Happy New Year from Ferguson Interests! With 2020 in our rearview mirror, we need only glance back to see perhaps one of the most tumultuous years in recent history. This last year has deeply impacted many family-owned businesses in America, forcing many companies to furlough staff and start working remotely. Sadly, many companies were forced to shut down amidst regulations that strangled their ability to conduct business. And while for some, 2020 was a wash, we all have 2021 to look forward to. With the new year, hindsight can provide some interesting applications as we venture into the beyond with renewed vigor and hope for a well-needed rebound to normalcy.
Take A Deep Breath 2020 Is Over
Of course, 2020 was not without its finer moments. For example, the pandemic conditions forced many family-owned businesses to circle the wagons, unify, and confront the pandemic’s obstacles. And while “difficult” may be the understatement of the year, when we add to the mix an election year, “difficult” often became “divisive.” 2021 might be the new break we need to bring a fresh start for a new year. Being the resilient people that we are, 2021 may prove to be an excellent time to convene a family gathering (albeit at safe social distances) to decompress from the previous twelve months and revisit the family values that have driven the business thus far while taking the opportunity to enhance existing guidelines or develop new ones. A meeting like this is an excellent opportunity to remind the family of the mission and purpose or develop more recent language to reflect the previous year’s changes. It is also a great time to reinforce the roles within your organization, spending a little time clarifying how the various roles are each integral in the forward success of the family business. These kinds of meetings are also perfect for calendaring upcoming family meetings, retreats, or decompression sessions to ensure cohesiveness and drive home the goals for 2021. Look at it like a family council, where the hot button issues are addressed, and opportunity abounds to make course corrections that can prove immeasurably helpful in the year to come.
Make 2021 A Smoother Year for the Board (They deserve it)
Since none of us had a crystal ball in 2020, we all had to make decisions that had the potential of significantly impacting our business. Based on limited information (which, incidentally, was continually changing), these decisions kept board members in a constant state of readiness to act upon uncertainties, often relying solely on instinct. Our hats are off to those heroes in the family business who remained calm, steadfast, and flexible through the storm. Even so, 2021 brings with it the need to decompress and measure the impact that 2020 had on your board members. For many established family businesses, the board mix is the right balance of directors who are also senior managers and represent the family’s interests, along with independent directors who provide an outside view that can prove invaluable to your operation. If the opportunity avails itself, it would be an excellent time to provide your family members with information about what it takes to qualify for the board and what responsibilities come with the task. 2021 can be an excellent opportunity for you to streamline and make meetings, agendas, and planning sessions more efficient and productive. This one act alone can help alleviate a lot of stress from being a member of the board. Another excellent tip for 2021 is to bring in management to present to the board if you are not already doing it. This will allow you to help the management team dial in on what is essential to the direction you take the business in 2021. Still, it also serves as a fantastic opportunity to evaluate upcoming leaders from amongst your management teams so you can develop them further and groom them for positions that may avail themselves with your success in the forthcoming year. Suppose you did not have a board of directors in 2020. In that case, 2021 can be the year to introduce a formal board with limited fiduciary responsibilities as they can help provide seasoned, practical, objective, and experienced insights.
Employee Revolution (the good kind)
In 2021 don’t just start New Year resolutions; instead, start a New Year revolution with your employees as you refocus on them. While we may have turned the page in our calendars, the pandemic did not magically disappear at midnight on the morning of January 1, 2021. The fact is that the struggle remains, and many employees will be affected by the lingering results of COVID-19. But this is an excellent time to create additional stability and transparency amongst your workforce. To do this, you might consider spotlighting your employment policies and provide essential guidelines that outline the qualifications to work for your company, any expectations for entry-level and career paths, the roles and responsibilities for instrumental positions within your organization, and performance goals. Setting clear expectations based upon merit will quell any thoughts of nepotism. It might also be an excellent time to provide additional incentives for non-family employees. You might consider entering into written employment agreements with key employees or provide equity or other performance-based awards to performers within your ranks. 2021 might be the year that you establish employee stock ownership programs (ESOP) or even profit-sharing opportunities.
We hope that 2021 will prove to be a banner year for all of our readers. You are the good news in 2021, and you are the one who has the potential to be an inspiration to your organization. While we may have gotten off on the wrong foot this decade (no fault of our own), diligence and careful planning can lead to another “Roaring 20’s” in our century!