their resistance to change – ironically – is the result of their commitment to you and to the business.

And that’s what you need to build on…

Use that commitment. Work with it. You know your people – so you will know how best to get the same level of commitment to the changes you urgently need to make.

In practice that requires two things: patience, and time. You’ll need to talk to them. To explain what you are doing, and why. To discuss, with them, how those changes can best be implemented. Especially if your first ideas are causing problems.

In other words, wherever and whenever possible you need to involve and engage them. Because that will reinforce the trust and respect they already have for you and for the business.

Yes, it takes longer. And no, it wouldn’t be the right way to tackle an urgent emergency. But it’s the best way to build commitment to new working practices, and to ensure your staff do what’s necessary.

Even when you’re not looking…

You can see earlier posts about change management here on the website, of course. But if you’d like to talk it through, give me a call on 01359 240717 or drop me an email!  The first hour is free, so there’s no catch.

Communication failure: when systems collide…

Communication failure: when systems collide…

Communication is the key to successful business – yet all too often communication between businesses can fall at the first hurdle. Sometimes with potentially serious consequences.

A good friend, who chairs his village Parish Council, was told that a recent storm had damaged a tree overhanging one of the approach roads. A branch had broken, snapping a cable as it fell, and was now hanging down into the middle of the road.

He drove out to check for himself what had happened, took a few photographs, and phoned his county Highways department to report the issue.

A conversation…

‘There’s a broken cable, you say?’

‘Yes.’

‘We don’t deal with those. You’ll have to call whoever owns the cable. That’s our policy.’

So he called OpenReach, who were responsible for the cable.

‘There’s a broken branch, you say?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t deal with trees. It’s company policy.’

At this point he confesses that he slightly lost his cool. ‘It’s dangerous. There’s a broken cable that Highways don’t want to know about, and the branch is a hazard to traffic.’

‘Sorry. Can’t do anything until that branch is sorted out. Like I said, it’s company policy. We’ve had too many problems dealing with trees.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Sorry…’

Communication breakdown – irresistible force and immovable object?

On reflection, my friend could understand the problem. He remembered seeing a crew coming to cut back trees that had grown to a point where they were fouling overhead cables. Doubtless their work led to a flood of calls from angry landowners, with the result that the company had decided not to do tree work at all. Which was logical – but unhelpful…

Luckily, as it turned out, the call handler at OpenReach was ready to go the extra mile, and rang back to say there was an engineer on site. The engineer, too, had gone the extra mile and called in a cherry-picker vehicle to repair the cable. And when my friend revisited the site, the cable had been fixed.

And the branch had been removed.

So – thanks to two people prepared to take the initiative – all was well. But his story did highlight an issue I’ve come across before. I’m reminded, for instance, of those familiar scenes in the early days of railway privatisation. You’d often see a group of people in a mixture of uniforms, suits, and safety gear gathered on a station platform to argue about who, precisely, was responsible for what in dealing with a problem. Sometimes, it would seem, without a satisfactory outcome…

And the conclusion?

It’s great to have logical systems. It’s sensible to protect yourself from unnecessary problems. But not, perhaps, at the cost of leaving clients and potential clients in danger – or simply in a place where no one will take responsibility for a potentially dangerous situation..

After all, good customer service has always involved going the extra mile…

And if you’d like to go the extra mile, you’re welcome to offer me a (virtual) cup of coffee while we have an hour’s consultation. No charge – just call me on 01359 240717 or drop me an email.