Family businesses have a history of surviving challenges and overcoming crises. They will survive the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic if owners dig deep into their generationally honed survival instincts. Family firms that have remained in business through generations and other crises did so by adapting, finding ways to operationalize efficiencies and compassionately manage their workforce while keeping true to their family culture.
The Nature of Change
Adaptability will be the hallmark of businesses that emerge from this crisis. In nature it is not always survival of the strongest or the smartest of the species, but the species that is adaptable to change.
Nothing approximates the changes, stress and coping strategies this pandemic demands. It has created challenges that have never been seen in this lifetime. This pandemic is not simply an event. Events are usually short term. This is a marathon that must be run differently.
Fatigue and pain are part of any marathon experience, which is where business owners and employees still find themselves in this pandemic. For a family business, it means new rules for running the business and the family.
The Challenge of Change
This pandemic demands that businesses, families and individuals change their behavior and thinking while managing emotions.
It is important to limit exposure to rumors and misinformation that instill fear, anger and uncertainty. They assault integrity and can drive one into doom and gloom scenarios. With daily business and family routines obliterated, people need to look for new routines, balance and equilibrium for coping with this new life. Information is important, but only certain amounts, and from certain reliable, fact-based, scientific outlets and media; and even then, probably not to exceed one or two hours a day.
As Brene Brown, a professor at University of Houston, states, “Crisis fatigue is the second stage enemy, and it is here.”
Leaders must move from fear and anxiety to action and thinking that is health-inducing and change-hardy. Otherwise the fatigue of the crisis will bring all down with debilitating fear, depression and helplessness. It will disrupt and disorganize family businesses and set up conflict and anxiety.
It is now, more than ever, that family businesses can optimally lean into their history, values and culture to face this adversity.
Businesses can inoculate with a change-hardy vaccine that has proven effective in managing stress by adjusting beliefs and thinking, and changing actions.
During the COVID-19 crisis, it is challenging to generate and hold on to positive thoughts, events and outcomes amidst daily media reports of the number of people it has rendered sick and dead, and businesses that have closed.
In times of prolonged crisis, long-held beliefs are particularly challenged and can easily become pessimistic, defeatist and negative. It is important to remain positive, focused and empowered. Use positive affirmations throughout the business, including:
• “We have trust and faith that we will continue to make solid business decisions.”
• “We are marathoners. We know how to go the distance in this family business.”
• “This COVID virus is manageable and will ultimately be defeated.”
• “We have the ability to control the safety and security of ourselves, our family and the business.”
• “We are going to try to keep thinking about what the business is working on that is going in the right direction.
• “Every day we are thinking and wondering about what great thing will happen today.”
All actions should be guided by the safe behaviors outlined by reputable health professionals, including wearing masks, avoiding crowds, keeping six feet between each other, wiping surfaces and washing hands frequently.
The best behavior to becoming change-hardy is to move from a perspective of fear and loss to an expectation of safety and abundance by:
• Creating and communicating a COVID-19 Strategic Business War Plan that drives the family and business leadership team.
• Tackling long-avoided miscellaneous business chores. They will bring mounds of satisfaction in their completion.
• Getting outside daily for 30 to 60 minutes, whether walking, sitting, or biking, while thinking about the business.
• Hanging out with positive people and avoiding dooms-dayers.
• Actually reading business books and articles.
• Having at least one family business meeting to talk about anything good coming from this crisis.
• Scouring the industry for new opportunities and using the board for help.
• Noticing and caring for employees, whether they are family or not.
Surviving this crisis may require taking heed of the wisdom of the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you get what you need.”
Everett Moitoza is a family business consultant and board member at the University of NH’s CEO and Family Enterprise Center at the Paul College of Business. Michelline Dufort is the center’s director. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Michelline.Dufort@unh.edu respectively. For more information visit moitoza.com and paulcollege.unh.edu/center-family-enterprise.