Category Archives: Mitzi Perdue

Seven Steps for Solving Business Problems

Learning How to Eat an Elephant

 By Mitzi Perdue

Mitzi Perdue-solving problemsSuccessful people all do one thing: they solve problems. They don’t just stare at a problem and wish it would go away.

The magic key to solving your big, difficult, looming business problems is to break them down into smaller parts and then deal with these smaller parts. By viewing your issues through this prism you can focus intently on solving a problem through a series of steps instead of preparing to tackle it all at once.

It’s the old, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Answer: “One bite at a time.”

Your Seven Steps for Solving a Problem

Successful people all do one thing: they solve problems. They don't just stare at a problem and wish it would go away. Click To Tweet

1. Describe the Problem: Do this in writing. Often, you’ll find that simply explaining the whole problem to yourself will cause you to see the solution. But not always, so if that doesn’t make the situation clear, go on to #2.

2. Break the Problem into Smaller, More Manageable Parts: Make a list of the parts of the problem, breaking the problem down into manageable parts that don’t seem intimidating. If one item on the list still seems too hard, break it down still further into even smaller parts. Then arrange your list in a logical order according to what to do first, second, third, and so on.

3. Write Down the Obstacles: This step may come as a surprise, but it’s important. Take a clear, hard look at what the obstacles are and then list them. Being optimistic is a good thing, but no matter how positively you think about a problem, you’ll improve your odds of success if you pay attention to and prepare for the likely obstacles.

4. Brainstorm Possible Solutions: Write down as many solutions as you can. Be as creative as you can be. At this point, your goal is quantity not quality. Don’t keep from writing down an idea just because it seems stupid or irrelevant. Often what seems like a bad idea can spark your imagination in ways that lead to good ideas. These new ideas can turn out to be highly creative ones that might never have occurred to you otherwise. You’d be surprised how often this happens.

5. Stretch to Find One More Solution: Ideas that come when you’ve had to stretch for them often turn out to be the most useful of all. There’s a reason: In many cases if the answer were easy or obvious, it would already have been done by now. It’ s when you stretch to get a new idea that you come up with the most creative ideas—the ones that not everyone has already thought of. The most creative, least obvious solutions may have the best chance of solving your problem. Oh, and something to keep in mind at this point: Thomas Edison was right when he said: “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.”

6. Pick the Best Solution: When you’ve gotten as far as you can with the brainstorming aspect of problem-solving, it’s time to put on your realist’s hat. Remember, it’s a different mindset at this point. Your job is to figure out, of all the ideas you’ve come up with, which is the best? What solution or solutions best combines: a) Solving the problem; b) Getting the job done on time; and c) Having the resources available for accomplishing it.

7. Act on it: Surprisingly often, people may come up with a good solution, but they don’t “pull the trigger.” That is, they procrastinate when it comes to implementing the idea. Successful people, in contrast, have a penchant for action. They are not only good at thinking of solutions; they’re very good at plunging in and doing them. They know that the problem isn’t solved until the plan is put into action and completed.

Three quotes that express the importance of action:

“To know and not to act is the same as not to know.”

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do.”

“Done is better than perfect.”

Developing skill in problem-solving is an invaluable skill. The best leaders are the best problem solvers. Invest in yourself by learning to be the best problem solver that you can be.

 Checklist for Solving Problems

  1. Have I described my problem in writing?
  2. Have I broken it into manageable chunks?
  3. Have I made a clear assessment of the obstacles?
  4. Have I brainstormed solutions?
  5. Have I stretched to find one more solution?
  6. Have I picked the best solution?
  7. Have I put the solution into action?

Mitzi Perdue is a celebrated speaker, businesswoman, and author of How to Make Your Family Business Last. A cum laude graduate from Harvard University and holder of an MPA from George Washington University, Mitzi draws from her direct experiences in two long-lasting family enterprises to assist businesses in preparing for lifelong success. She is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women, a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard, and the founder of CERES Farms. For more information on Mitzi Perdue, please visit www.MitziPerdue.com.

You Want Your Family Business to Last?

Five Tips for Getting There!

By Mitzi Perdue

You may be familiar with the statistic that 70 percent of family businesses don’t make it to the second generation. The big question is: how can you beat these odds?

Family members need to learn some basic cultural attitudes. They need to know that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. They need to know that they can’t always be right. They need to learn that being a member of a family business sometimes requires sacrifice.

The biggest reason that business families fall apart is that the family hasn’t developed the kind of culture that supports keeping the family business in the family. Families that leave this to chance rarely make it to the next generation.

So, how do you create this kind of culture?

1. Know Your Family Stories. We are the stories we tell ourselves, and high-functioning families have heard their family stories over and over again. How much does your extended family know about where the family business came from and what made it what it is today? How much do they understand the sacrifices, efforts and tenacity that went into making family business you have today? Do they know stories about family members putting the good of the family ahead of their own interests? Be intentional about telling these stories. The more stories, legends, myths, and parables, the stronger your family’s culture and the more likely your family business is to endure.

2. Have Family Vacations. Your family vacation could be five people or 100 people, but whether it’s a large group or a small one, having aunts and uncles and cousins spending time together greatly increases the chances of building a family business that lasts. A vacation means time set aside to share experiences and to get to know and appreciate each other and to embed the family’s values. It’s a time for all branches and all generations to build the shared stories and memories that lead to trust and caring. This is especially important if family members are geographically dispersed, because it allows extended members to get to know each other.Family harmony is so important, that anything you can do to nurture it is a wise investment. Click To Tweet

3. Subsidize a family vacation after you’re gone. All too often when the patriarch or matriarch passes on, family members stop seeing each other. Maybe for the first few years they’re together at major holidays, such as Thanksgiving. And later on, maybe they get together for weddings. But gradually, there’s nothing left and family members have superficial relationships—or no relationship at all. A highly effective antidote to this is, leave money in your will to pay for a yearly get-together. Some families subsidize an annual dinner while others pay for a nice vacation. Either way, having an endowed yearly meal or vacation can keep families together across the centuries. Ideally, there’s even money budgeted for baby-sitters and child-friendly activities. ­­Endowed family get-togethers can be a highly-effective tool for helping the family continue across the generations.

4. Write a family newsletter. In a geographically dispersed family, a newsletter can play a huge role in helping the family to maintain a strong and vibrant culture. Include in it interviews with the older family members or employees about the early days and some of the company’s struggles. Maybe interview the matriarch or patriarch on such issues as why it’s good to be public, or why our family should never wash its dirty linen in public, or why it’s a terrible thing to be “addicted to being right.” The newsletter can also help people catch up on family news— maybe someone became an Eagle Scout, got into the college of his or her choice, or got a promotion. It’s also excellent for recording weddings, births, or in the case of an engaged couple, telling the story of how they met. Other topics for your newsletter can include what’s going on in the company, including company milestones. Make it short, ideally no longer than one or two pages. You want people to read it, and unfortunately, there’s an inverse connection between how long it is and how many people will read it. If it’s limited to one page, your family members are more likely to read it when they get it, as opposed to putting it aside for later and then never getting to it.

5. Get help if you need it. Fortunately, there’s a whole new ecosystem of family advisors who can help. There’s no such thing as a family business that doesn’t have conflict, and when there’s a serious family conflict, the pain from it can permeate every hour of every day. Not to mention that it can blow up the whole family, and with it the family business. So just as you’d get medical help if you if you had alarming chest pains, don’t put off getting professional help if a conflict in the family is getting out of hand. If you Google “family business advisors” you’ll get more than 45,000 hits in half of a second. Or if you have a financial advisor, he or she is likely to be able to refer you to a professional trained in family business relationships.

Family harmony is so important, that anything you can do to nurture it is a wise investment. Many families don’t stay intact over the generations. This is likely to happen when a family leaves its culture to chance. The good news is, planning is something you can do, and even better, the implementation can be enjoyable and fulfilling.

Mitzi Perdue is a celebrated speaker, businesswoman, and author of How to Make Your Family Business Last. A cum laude graduate from Harvard University and holder of an MPA from George Washington University, Mitzi draws from her direct experiences in two long-lasting family enterprises to assist businesses in preparing for lifelong success. She is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women, a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard, and the founder of CERES Farms. For more information on Mitzi Perdue, please visit www.MitziPerdue.com.

It Wasn’t Raining When Noah Built the Ark: Prepare for Family Business Quarrels Now

By Mitzi Perdue

There’s no such thing as a family business without conflict. If you Google “family business feud,” in less than a second, you’ll get roughly 1.2 million hits. And that of course is the tiniest fraction of the number of family business disputes that do not show up in the Google search engines.

At their worst, a quarrel in the family business can become a threat to everything the family business holds dear, including relationships, wealth, and position in the community. Seventy percent of family-owned businesses won’t make it to the next generation, and the biggest reason for this sad fact is family quarrels.

Since every family is going to have conflict, the fundamental question is, how do you deal with these quarrels so that they don’t cause lasting damage?A positive family business-friendly culture requires time together, discussions, and above all, role modeling. Click To Tweet

Develop a Covenant Culture

An answer that has worked for many family businesses is to create a covenant culture. Do it long before it’s needed.

In a family business, this means that family members covenant with each other that while they have a right to air their disagreements, when a decision is made, they come together. They agree ahead of time to close ranks and move on.

Part of a covenant culture is, everyone gets to be heard. Participants agree to listen to all sides, and to value robust discussion.

Another essential element—possibly the most important—is a commitment that issues will be resolved within the group. The reason for this is, in cases where members of a family business go to the media or get into litigation to resolve a conflict; they are likely to unleash an uncontrollable chain of events that predictably will endanger the entire family enterprise.

By the time a family business member exposes a conflict to the press or initiates litigation, there’s usually no turning back. The chances of reconciliation are so slim that many family business professionals will not take on as a client a family business that has reached this stage.

At this stage, when the family is in litigation or dueling it out in the press, chances are that family business is on its way to joining the 70 percent of family-run businesses that don’t make it to the next generation. What’s all important is preventing conflicts from reaching this stage.

Ways to Prevent Out of Control Family Business Conflict

Since conflicts are inevitable, what can members of a family business do to support having a culture that commits to keeping quarrels within the family?

The answer is that the business family needs to consciously work on developing a culture for resolving conflict. Culture is, “How we do things,” and if the important work of developing a strong, supportive culture is left to chance, members of the family business may never learn key attitudes that they’ll need to keep disputes from escalating. Without ways to keep conflicts from escalating, a covenant culture is not possible.

Developing a positive family business-friendly culture requires time together, discussions, and above all, role modeling. To prevent disputes from getting out-of-hand practice these six attitudes and techniques.

1. Take a moral stand that it’s wrong to move disagreements outside the family.

The experience of many thousands of family businesses shows that once a family starts down the road of a public dispute or litigation, the usual end result is the end of the family business. Positions harden, reason goes out the window, and it’s a rarity for any members of any family business to change course. The usual end point is either severe weakening of the business or its complete destruction. Members of business families need to know that it is morally wrong to be the cause of this.

2. Let family members know that this isn’t just about their wishes.

Because any public acrimony in a family business so often leads to the company’s failing, it threatens the well-being of innocent bystanders including the company’s employees, stockholders, lenders, and even the tax base of the community. Members of family businesses need to know they have a responsibility to large numbers of people beyond themselves.

3. Emphasize the concept of “Family First.

Family businesses are unlike regular families because in the tug of war between individualism and being a member of the group, there needs to be a different balance. Members of a family business have a different level of responsibility because their actions influence all the stakeholders involved with the business.

4. Put relationships ahead of ego.

Members of family businesses need to know that there are times when they have a choice between getting their way and having a relationship. Being a member of a family business at times means sacrifice, and for the business to continue, this can mean giving up the ego gratification of getting their way. However, in return they’ll get something of vastly greater importance—the chance for the family legacy to continue and thrive.

5. Compromise is key.

Members of a family business need to learn to listen to each other and they need to avoid the temptation to “stand on principle.” In the context of a family business, “standing on principle” is a synonym for “being stubborn.” It means, “I’m not going to listen to you.” It also tends to shut down discussion because virtue signaling can shut down the give and take that’s essential for compromise.

6. Be careful of what is said in anger.

Angry words can be self-fulfilling, such as for example, disparaging someone’s competence or expressing preference for a sibling. A person may say something in momentary anger, but the person hearing what was said may remember those words for a lifetime. Garbage can come out of Pandora’s Box that can’t be stuffed back in again.

Done right, the family and all its benefits will endure. Done wrong, the family business blows up. By considering and practicing these six attitudes and techniques, you can quell any family business dissent before it jeopardizes the health of the company as a whole.

Mitzi Perdue is a celebrated speaker, businesswoman, and author of How to Make Your Family Business Last. A cum laude graduate from Harvard University and holder of an MPA from George Washington University, Mitzi draws from her direct experiences in two long-lasting family enterprises to assist businesses in preparing for lifelong success. She is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women, a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard, and the founder of CERES Farms. For more information on Mitzi Perdue, please visit www.MitziPerdue.com.