Problem Solver: How do I get my father to let go after handing over reins?
Q. I am 33 and have been given the reins of the business by my father... in theory. He remains involved in the business and overrides many of the decisions I make. I badly need some advice.
A. When we filmed the 'Retail Therapy' TV programme, the story line was very similar to this. A family business that the parents were encouraging one of their children to take over, but the parents were struggling to let go. From your father's perspective, this has been a lifetime and he may be finding it quite difficult to let go.
I doubt if he is deliberately going out of his way to interfere. It is probably more a habitual thing, or even an effort to protect you.
You must however, deal with this and deal with it quickly as it will undermine your authority and perhaps dampen your enthusiasm and energy.
My experience of family businesses has been that very often things that should be spoken about are not for fear of upsetting someone in the family. Think about what you want to say in a constructive manner.
Consider getting your father out of the business for a day, perhaps while traveling around Dublin or some other centre of retailing, to have a look at competitors. Use this opportunity to have a frank and open discussion about roles and responsibilities and say how you actually feel when these situations arise.
Your father, I am sure, will be sympathetic - however that won't help the situation unless you can bring about some change. Perhaps it's time he cut back his hours so he is not physically present all of the time. Taking extended holidays would be another way to naturally allow you to take an enhanced role.
I doubt you will meet any major resistance, and you could well find that his motivation is driven by a desire to ensure that you succeed.
You now have to convince him that success will come through him taking a back seat and allowing you to drive the business forward.
I have no doubt that you will want to enlist his advice and help going forward and it might be a good idea to hold a monthly management meeting with your dad so you can keep him updated on what is happening in the business and also use him as a sounding board where some big decisions need to be made.
With our 'Retail Therapy' programme family, we had a fantastic outcome, with the parents deciding to take some time out of the business and their daughter blossoming in her management skills with her new-found freedom.
Q. We operate a business in a competitive sector and we are in the middle of formulating a strategy in the business to help secure our future. Our focus will be 'to be the best in our sector', and I just wanted your opinion on this broad direction.
A. Far too often businesses don't stand back and take stock of where they are at, and then formulate a strategy. Well done on taking the initiative!
I meet many companies who have a strategy of 'being the best' and I am not entirely sure that it is the best focus for their business. It implies that you become obsessive about your competitors and spend all your time watching what they are doing in order to outdo them. Watching your competitors carefully is an important part of the business, but trying to better them probably is not a strong enough strategic positioning.
Strategy is more about being unique in everything you do and trying to create a unique consumer proposition regardless of what others are doing in the marketplace. That shifts the focus entirely onto your own business and puts the customer centre stage in the strategy formation.
When I was leading the team in Superquinn we put a huge amount of effort in trying to be unique and offer the customer something really special. We took most of our direction from customers by listening carefully to what they had to say. We found reacting to feedback helped to make the shopping experience unique, which allowed us to stand out in food retail circles.
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