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,


Out of Your Control

I like to control what I can and don’t much care for the things that are beyond my control - particularly if I’d prefer that they were.

Realistically, doesn’t everyone want to control the course of events in their life?

When we are in control we feel energized and empowered. When things get beyond our control we may feel frustrated, confused or even overwhelmed.

Growing up as the son of a science teacher, I would often hear my dad talk about the controlled environment that was part of an experiment. As a part of the experiment, he would reference the control sample. The common reference point to both was rooted in stability. The ability to create an environment of equilibrium. “A fancy word for balance,” he would say. “The relationship between the internal factors and external factors and their impact on something.” Note: This exact bit of fatherly science teacher wisdom on equilibrium helped me win a blue ribbon in the 7th-grade science fair.

In business today, we face a constant battle of equilibrium. The relationship of balance between internal factors impacting our business and the external factors. That which we can control and that which may be beyond our control. Forces working collaboratively to our benefit and at times working in direct opposition to our detriment. This is the scientific state of business that demands our agility to achieve stability.

This all gets very real when we understand that at any given moment there are external forces that are more than willing to challenge our business balance or, worse yet, our very business existence.

The belief that external factors or forces will never impact you or your business is unrealistic. Just remember that your competitors would have no problem taking your business if you or your company ceased to exist, or became irrelevant, in the mind of the customer or client.

Beyond Your Control - What Would You Do? #Thoughtstarter

You're driving a car at 70 mph on a crowded freeway with cars in front of you, behind you and to each side. You’re listening to music and doing your own version of carpool karaoke. Suddenly, a large piece of cement debris falls from the overpass and lands on the freeway just a couple of cars in front of you. What would you do?

Prior to leaving for work, you’re catching-up and reading the latest Google Alerts on several of your customers. While reading, you discover that your largest customer had a major fire at their only manufacturing facility and the owners have decided to cease operations and shut down the business. What would you do?

You arrive at work only to discover that the EPA has shut the doors to your energy plant for unsafe operating practices. There has been no communication to the employee team and you are all arriving at work only to find that this isn’t a business as usual day. What would you do?

As the famous philosopher, Mike Tyson says, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” A good friend and colleague of mine put it another way. He says, “Watch out for the sucker punch. It’s not a matter of if it’s going to come but when.”

The sucker punch is the unexpected blow. The punch that you didn’t plan for. In that moment; when we confront things that are out of our control because we will, we all have a choice. What will you do?

Until Next Week,


P.S. I'd love to hear what would you would do in the scenarios above. Let me know in the comments.

Tipping Point: Maximizing Growth - Part 2

Last week I introduced the idea that the tipping point common to leaders and their companies is growth. Fueled by the increase in sales and size, growth is also about an increasing level of value, importance and influence in the mind of the customer and in the marketplace. The age-old business mantra “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” provides context.

I would say I’m a student of growth. My interest in how people and organizations advance and develop beyond their boundaries of knowledge and understanding is based in a unique passion and curiosity. As a student, growth has taught me a valuable lesson. No matter how much I desire to stay the same; my progressive development requires that I let go of some things that may be known and comfortable, but are no longer useful.

It’s fair to note that this isn’t inherently easy. There are many times when my own growth has been both challenging and messy. There are times where I’ve known that growth is necessary, and didn’t like what that growth was going to require.


Think about a time in your life/career when you have known that the tipping point of growth was necessary and didn’t like what it was going to require? How did you respond?

In part one of Tipping Point: Maximizing Growth, I told you I’d share some insights and answers about why growth is complex and why it’s important to drive a larger view of growth among leaders and potential leaders in your company.

Growth is Complex

Growth is complex because people are the most complex part of any company. Each person is unique. Their needs, their wants, how they do things, why they do things, their capacity and their skills. What makes you, you and what makes me, me is uniquely different.

Growth is complex because each company is uniquely different. The culture of any given organization is what defines how the people of that company interact and engage both internally and externally.

A Larger View of Growth is Vital

People fuel growth and growth fuels change and evolution. Growth can be a great teacher. Growth can also be a hard and unrelenting teacher. Such is the case when people’s growth, a company’s growth and the rules and regulations of growth as a tipping point are intertwined.

In working with the leaders of privately-held and family-owned businesses, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. No matter how much these leaders desire to have their companies stay the same; the growth of their organization requires that they purposefully teach their teams how to purposefully think about growth as a tipping point before they are required to reactively think about growth in the same way.

Flying Under the Radar

We have an expression in my client community of privately-held and family-owned businesses. “We prefer to fly under the radar by doing things right than being on someone’s radar for doing things wrong.”

Several years ago, I received a notification that our company was going to be the subject of a state wage and hour audit. I had three employees at the time. The first feeling I had after reading the notice was a pit in my stomach. The second feeling I had was “why was our company selected for this wonderful experience?”(sarcasm intended). My intent is always to do things correctly so that these types of “opportunities” (more sarcasm) don’t knock on our door or appear in our mailbox with any frequency or regularity.

My intent and preference as a business owner is to fly under the radar by doing things right, rather than being on someone’s radar for doing things wrong. When the state auditor came to our office and invested the better part of the day with us, I asked them how we were selected for an audit with such a limited number of employees. Their response was telling. “Your revenue growth likely triggered the audit because it was significant when compared with the number of employees.” I learned a valuable lesson that day about why the larger view of business as a tipping point is vital.

Leaders must recognize that as they reach the tipping point of growth that the expectations regarding what they do and how they do it have exponentially increased. The rules of the game have changed. How they once did things in terms of size and scope, detail and documentation are all advancing with requirements for greater internal and external accountability. Whether it’s communication and compliance, people and process, automation and technology or hiring and selection practices: What once was the required norm has advanced to define a new norm.

Tipping Point Rules

It’s imperative; and I do mean imperative - that a larger view of growth as a tipping point is purposefully taught, applied, developed, re-enforced and measured as a part of a leader’s development within your organization and here’s why. If you don’t look at it that way, someone, some agency or some regulatory officer is going to look at it that way for you.


What type(s) of tipping points are you, your people and your company experiencing? Have you purposefully considered how things need to be done differently to deal with the changing landscape that is business growth? Here’s a simple list you can use to help categorize and consider the kind of evolution that the tipping point of growth is driving and expand the dialogue and communication proactively among leaders in your company.

Types of Growth Tipping Points

  • Wanted and Required
  • Required and Unwanted
  • Required, Unwanted and Not Understood
  • Required, Wanted and Understood
  • Imposed

Be purposeful,

P.S. I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Tipping Point: Maximizing Growth - Part I

Sometimes, we simply have to let a thought sink in before we understand how it has the potential and ability to shape our thinking. I have learned first-hand that taking this time is often the difference between an opportunity maximized or an opportunity missed.

I’m bringing you a two-part Thoughtwave over this week and next for exactly that reason. I want you to maximize your opportunities.

The Fascination

In the year 2000 Malcolm Gladwell published The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

If, after reading that line, you think I’m writing a book review; sit tight. (Note: You should Google the origins of that phrase and the book is worth the read if you’re a student of business.)

The book developed status and a following by showing how small actions at the right time, in the right place and with the right people can create a tipping point. Gladwell connected the three laws of epidemics to achieve a tipping point related to a given product, idea, initiative or business.

A tipping point, by definition, is the moment at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.

As a culture, we’re fascinated with the tipping points that drive status, change, growth, success and even failure. With just a little effort, we can all identify them as a part of our lives. If we’re paying attention, we will see them all around us and on a regular basis. My kids, all grown now, have gone through a series of tipping points in their lives to become adults.

I’ve watched that video of something or someone so intriguing, funny or interesting that it drew huge interest and was viewed and circulated with such intent by people that it went viral.

A small series of events, introductions and experiences are what drove my decision to found Perpetual Development and change the course of my professional direction. Being in the right place, at the right time and with the right people is what led to my own tipping point in working with the leaders of privately-held, family-owned businesses. Working with that group of leaders is what led to the expansion of my experience and exposure.

#Thoughtstarter - How about you? What were some of the tipping points in your life? Let me know in the comments.

Growth is Complex

Consider this.... All businesses start as small businesses. One dream, an idea, a product, a service, meeting a need. A single visionary or a small group of partners. Then comes the tipping point. The moment that moves a company (and its key players) from being relatively unknown to being known. The one that takes it from flying under the radar to being fully on someone’s radar. The point of being sought after by customers rather than solely seeking customers. Each of these moments occurring as a result of a series of small changes that became significant enough to drive a larger more important change.

Expressed clearly, the tipping point common to each of these leaders and their companies is growth. Fueled by the increase in sales and size, growth is also about an increasing level of value, importance and influence in the mind of the customer and in the marketplace. The age-old business mantra “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” provides context.

So why is growth complex and what is the most significant change required as a part of that growth to drive a larger more important change among leaders and in the company? Let that question sink in and think about it. I’ll share some insights and answers with you next week.

Until then,


When Crap Hits the Fan

Changing it up. Here’s a series of #Thoughtstarters to start you off this week.

  1. How do you identify stress in your life?
  2. How does stress impact you?
  3. How far are you willing to let stress move you off your game?
  4. How will you deal with stress?
  5. How is the morale of your team impacted when your reaction is defined by stress instead of your leadership?

When the proverbial crap hits the fan, how do you handle it? Is it a time when your leadership is on display or is it a time when your leadership has gone missing?

I’m asking you because these are the same questions a mentor of mine required me to ask and answer when it came to how I handled stress at one point in my career. Why? Because there were times when internalizing my stress meant that my attitude was negatively impacting the attitude, performance and morale of my team.

If you can name a problem, you can solve a problem. It’s the awareness of stress that allows you to confront it and define an approach to handling that stress. There’s nothing quite like stress to show you the truly unique nature and behavioral makeup of a person - so pay attention.

Yes, there’s good stress and bad stress. There’s everyday stress and situational stress. There’s relational stress and extreme stress. Sometimes we feel like we’re on top of stress and it’s got nothing on us. Then there are times where it gives each of us a swift kick in the butt and we recognize that we can only control what we can control.

My chosen area of consulting specialty is the business of family business. I’ve seen good and bad responses to stress, including my own, over the course of 30 plus years of experiences and exposures. What I have come to value is that no matter how well prepared you are to handle what confronts you, sometimes your objective and best bet is simply to make it to the next day, and then the next day, and along the way encourage people to do the same.

It’s been my experience that the people that are a part of family businesses have a spirit about them that is best defined as unrelenting and a belief that is indomitable. The question that most often follows in conversation is stated in one word… why? Here’s my answer.

When stress looms over the business, leadership must loom larger in order to preserve the culture and commitment of the people that are the core of a company. In times when it feels like all we see, feel or experience is stress, there’s nothing quite like leadership to elevate morale and impact action.

Until Next Time,

P.S. How do you handle stress? Let me know in the comments!

The Business of Family Business: Why Assessments Matter

Know your purpose and you’ll know your direction. As a young leader, these words were the source of more frustration than direction in my life.

“Really? Easier said than done,” I thought to myself. “Am I just supposed to have one? Should I know it by now? How do I figure it out?” All questions that ran through my head as I thought about my purpose with very few satisfying answers.

I was motivated, focused and clear about the benefits and rewards of hard work, motivation and determination. I was being promoted and advancing in my career and I still felt as though something was missing. How the heck could I be fulfilled and unfulfilled at the same time? Why couldn’t I just be content? What was I supposed to be doing to maximize my skills, talents and abilities?  These were the thoughts that swirled around in my head and made me question whether I would ever be able to define that illustrious, yet elusive, relationship between my purpose and my direction.

How I ended-up at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) was as a result of leaders who knew that if they invested in and challenged me, I would invest in and challenge myself. It was at CCL that I first became aware of the impact of assessments on my self-awareness and ultimately on my purpose and direction.

The assessments that CCL required me to complete provided me with an important opportunity; the ability to look at myself objectively. This is where I discovered the power of assessments in giving me perspective beyond my opinion. Bias is powerful and there is no bias more powerful than the view we have of ourselves. We can be individually delusional apart from objective input that allows us to look at ourselves differently and with greater clarity.

My belief in assessments became solidified when I recognized that they gave me the capacity to confront myself. They gave me the insight needed to look at my strengths and limitations. To consider the positive and negative impacts of my style and approach. The understanding of the double edge sword; my greatest attribute was also my greatest drawback. What I read in those assessments taught me how to move from being defensive to being completely coachable. What I read in those assessments helped me define my purpose and eliminate my confusion over my direction.

Looking back, what I have come to recognize and value is that assessments, those that are behaviorally validated and scientifically sound, matter because they have the potential to dramatically impact your direction. Here’s the thing… the assessment outputs are a reflection of your inputs rather than someone’s opinion. The questions asked required me to be honest with myself. They implore you to be honest with you. They have the ability to provide clarity apart from delusion. They provide the ability to suck our bias out of decisions where we are more comfortable letting our bias exist and guide our decisions.

Think about it… How many times have you asked yourself one of the following questions:

  • “What is the best kind of role for me?”
  • “How can I get clarity about where I want to go and what I want to do in life?”
  • “What would I have valued knowing about that person before we hired him/her?”
  • “How can I best develop Sarah and maximize her potential in the company?”
  • “What’s the best way to communicate with and approach Steven?”
  • “Why does it seem that Jen is never motivated?”
  • “Why is Braden outperforming every other sales professional on our team?”

Today, I am a proud partner of TTISI, the global assessment company that believes all people have a unique set of talents and skills. Their stated purpose is to “reveal and harness the talent of people through the science of self.”

Yes, there’s a difference between a validated behavioral assessment and a personality test or survey. That will be for another blog. Here’s what I can tell you. All assessments aren’t created equally. The science behind the assessment defines the credibility of the instrument and also determines whether it can be used consistently without question in business environments. A validated assessment doesn’t create an adverse impact for people and very few assessments and other generally labeled instruments are validated. All of that to say the assessment you choose matters.

I said earlier that assessments matter to the business of family business because they have the ability to impact your awareness, understanding and direction. Assessments have the potential to matter to all businesses. Privately-held and family-owned businesses are my chosen emphasis.

In combination with a lot of thought and what I learned from assessments, I was able to define and refine my purpose, direction and clarity. Today, that purpose is what guides the decisions, choices and recommendations that guide our relationships and interactions with the leaders that catalyst the business of family business.

Purpose Statement: We exist to expand the awareness of people and help them maximize their potential and capacity: To help them gain/expand the insights needed to make better decisions that lead to better choices, outcomes and results.

In the week ahead, I want to challenge you, #Thoughtstarter, to think about your purpose and how you maximize your potential and capacity.

With Purpose,

PS - What would you define as your purpose? Let me know in the comments!

Conducting Job Interviews: Are You Asking the Questions You Should Be?

I want to take you back to a time when I was a young manager. A time when I thought interviewing was about being as challenging as I could be in an interview based on the questions I asked.

My first and earliest interviews weren’t really focused on expanding the conversation and getting to know the person applying for a job; they were focused on seeing whether a candidate could outlast the rapid-fire sequence of questions that I would pose.

How confused and misguided I was. The idea of asking questions was a good one, but my approach and interviewing style had a greater tendency to shut people off rather than getting them to open-up and allow me to learn more about them.

Thankfully, John, a leader I respected invested the time to sit in on several of my early interviews and offered this simple, yet profound, guidance. “The objective of an interview is to create an exchange in which the person being interviewed shares information that allows you to get to know them and how they think. In return, you share information that allows them to get to know you and how you think. They get to understand the leadership philosophy and culture of the company. You both get the opportunity to determine if there’s a fit.”

After three decades, hundreds upon hundreds of interviews and 20 years of advising family-owned and privately-held businesses, I have come to understand and appreciate this important thought:

The questions you should really ask in an interview are the ones that allow you to get to know the person you’re talking with and reveal their thought process. The key word here is person. An individual. Someone worth learning about and understanding. Determining mutually if the role, culture and mindset are a good fit that will bring success and allow them to maximize their capacity.

I’m an intense person. I live by the mantra that if you’re going to do something then do it well. Truth is that I don’t value mediocrity in anything and mediocrity tends to not enjoy spending time with me. My intensity, sometimes drill sergeant like in my earliest of interviews, could be seen as alienating the person being interviewed, rather than understanding them. What John taught me as a young manager was the importance of balance and understanding. Balance between my interviewing intent, approach and desired outcome. Between talking and listening. The ability to share thoughts in order to get thoughts. The understanding of what you may ask and what you aren’t  allowed to ask.

In the world of family-owned and/or privately-held business, every hire makes a difference. Why? Because typically, the size of the company or number of team members doesn't allow for someone not to be a fully-engaged and contributive member of the team. The quality of the question impacts the quality of the answer. Poorly developed questions provide the potential for equally poor answers. That exchange provides for really poor understanding and connection. That’s a direct pipeline for poor choices on many fronts.

If you want to get to know the person you’re talking with in an interview, here are three types of questions you should really consider asking:

1.         Thinking and reasoning questions. In this sequence you want to know how thoughts are formed, decisions will be made, or leadership will be lived out. “Define a time when you had to…”, “When confronting a complex problem, how do you…”, “When learning something new, what are your first steps to…”

2.         Scenario based questions. In this sequence, you’re representing scenarios that are typically faced in the work environment and your objective is to understand how the person being interviewed would handle or respond to those situations. “How would you handle…”, “What would you do…” and “Walk me through your leadership mindset regarding…” are all phrases that expand the conversation in an interview.

3.         Individual understanding questions. In this sequence, you're getting to know the person at a more one-to-one level. “Tell me about a time in your life when…”, What is the most important thing you learned from…”, “Who has had the greatest impact on…”

There is one important #Thoughtstarter for you to consider asking after each of the above question types have been answered. It is perhaps the most important question you should really ask and yet the simplest way to expand your awareness and understanding of a person you’re interviewing for a position in your company.

Could you tell me why? Made even simpler… Why?

Why? Because the understanding of a person being interviewed begins with an understanding between you and the person being interviewed.

Until Next Time,


P.S. What is your favorite question to ask in an interview?... Why? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

NOTE: Each of these types of questions are open-ended and designed to bring understanding in a way that is consistently asked and equally appropriate to everyone being interviewed. If there’s ever a question as to whether a question is legal, or able to be asked, make sure you get with the person responsible for human resources within your company and clarify the question before it’s asked of the person being interviewed. There are clearly acceptable and unacceptable questions and approaches in an interview.

The Outsiders: How Non-Family Members Feel Interviewing for Your Family Business

It’s Laura contributing to Thoughtwave this week. I am the newest member of the Perpetual Development Team.

I stepped out of my truck.
Suite #112… this is it.
I made certain my shirt was tucked in. I checked my makeup and teeth in the side view mirror.
You’ve got this. You have the skills. You have the experience within a family business. Show them your personality.
I rang the bell.

According to Grand Valley State University, there are 5.5 million family businesses in America today, contributing 57% of the GDP and employing 63% of the workforce. Family businesses are responsible for 78% of new job creation.

If you’re reading Thoughtwave, chances are you own or work within a family business. If you’re involved in any part of the hiring process, you may believe your interviewees feel no different than those interviewing for publicly-owned organizations, but I’ve been through the process twice and can tell you it IS different.

I had been working for a family business for almost two years, but it was time for my boss to retire and business in the office was going to be slowing drastically. I decided to be proactive and search for another opportunity. When I found the job listing for Perpetual Development and noticed that they are not only family-owned but work with such businesses, I knew I needed to apply.

Your interviewees may be contemplating the best way to prepare for an interview with a family-owned business. As I prepared, I felt some relief in the fact that I had already worked for one. Think about it… what’s more valuable than education? Experience!

We’ll call my prior employer Smith Family Enterprises (SME). My experiences at SME were wonderful, but they came with a learning curve. At SME I was surprised how quickly I was exposed to the complexities of family business. Two family members who would soon be making the decisions didn’t always agree. One leader wanted to put in more hours; his wife wanted him home more. One employee wanted to feel like part of the family, but this was business.

Your candidates are going to be wondering how being an outsider who must be involved with the dynamics of a family will affect their position.

Going into my interview with Perpetual Development I was eager to learn more about the Patmos family, their values, and how the family relationships would play into my day-to-day.

Here are a few things your interviewee may be thinking about as they prepare for an interview with your family business:

How will I showcase that I am skilled enough to navigate the waters and manage relationships?
Your candidate may come prepared with examples of prior experiences managing delicate relationships. They will feel as though they need to show that although they are not a member of the family, they can work with the family. Be aware that they may be hesitant to give away specifics or anything too personal. By respecting the privacy of prior employers and coworkers, they’ll demonstrate the same respect they’ll give your family.

When I interviewed with Brent I gave examples by saying things like “A certain family member wanted me to use my time to BLANK, while another family member wanted me to use my time to BLANK. I managed this by BLANK.” I was able to validate my experience in family business without disrespecting my prior employer.

What is the culture?
Well-prepared interviewees will likely arrive knowing as much as possible about your company’s history and culture. They will have reviewed the company’s website and the LinkedIn profiles of its employees. Chances are they’ve Googled your business and read the business’ reviews to see how you handle customer relationships. The fact that your business is family-owned, will create extra pressure to fit into the culture.

While researching Brent and PDI I discovered his book, Beyond the Name. You can bet I read as much of it as possible prior to my interview. I am thankful I did as his book made it clear that his business WILL be part of his legacy. I knew he would be looking for someone who could emulate the culture he worked hard to create. I arrived feeling as though I already knew quite a bit about how he viewed business and how he might operate his own.

What skills do the family members not possess?
Your interviewee will likely be wondering why you elected to hire someone outside of the family for this particular position. If appropriate, disclose that information to them and allow them to highlight why choosing them makes sense.

My main interview for Perpetual Development was with Brent and Trudy. I was welcomed to the building by Marisah, a future family relative. They explained how their children contributed to the business. While they absolutely made me feel welcome, I knew that I was the “outsider” and would have to showcase skills that none of them currently possessed. During the interview, I discovered that Brent and Trudy were considering hosting leadership events but that no one on the team had a background in event planning. I was able to share my experiences as an event planner for a large international organization and the skills that it would bring to not only this area but the general structure and processes within the business.

How does the fact that the business is family-owned effect it?
Your interviewee may use the interview to gauge how the relationships within the family impact the day-to-day operations of the business.

I arrived to my interview with Brent and Trudy with A LOT of questions. Some of those included:

1.    How many family members are involved in the business?
2.    What positions do they hold?
3.    Are they all on site?
4.    How are decisions made?
5.    Who do I report to directly?
6.    Why did you decide to hire someone outside of the family for this position?

I wanted to be as aware as appropriate of the family dynamics, I wanted to be considerate of family dynamics AND I wanted to know how the family dynamics would affect me in the position.

How can I show the family who I truly am?
The job candidate will be looking for opportunities to showcase who they truly are and that they will be a good match for your family and your business.

During my interview, it was important to me to showcase to Brent and Trudy that I am trustworthy. I knew deep down that their entire family was aware that I would, at some level, become involved in the family of family business.

I would encourage you to be open with your interviewee about how the dynamics of your family play into your business. Provide them with opportunities to not only showcase their skills but their personality and how they might “fit in” at the family business. No one wants to feel like the outsider, especially at work, so share with them how they will be incorporated into the family business.


  1. Have you considered what it feels like for a non-family member to interview for our company?
  2. How do you communicate with candidates about how they will be integrated into the business?
  3. What do you share with interviewees about how being a privately held or family-owned business makes it unique?
P.S. I'd love to hear how you made a job candidate feel welcome at your family business. Leave me a message in the comments!