…Does punctuality really matter?

So, You’re in the Family Business…
by Paul  Karofsky

Dad: Look, Richard, we’ve had this conversation before. You can’t keep coming in late!

Richard: I don’t understand why you’re so angry. You know I’m not a “morning person” and I was up with the baby again. It’s hard for me to get up so early every day. You’re the first one in every morning, anyway. I stay late and work as hard or harder than anyone. Does it really make a difference if I come in a little bit later?

Dad: You bet it does. It sets a terrible example for other employees. If you can do it, why can’t they? And what if everyone came in whenever they wanted to?

Richard: What if they did? So long as everyone gets all their work done well, does it really matter?

Dad ponders the situation. “I’ve had enough of this business. There are other things I want to do with my life. I’d love to turn it over to Richard, but I swear this kid just doesn’t get it. He’s the last employee to come in almost every morning. Richard’s a great guy. Everyone loves him. He’s bright, he’s capable. But he just doesn’t have his priorities in the right order. How could he possibly believe that his behavior doesn’t impact other employees? He’s my son. He’s supposed to be the model employee. How can I even start to think about slowing down and giving him more responsibility? I wonder if he’ll ever grow up. Or will I be trapped in this business forever?”

Richard reflects, “My dad is so up-tight. He’s got this “thing” about being on time. Maybe he forgot what it’s like to be the parent of young kids. It’s like his life is ruled by the clock. I wish he’d realize that it’s okay for employees to have some flexibility in their work hours. If people are happier and meeting some of their personal needs, I think they’ll ultimately be more productive. It’s time for him to lighten up a bit. I think I’d like to take over the business, but I’d like to get him to slow down first, give me more responsibility, and take some more time off from the business.”

What’s going on…

Dad has a two-fold concern. First he believes the boss’s son does have a special responsibility, an obligation to model the company’s values, to “set a proper example” for other company employees. Dad feels that his employees will judge him and the company by his son’s behavior. He is concerned that if Richard consistently arrives late, that non-family employees will feel that they can come in late also. He believes that a dual standard like that is not an acceptable business practice. It condones a failure to set limits and enforce standard operating policies, and magnifies “special treatment” for family members. Second, Dad wants to start planning for his retirement. The difference between his and Richard’s values exacerbates Dad’s concerns about Richard’s maturity and responsibility. Further, Dad is angry and is afraid that if Richard is not able to take over the business, he may not be able to meet his own goal of retirement.

Richard, meanwhile, is serious in his question, “does it make a difference, does it matter?” Beyond wanting to accommodate his own preference for a later “starting” time, Richard questions whether or not the traditional value of punctuality is vital to business. He wonders why the businesses cannot be more responsive to individual needs so long as all the work gets done? He sees his Dad’s values as old fashioned, out of touch and inflexible. In addition, his father’s behavior of coming in early each morning, gives Richard the opportunity to be late. After all, if Dad is there “to cover,” what’s the urgency for Richard to show up on time? The consequence, of course, is that Dad’s perception of Richard’s “lack of responsibility” is heightened by his repeated lateness, prompting Dad to withhold responsibility. The less responsibility Richard has, the less he feels the need to “model” responsible behavior to other employees.

What should they do…

It’s time for Dad and Richard to call “time out” on their repetitive actions. One way of doing this is for Dad to stop “covering” for Richard and by coming in later in the morning. Though Richard is trying to convince his father to adopt a new and different set of values which Richard believes are better for him and his generation, his timing is off a bit.  He first needs to demonstrate that he hears his father’s concern about punctuality and respond accordingly. While trying to introduce Dad to some “new rules,” Richard is damaging his own image, an image that is vital to the future for both Richard and his father.

Richard needs to encourage Dad to talk about the future and ask some penetrating questions about their visions for the business.  Does Dad want to exit?  What are his options for doing so?  What are the criteria for the next generation’s leader? Does Dad believe Richard is a candidate?  Does Richard want to “take over?”  What would the timing look like?

If Richard would like to be his father’s successor, both need to determine if Richard is “cut out” to take over the business. This starts with a joint evaluation of Richard’s strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, skills and values.

Once the needs and the timing become clear, Richard and Dad can build an action plan involving a series of specific measurable achievements which must be accomplished within an agreed time frame. These would include skills in all the appropriate business areas as well as performance to “company standards” like punctuality.

Despite some differences in generational perspectives, Dad and Richard may still be able to achieve their goals. But responsibility in the family business is something that Richard must be prepared to take and not wait for his father to give.

Paul Karofsky was president of his family’s third generation business.  He completed graduate studies at Harvard University doing research in family communication styles.  Paul is Executive Director Emeritus of Northeastern University’s Center for Family Business and facilitates its Leadership Development Forum.  He is the Founder and CEO of Transition Consulting Group, Ltd and is a frequent speaker and resource to educational institutions worldwide.  Paul consults to family enterprises and can be reached at [email protected] or 561-626-1110.

Copyright © 2010 Transition Consulting Group, Ltd.  All rights reserved.

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