Is it really success if you don’t love each other in the end?

There’s a unique dynamic within family business. When your parent is your boss and your siblings are your coworkers, you’re bound to encounter struggles, victories, and other unique situations. These are the dynamics that those who aren’t in the business of family business could never imagine. This week, Brent, Trudy (Brent’s wife) and Alyssa (Brent’s daughter) are sitting down to discuss what it’s like working together in family business.

Individuals in family business often comment that they believe working in the business is actually more difficult than working outside of it. Do you believe this to be true? Why?

Without question. When you blend the feeling and emotion of people who are related with the objectivity and level of commitment the business requires, you have the potential for complexity. It’s easy to say that the business has to come first. It’s much harder to practically understand and act on what that means. This is the constant battle that the business has the potential to wage in the family.

I think that this depends on your role in the family and your role in the business. As a wife, I work in a different dynamic than the children in the business. The most difficult aspect is the comfort level you have with your family. You feel you can say anything and everyone will be ok. You sometimes speak to your family in a tone that you may not use with others. Remembering that as a family member, we still have responsibilities as an employee, and both need to be respected. There are also times that you may feel more accountability to outside organizations because you feel like the family will be more lenient or tolerant when you do not perform, or make mistakes. There has to be an understanding of excellence in performance in a family business that is equal to any outside organization you may work with.

I find this to be true because of communication dynamics. When you work with family there is significantly more context to your communication habits. While this can be a blessing at times; like when you feel as if you can read each other’s minds, it can also be frustrating when you feel like all of your past selves are on display in conversations as well.

How does working together in the business impact your relationships with one another outside of the business?

When you recognize that there’s no magical on-off switch to commitment, you can clearly understand the potential for a relational impact that’s both positive and negative. There are more days where personal and professional relationships are clear and contributive both at work and at home. I enjoyed working in my mom’s business growing-up and I genuinely enjoy working with family today.  There are however those moments, situations or approaches that have the ability to move everyone towards engaged emotion and away from reaction control. Having the self-awareness to understand which is which is what allows us to keep each other whole and valued as people and as members of the team. Working with family requires vigilance and awareness and it requires that you ask this question: Is it really success if you don’t love each other in the end?

There are times this is very difficult. I like to tease that he is the boss at work, and I am the boss at home. But realistically, it requires an awareness of roles both professionally and personally. Recognizing and remembering that we are on the same team is important.  It can be challenging to keep work at an appropriate focus level when we are spending time outside the office. You never leave work at the office when you own your own business, and it’s even more difficult when the family also shares in the passion for the business. It’s easy to talk shop at any time of the day or week. Patience with each other and open communication is important when the roles collide. Shifting of hats from boss to husband, or from office manager to wife is important so that you feel mutually respected and equal when we are outside the business.

I’d say that working with my dad has actually improved our relationship outside of work. We both like working and being able to connect over business topics works well for us. We can challenge each other in a different way than we could before working together. Plus, he works so much that he’s quite hard to get ahold of outside of our scheduled calls. (He would refute and say I don’t answer my phone on the weekends, which is in part true because I’m normally riding my bike to lunch and around the city).

Alyssa, your dad commented in his book that sometimes he still sees you at 16 years old rather than as a professional with your own skillset. What do you do to remind him of who you are now?

This used to bother me more than it does now. I used to feel like I had to step out from under the shadow of him seeing me as a younger version of myself so that I could be valued as a professional. Now, I can appreciate the fact that I will always be his daughter and he carries perceptions that I can’t change or control. To help shift some of those lingering perceptions though, I continue to focus on defining my own identity and being visible in new spaces. It helps that I’m not a full-time employee and I have built my own business outside of my work with PDI. Having passions for similar topics but wanting to use them in vastly different ways for completely unique audiences has been a fun evolution as well. I’ve been able to take so many things I’ve learned from him throughout my life and apply it to new spaces that are interesting to me. As I continue to expand in multiple directions so do his perceptions and my patience.

Trudy, what is it like playing the role of Brent’s wife and his colleague?

Brent differentiates each role of mine with his clients. He introduces me as his colleague in business settings when his intent is to establish my own credibility as a representative of Perpetual Development, not as his wife. It takes an awareness on both parts to respect every hat we wear together, and how that needs to be represented in each situation. I am fortunate in my professional life to have an amazing role model, mentor and colleague in Brent. He values my opinion, and we work together as colleagues that can support each other and rely on each other's expertise and strengths when needed. I am a very proud wife, and it’s important that he knows that I support him as my husband, a provider, and a father to our children as well as a colleague. And in the long run, this is the most important to me. I truly get the best of both worlds.

Brent, was becoming a family business intentional?

It would be well scripted to say yes and that would be completely inaccurate. Becoming a business was first about survival and it has continually progressed to thriving. Becoming a family business requires two essential ingredients. First, there must be family members who are interested in being a part of the business. Second, those family members must align with a defined role that contributes to the company. When family businesses are not intentional, it usually shows through a collection of family members who think entitlement first and contribution second. I’m thankful to say that Perpetual Development became a family business because the required ingredients were/are present.

Alyssa, it’s important to recognize that you work with your dad on contract rather than as a direct employee. Why is this? 

We’ve always been clear that I don’t want to work in the family business full time. I’ve watched my dad build this business for most of my life which meant I learned the value of working for myself from a young age. As a result, I was fortunate enough to start my own business right out of college and I love what I’m creating. However, I also love my dad and since our spaces and skills complement each other nicely I enjoy that I can support his business and challenge him to consider new ways of doing things. He does the same for me and that seems to work well for us.

We’re funny because we’re so similar in some regards yet vastly different in some of our core values and driving forces. Working with my dad on a contract basis allows me the freedom and independence I desire but grants me the pleasure and joy of seeing him continue to evolve a business he’s so passionate about.

Brent, how will Perpetual Development continue to grow as a family business?

I’ve had the privilege to work within businesses that have had two family members involved and I’ve worked with a company that had 42 family members participating in the organization. Interestingly, both of these businesses are large companies both by the number of people employed and the total sales volume. Evolving as a family business doesn’t necessarily require more family members. The growth of the business is fueled by the expansion of opportunities, causing leaders to think, providing exceptional guidance and limit assumptions about how all of this will happen. Growth has been, and will continue to be, fueled by awareness and understanding that helps our clients arrive at better decisions and outcomes.

Trudy, what do you do to help separate family time from business time? 

Set parameters. In business, there are expectations of performance and commitment to the business.  When you work together in the business, you need to also set expectations and commitments personally. It’s difficult to not talk about the business when you are spending family time together. Part of being able to do that is to schedule time together during the workweek to discuss work issues, so you have business covered and can focus on the family because the work topics have been addressed at another time. We have hobbies that we share, and when it’s time to relax, we do that. We have to plan our time away from work and be deliberate about that time, whether we are with family, friends, or heading off on an adventure.  We both love variety, and most of the time can challenge anyone to keep up. That’s fun for us.

What is the most rewarding part of being a family business?

Uniquely, what is most rewarding is consistent both with our clients and within Perpetual Development: Seeing people that you love, care about and are committed to achieving things they may have never imagined because they were willing to think beyond boundaries. Put another way - helping people develop their potential, maximize their capacity and produce definable results. I never lose sight of the unique nature of family business as a differentiator at many levels.

Sharing a goal, and a passion for the same things. Watching the members of the family succeed and grow together toward that goal is exciting, and rewarding. The constant growth and change that we experience does not stop when you leave the office because it carries into all aspects of our life.  The business is a huge part of our lives together, and we don’t get to totally separate that from everything else that we do. It’s because we work together, understand and see what the other is going through that gives us the freedom to be together. How many people get to say “I really love my boss!” and it means so much.  Being on the inside gives me the opportunity to really appreciate everything that goes into a life that is rewarding professionally and personally, and knowing that we have the privilege to do this together every day is such a blessing.

I think the most rewarding part of being a family business is getting to experience wins together. Because we work together and have such a deep context for what each person does, it offers a depth of understanding to each win (and challenge) that would be harder to comprehend otherwise.

Are you a member of a family business? What is the most rewarding part for you? Let us know in the comments.

The Evolution of Culture Within Family Business

“Don’t romance the past and fail to consider the future.”

(A client of mine made this very simple, yet incredibly profound, statement when discussing the cultural shift through transitions within the company.)

The Shift

The majority of my clients are going through a shift - the founding entrepreneurs, owners and senior leadership are preparing for offboarding while the next generation of leaders is stepping into more challenging roles.

Foundational leaders have experience and want to protect and advance what they created and built. The next gens desire more responsibility and want to carve their path. In most cases, both generations recognize the need for innovation and new ideas. How they go about it is likely the key difference.

Keep in mind that company cultures are living and breathing organisms and team members are intuitive and highly aware. They’re smart and sense, know and feel when changes or cultural shifts are about to occur.

If the leaders of organizations are to maximize generational transitions, they’ve got to inspire high levels of accountability, communication and collaboration among foundational and next-gen leaders. This is the opportunity to define a renaissance within their company.

A Business Renaissance

Renaissance. A renewed interest in something. Rather than just transitioning from one generation to the next, family business leaders have a choice about bringing a sense of revival to their leadership teams and to the future of their company. Transitions offer opportunities. Leaders define whether they will use them or lose them to catalyst new ideas, new ways and new approaches.

Preserve, Let Go and Communicate

As leadership transitions from one generation to the next, there are three critical questions to consider.

  1. What do we need to preserve and why?
  2. What do we need to let go of and why?
  3. What are we doing to continually communicate, value candor and define accountability?

Don’t Leave Your People Guessing

Keep this thought in mind: People should not be left to guess about what transition means for the company, its culture and forward direction.  As companies move from one generation to the next, it’s important for leaders in transition to keep the context of decisions, choices, communication and actions in mind. This is about awareness at the highest levels. It stems from the mindset that a generational transition impacts every single person within the company at some level. Rather than constantly discussing “the change” discuss the new opportunities that the transition presents. Allow leaders the opportunity to share their visions and build an environment of enthusiasm.

Always remember that in the absence of clarity and communication people will fill in the blanks for themselves. Don’t let that happen. Value legacy. Embrace the future. Don’t romance either at the expense of the other. Define your renaissance.

Here’s to revival,

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

The Importance of Healthy Separations

Always Thinking About the Business

Entrepreneurs, owners and execs have many things in common. One of which is that we’re always thinking about the business. I repeat, we’re ALWAYS thinking about the business. With this comes the struggle between work life and personal life. No, I’m not talking about what I believe to be the overly-discussed, overly-conceptualized and overly-idealized work-life balance. I’m talking about maintaining a passion and purpose for your complete self and your complete life.

The Frustration

I’ve tried and failed many times at work-life balance. As a business owner, there are times where such a condition simply doesn’t exist. As a person, there are times where balance is as simple as a little less work and a little more personal time. Reading about the topic frustrated me more than it helped me. I didn’t feel like this utopian state of work-life balance was possible or existed.

Passion and Purpose

I’ve always been passionate and purposeful about what I do and the things I choose to undertake. These are characteristics of who I am at my core and they have brought more good than bad in my life. So I got to thinking... What if I were to change my view? What if I were to look at it differently?

What if I utilized them to define a healthy separation instead of the so-called work-life balance? What if I were deliberate about creating space in my life?

Anything But Easy

Achieving space to create a healthy separation is anything but easy. It’s 8:01 p.m. and I’m writing this while I’m home. I’m a student of this process and a teacher of others (where a proven track record of achievement is much more clearly defined).

To say that I’ve had to be diligent about developing systems that support a healthy separation would be an understatement. For me, home can’t always come second to work and prioritizing home doesn’t mean that I’m compromising work.

There’s value in hobbies, interests and friendships. They offer support to a healthy separation; they don’t compete against it. Easy to say, much harder to recognize and act on.

The Business of Family Business

Recognizing this value can be especially difficult within the boundaries of family business. When you work together, it’s nearly impossible to not take business home. Yet I know that I must value the totality of my life not just the working aspect of my life.

I once asked a client’s daughter how their Thanksgiving was; her response was heartbreaking. “What Thanksgiving? We had a business meeting.” Don’t judge. Think about how closely this may resemble some aspect of your life.

When you’re passionate and purposeful, creating a healthy separation is hard work. It’s hard because of attributes like commitment, dedication, care and concern. And yet, if we don’t make the effort to do so, we never gain the ability to understand and appreciate the value of a complete life.

Recognizing this, I’ve developed 5 tips/reminders to support a healthy separation. Reminders and tips to myself and for myself. Maybe they will help you as well.

  1. Have a defined time each evening when you shut off work and focus on home.
  2. Develop a code word or hand signal your family can give you when you’re crossing over into work at non-work events.
  3. Set aside certain days each month that are strictly personal. Use these days to focus on your family, friends and hobbies.
  4. Develop a hobby that you love and take the time to identify how the hobby helps you confront your work with clarity.
  5. Take a vacation!

With an appreciation for the journey and the recognition that we’re all a work in progress.


P.S. How have you worked to create a healthy separation?  Share your tips in the comments.

Family Favoritism is Alive and Well… and Limiting the Growth of Your Business

There’s no good outcome from allowing nepotism to be the deciding factor in a family member or friend getting a job within your company.  When you favor a friend or relative into the business, with little to no consideration of alignment to a role, you’re doing more harm than good to both them and the business.

It doesn’t mean that family and friends don’t have a place. After all, how does a business become a family business if there’s no family involved? Put simply, when you hire or promote people, including family members, who aren’t the best fit for the job, you’re encouraging misalignment.


No amount of love aligns a person to a role that doesn’t fit their behavioral style, leadership profile or driving forces for coming to work every day. Ask yourself if family members arrive at their positions on purpose or if they are placed in those roles with a healthy dose of “good luck” as their primary strategy for success. Misalignment between a person and their role isn’t resolved as a result of your intention for someone to be successful.

A Course of Action

In the two decades of serving the needs of leaders/owners of family-owned businesses, I’m continually struck by the compromise of performance standards driven by the belief and subjectivity that just because someone shares a lineage or friendship, they're going to bring superior performance to a role.

The best thing that leaders in family business can do to course-correct is to bring objectivity to the decisions of who gets a job within the company.

The Back-Story of Nepotism

Jaine was under-performing in her role and she knew it. For two years, her life was a self-described “living hell” and she wasn’t shy about sharing her opinion. She was the director of marketing. Her mother, and co-owner of the business, asked me to develop an understanding of where she was at and what should be done to correct the situation.

When I spoke with Jaine, here is exactly how she started the conversation: “I was put in this role because I’m my mother’s daughter, not because it’s what I wanted to do. She wants me in the company because that’s her vision and dream. I was an art major in college and my mom thought that my creativity would define my success in marketing. I wanted a job after graduation so I went along with it and I’ve regretted that decision ever since.”

This is the nightmare of nepotism within family businesses. Today, Jaine is a curator for an art museum in a major metro and she values her mom as a parent, rather than being frustrated by her as a business owner.

Fit Over Family

Within the business, there must be value in fit over family. Hiring someone simply because they’re related, but not aligned with their role, only prohibits or avoids family conflict for a moment.

On the other side of that decision are blind spots that are seen by everyone with the exception of the person that decided to favor family over fit.

5 Things to Consider When Hiring Family into the Business

Ask these questions if you’re looking to eliminate blind spots when hiring family into the business. Each of these have an emphasis that considers fit over family.

  1. Why is this family member the best person for the job? How have they earned this role ahead of other candidates?
  2. What are their unique skills and how will their talents and abilities deliver value to the role?
  3. What tension will be created within the family and the business by placing this person in this role?
  4. Am I hiring this person because they are the best fit and aligned to the role or am I selecting this person to avoid family conflict?
  5. What thought or perspective haven’t I considered? What are the potential blind spots?

Until next week,

Have you seen nepotism “in action”? I’d like to hear what you think or have you share your perspective and experiences.

Family Business. The Legacy of Generations.

Jordan Fee is a 4th-generation owner of Fee Insurance Group.

Recently, Jordan shared his thoughts on a series of questions centered on the business of family business. This candid insight from Jordan revealed his thoughts and perspectives as a next gen business owner.

Fee has been an independent, family-owned company for over 130 years. Jordan’s father, Allen, is the company CEO and his uncle, Bob, is the company president. Jordan is a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Certified Authority on Workers Compensation (CAWC), and a Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist (CLCS).

Personally… Jordan and his wife, Heather, welcomed their first child in 2018.

Tell me about your earliest memories of being a part of a family business.
JF: Some of the earliest memories I have are of my mom bringing my brother and me to the office to see my dad, uncle, and grandpa. It was always a big deal for us because we got to have a pop every time.

What was the first work you can remember doing for the company? 
JF: Every year at Christmastime, we received calendars and my dad would always have my brother and I go out, around the community, and deliver them to some of our clients. It was always kind of a big deal.

When do you consciously remember saying, “I want to become a part of the family business”? 
JF: I always had a great appreciation for what my dad, grandpa, and my uncle did in regards to community, the relationships they built with people, and the type of work they did in helping people reduce risk.

Right out of college I went and did an internship in a medical malpractice insurance company in Minnesota. It was a great experience. I wanted to apply the same traits of work ethic and building relationships that my dad, uncle and grandpa exhibited. I wanted to do what my dad did but didn’t necessarily know it would mean the family business specifically.

The older I became, my early 20’s, the more evident it was to me that I had a connection to the insurance industry. Helping people with their insurance needs and reducing their risk was something I would enjoy and be comfortable having a conversation around. I also knew that I had room to grow and would be challenged in a good way.

This is when being part of the family business became a serious deal for me. I knew I really wanted to be a part of Fee as a company. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do. I would challenge people who think it is; it’s actually harder working with family than it would be working in a company where people aren’t related.

Why is that?
JF: The expectations placed on me as a Fee were automatic. They were way more than what I would have experienced working with a company that wasn’t founded and led by family. The separation of family and the business is a challenge. We work together, but we also want to be able to enjoy each other outside of work. We are passionate and committed to our business. We also want to be able to enjoy family barbecues and holidays without work being the center of every conversation. Even when we’re dealing with something challenging or intense at the office. Someone who doesn’t work with family wouldn’t have this level of understanding or have to deal with the family work balance and blend.

How do you define your own identity given the family relationships and legacy? How do you work on defining you every day in this business?
JF: It’s definitely difficult.  You grow up and you come into this business and you see what others have done to make it successful. I’ve seen and heard the stories of what my grandfather did to grow this business by building relationships and establishing trust. I see the same commitment from my father and my uncle as well. I want to be known for the same level of relationship and trust with people. At the same time, I understand I’ve got to be my own person. I’m not them. I’ve got my own style. I’ve got different ways I go about things. I handle problems and situations differently than they do. The struggle, and the thing that I remind myself of continuously is, I’ve got to just be myself in all situations. I can’t constantly think, “Should I have handled it this way because that’s the way my dad would have handled this?” I’ve had to determine my own thoughts on situations while always keeping in mind what’s best for the company. It’s important that I know who I am and focus on my trajectory as a professional while valuing the perspectives shared by my father and my uncle.

So, when you started at the ground level, was that your idea? Was it your dad’s idea? Was it a requirement? 
JF: Allen, Bob, and I all agreed that’s where I was going to have to start in order to get a good understanding of how the business works and operates. If I earned a place of leadership, I would have a good understanding of why things happen, how success is achieved, why problems occur, and so forth. Entry-level work was a good place to start to be able to give me the best picture of how the work got done. How we deal with clients, how we deal with companies, and how we deal with our employees. This was about looking at the complete picture of the business.

Not long ago, you became an owner of the company. Did you always know that you wanted to work towards becoming an owner?
JF: You know, that’s a great question. I think once I got to the point where I decided the company meant enough to me that I wanted to be a part of it, as an individual, in the family, with this name, I knew that ownership was a potential. It wasn’t guaranteed and it was going to have to be earned over many years. Which it was. I feel comfortable in my leadership and abilities. But yet, I felt like the name, the company, this legacy went beyond my abilities. They meant enough to me that if I earned the opportunity, I would be honored to represent the ownership team of this organization because I believe in the mission, I love the legacy, and I want to do anything I can to preserve it into the future.

What is the most rewarding part of family business? 
JF: I think the most rewarding thing for me is the leadership and the people that have come before me. The people that made this company and made the brand what it is today across the state and beyond. To have that attached to my last name, that’s pretty rewarding. I’m very proud to be able to say, “I’m a Fee”. Again, it’s because of the leadership here, the people that are a part of the company, and all the loyal customers and clients that have trusted us to handle insurance and risk management for them over the lifetime of this organization. That trust in us, that’s rewarding to me. It’s rewarding for me to be viewed as a trusted advisor in this organization and continue to be viewed as a trusted advisor with our customers.

If you were to share one thought with NextGen leaders, who are pursuing ownership in a family business, what would it be? 
JF: Something that my dad always has stressed with us is never lose sight of your foundation and what’s important to you. For any NextGen thinking about leadership and ownership, I’d offer the same thought. If the legacy of your family business is important to you, if that’s your foundation, always remember that and never lose sight of that focus.

The legacy of Fee, moving it forward and getting even better for the people that have trusted in us for so long. That’s my foundation. Family business, just like any other business, doesn’t come without challenges. Always rely on the foundation of why you’re doing what you’re doing. I remind myself of this foundation regularly. Why I’m here, why I believe in Fee, how it aligns with who I am, and where I’d like to see it go into the future. This is how I know I’m in the right place and how NextGen family business leaders and owners will know they’re in the right spot.

This is the foundation that gives me the confidence that I’m doing what I want to do in further defining the legacy and leadership of our company.

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Let us know your thoughts on this week's guest blog in the comments.

Giving Yourself Permission to Focus on the Now

Don’t Read This

This is a blog post by a 23-year-old millennial with a physiology degree who somehow ended up in sales.

If you haven’t guessed already: I’m Brent’s son, Bryce Patmos.

Why did my dad ask me to write this week’s blog post? What value can a 23-year-old add to Thoughtwave and to your week? Trust me, I asked myself the same thing. But as I started to think about it, being my father’s son and pursuing a career in sales myself has positioned me to understand many things others my age haven’t had the chance to see.

Who Cares?

I currently work for the 3rd largest IT staffing firm in the Nation, building relationships with managers and being a resource, regardless of time or day, when a need arises. In this business and in this industry, I am my own product. And just like products need descriptions, I found myself needing one too. As a young professional, I’m striving to define me--not others defining me, not social norms defining me, but me defining me. This is important because the definition and image that I portray for myself now is one that I will carry with me as I develop in my career.

I’m often confronted with people saying, “Who cares? You are young, it doesn’t matter.” But the fact of the matter is I care deeply because I’ve seen the impact of this initiative firsthand.

I grew up with an entrepreneurial father. I was fortunate enough to watch him build his own business in his own vision and witness what it means to give your all day in and day out, no matter what. I watched as my dad constantly refined his approach and focus and felt the impact of his awareness in his own identity.

As a result, I’ve also seen what a family business looks like and have come to appreciate that family business is about much more than what’s being produced and sold.

Being part of a family business embodies a different kind of connection and dedication. You’re not only defining a portion of who you are through this business, but you’re also representing your family.

You not only have to figure out who you are in the business and who you are in your family, you have to figure out your identity as a family member in the business. By its nature, family business elicits a different type of connection and love for what you do. It’s not just owning a business, it’s loving the process and the business itself, and it’s about legacy.

What Do You Want to be Known For?

I believe this is a question that should be continually asked, no matter your age. It’s never too early or too late to consider the impact you want to leave in this world. More importantly, I’ve learned that the way to leave a legacy is by taking small, measurable steps.

The Impact of Now

As you might expect of a 23-year-old, right now I’m focusing on me. I spend my time thinking about my career, my passions, and focusing on the now. I absolutely think about the future and where I want to be in 10 years, however right now in this moment, I’m giving myself permission to focus on the now. I will become the best me at this stage in my life.

I talked about the dedication it takes to own a family business: I learned from my father that this lesson applies to all aspects of life.

Focus on the now, give 100% of the effort you have available in that moment, and use it to shape and determine what you are looking for out of your career.

So to answer my initial question, what does a 23-year-old professional have to offer? I can show you what it truly means to focus on the now. I can show you that age does not predicate work ethic, values, or career path. Your willingness to focus on the now, your willingness to give 100% of your available effort, and your willingness to define yourself is what it comes down to. You define you.

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Let us know your thoughts on this week's guest blog in the comments.

7 Universal Truths to Prevent Stagnancy in Your Business

While attending the TTI Success Insights Global Conference on Human Potential this past January - Molly Fletcher, one of the keynote speakers, quoted Tom Izzo who said, “You better be better than your problems.” This immediately caught my attention because if you want to be better than your sales and margin problems, it’s imperative that stagnancy isn’t your primary strategy.

Stagnancy Stinks

If your sales are sluggish, it may be because your customer base has gotten a bit stale.

If your gross margin isn’t where you want it to be, it may be because you’ve failed to advance your pricing strategy with you customers.

If you fail to refine your customers and define the relationship, it’s entirely possible that the foul odor you smell is the stagnancy of an approach that lacks awareness.

Universal Truths

While every company’s strategy is unique, there are some universal truths, connected to the life-cycle of businesses that are essential to preventing stagnancy from rooting its way into your company.

Click image to enlarge:

Course of Action

The key to defining strategy and avoiding stagnancy is to be informed and aware of key insights in relationship to the universal truths. This is about defining the time necessary to dedicate the effort and emphasis necessary to analyze, think, plan, execute and measure.

Ask yourself how often you find yourself in action toward an objective without defining and naming the real problem, concern or challenge you’re trying to tackle. At some point action simply for the sake of action is counterproductive. What’s key is getting to the root cause and making sure that the action is directed in a way that advances your business and prevents stagnancy.

This is really about common sense. Establishing a course of action to prevent stagnancy begins with the knowledge that you possess about your business or something that you learn as a result of analyzing information related to your business.

Here are seven action steps connected with the universal truths above:

  1. Consistently and continually review and refine your customer/client base.
    Establish common sense criteria that allow you to know and understand your customer/client at a deeper level. What are their needs? What are their priorities? What are the challenges they’re confronting. Where do they have blind spots that are evident to you?
  2. Adjust pricing regularly and frequently in today’s variable business climate.
    This allows you to stay ahead of the curve rather than behind the curve. Think about how hard it is to catch up on pricing, and margin, when you fall behind what were the required adjustments.
  3. All customers aren’t created equal. Establish awareness within your organization about customer segmentation and what customers represent the top 25%, the middle 50% and the bottom 25%.
    This allows you to engage conversations that are directly related to emphasis and prioritization and define why all customers truly aren’t equal.
  4. Define a level of service that the customer should expect and deliver on that expectation consistently.
    Truly great service is rare and yet every customer deserves great service when they interact with your organization. Experience has shown me that leaders who understand the relationship between universal truths 3 and 4 are leaders who generate greater sales growth, customer loyalty and margin in their business.
  5. Train every salesperson in your company to understand the business of their business and have regular conversations with their customers about key impacts and variables.
    Not only will you see increased margins, you will also witness increased customer trust and connection. No one likes surprises, and no one likes an unaware and uninformed salesperson.
  6. Identify key indicators that are important to your company when considering the impact of your customers.
    Some examples:

    1. Sales dollars
    2. Margin dollars
    3. Number of transactions per customer and cost per transaction
    4. Frequency of transactions
    5. Number or products, services or lines purchased
  7. Define the commitment index of the client/customer on a scale from one to five with five being high and one being low.
    What is the level of mutual respect? How do they respond to normal business variations? When a difficult circumstance or conversation arises, how committed are you to each other?


Invest the time over the next 7 to 10 days to consider how the universal truths and strategic insights apply to you, those you lead, your business unit or your company. If you were to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being high and 1 being low, where would you rate yourself and your team on advancing against stagnancy?

Be Authentic. Be Purposeful. Make it Meaningful.


P.S. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Family Business and The Core Belief in Cash

There’s a saying that goes something like this… “Show me a person’s checkbook and calendar and I will show you what that person values.” Today, we’d need to adjust that saying for the era of electronic banking. Or… we would simply need to recognize the simplest of truths. How you spend your money and time reflect what you value most.

The value systems in a family business run deep. So deeply that they’re often referred to as core beliefs and they serve as the foundation of decisions and choices both individually and organizationally among owners and leaders.

The Commonality of Core Beliefs

Among the core beliefs that make-up the value system within a family business, there is one in particular that stands out for me as being essential to long-term success. Like many sayings offering timeless wisdom this core belief is simple, can be applied by everyone and is mastered by a few. This is the core value of dry powder and debt.

Dry Powder and Debt

In business, the term dry powder refers to cash and is the fuel for growth. Debt is a ratio to be managed correctly in relationship to that cash. Translated as a core belief of family business, the premise is simple. Don’t let a bank dictate your decisions. Manage your cash (dry powder) so that you can fund your future growth and opportunity. The leadership, relationship and ratio between the two is about one simple concept...CHOICE.

Owner’s Choice

When faced with the decision, the owners of family business prefer to control what they can control. This is what we refer to as the owner’s choice. This is the specific reason that keeping cash reserves high and debt low in relationship is a core belief of so many owners of family businesses. They recognize the long view requirement of smart financial decisions and their impact on advancing or restricting the opportunity for growth within their business.

Imagine the opportunity to grow the business exponentially based on a strategic choice. Now imagine the frustration of a business owner that is so leveraged with debt that they’re unable to pursue the very opportunity that would have accelerated their business to the next level. Conversely, imagine the options for the owner who has lived by the core belief of maintaining high levels of dry powder and low levels of debt.

In a word, it’s all about CHOICE.

The Value of Simplicity

On a personal level, I’m grateful that my parents instilled the simple, yet profound, core belief of financial competence in my life at a very early age. There are three things that my parents said over and over again to bring practicality to financial knowledge. These are the same things they tell their grandchildren today to instill a core belief across generations. The great part about something that’s simple is that it often times requires no more explanation. Such is the case with the timeless and simple wisdom of a school teacher/administrator and business owner.

  1. Spend less than you make
  2. Don’t live beyond your means
  3. Save and invest something from every paycheck and you’ll be the one signing the paychecks

Thoughtstarter: Control What You Can Control

If you’re interested in increasing your financial knowledge let me encourage you to check out a couple of resources that you may find useful, starting with a guy by the name of Dave Ramsey.

If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, you may want to invest the time to learn about him. 30 years ago, Ramsey filed for bankruptcy. Today, he’s considered “America’s trusted voice on money.”  He’s the owner of Ramsey Solutions, the voice of The Dave Ramsey Show, a New York Times Best Selling Author… and he has an estimated net worth of about $55 million.

One of my favorite quotes from Dave, of which there are many, is “You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you.” Think about that as it relates to your core beliefs, choice and the value of simplicity.

Two books that are required reading for people I care about and who care about being able to make their own financial choices and define their financial future are:

  1. The Millionaire Next Door
  2. Everyday Millionaires

Here’s to the core beliefs of family business that are the foundations of decision and choice.

Be authentic. Be purposeful. Make it meaningful.

P.S. I want to hear your thoughts - please share them in the comments.

The Void - Offboarding

We exist in an era in which the leaders of high-performing family businesses have become highly purposeful with the onboarding and integration plans for people that are joining their company. Their focus stems from the intent and desire to engage and connect people with the culture of the company and decrease the chances of someone becoming disengaged or choosing a job-hopping departure.

Uniquely, these same leaders seem to have forgotten about the other end of the equation and that has resulted in large numbers of people, most of them over the age of 60, choosing to keep quiet about any and all plans to announce that their career focus is changing or coming to an end.

According to Bersin by Deloitte, the average cost per hire is almost $4,000. Statistics on offboarding are far more difficult to identify. Experience has shown me that if it’s not being measured, it’s likely not getting done.

The Void

The leaders of privately-held and family-owned businesses must plan for, and deal with, the end of career process (offboarding) as seriously as they do the beginning (onboarding) otherwise, they will face a potentially catastrophic outcome that I refer to as The Void.

The Void  is the empty space created by leaders of companies who fail to establish a process for transferring the large amount of internal knowledge possessed by key people to the next generation of leadership.

Left undefined, this void creates a massive disruption to the business of the business.

Conversely, when clearly thought through, offboarding should be viewed as the catalyst for performance, knowledge and generational continuity within the high-performing environment.

A Key Step

Offboarding should be viewed as a key transition in the life-cycle of individuals who have contributed significant knowledge and value to the company.

Within family businesses, closing the gap on The Void begins by looking at the situation through a different lens. Instead of focusing on this career phase as a conclusion with limited conversation, it should be seen as a phase of definition with expanding dialogue and knowledge share between generations.


  1. How are you consciously expanding the conversation and knowledge share between the generations?
  2. How are you defining and practically capturing internal knowledge from key people while they’re still a part of your company?
  3. Define knowledge sets that are held primarily with one person in your company. Begin purposefully expanding the circle of people who have awareness, understanding and knowledge on those topics.

How are you avoiding The Void? Let me know in the comments.

5 Reasons My Best Customer Stories Will Never Be Repeated

There isn’t a day that goes by where the word awareness isn’t referenced in our office and/or with our clients. Awareness is the source of the insight we all need to evolve and advance our perspective, understanding and results.

What we do with our awareness is a choice. One of the most important points of awareness for me in working with the people that make-up family business is the intimacy of understanding their heart for the business along with their thoughts, perspectives, needs, wants, goals and fears.

My commitment to each of them, many of whom make-up our Thoughtwave Community, is that I will never treat what they tell me casually and will not reveal or sensationalize their inputs.

If they are going to entrust me with their thoughts, then it’s my accountability to value their trust and develop their reliance around the consistency and character with which I process and handle everything they tell me.

There are two things that are intolerable for me when it comes to a personal or professional relationship in which someone trusts you and allows you access to their mindshare:

  1. Exploiting that mindshare for personal gain.
  2. Sensationalizing thoughts in a way that distorts the context and intent with which they were shared.

Why? Because it compromises the person and the role of the confidant. Regardless of how “good” the story is, a confidant is someone who embodies absolute trust and recognizes the story isn’t theirs to tell.

To be clear, the stories being referenced are different than the challenges, successes, and outcomes confronted and achieved with our clients based on our work with them.

To that end, here are five reasons that my best customer stories will never be repeated.

  1. The core value of absolute trust.
  2. An unwillingness to trade professionalism for sensationalism.
  3. Complete context matters and in family business that can rarely be communicated.
  4. The heart and legacy of family business shouldn’t be viewed transactionally.
  5. A challenge can only be addressed completely when it is understood completely. In order to be understood, it must be completely revealed.


Quotable quotes from me to you to this week to get you thinking beyond boundaries.

  • The person that’s prone to run off at the mouth, is likely to let their mouth run off with their brains.
  • The professional that is casual and shares details that shouldn’t be shared really isn’t a professional.
  • The person that lives to tell the sensational story, should be fully prepared to have a sensational story told about them.
  • Authenticity and transparency increase when contradictions are identified for what they are… contradictions.
  • Impact is defined by outcomes not by stories.


Until next week,