Family Business Strategic Plan

5 Ways to Keep Your Family Business Innovative

“One of the first things we lose as our companies grow is our innovative and entrepreneurial thinking – here’s how to gain it back”

As our businesses grow we struggle with the balance between being too hands-on and too far removed from the operations of the business. We’re encouraged to delegate and develop employees, which tends to draw us further away from the hands-on more entrepreneurial tasks of the business. In it’s extreme form, delegation can feel like we are just “managing managers”. Conversely, being too-hands on, pulls us away from thinking strategically, because we’re too caught up in the day-to-day routine tasks of running the business.

In our family business our parents encouraged us to reach out for new ideas by continuing to learn and meet with people outside of our industry. How do you “keep entrepreneurial” even as your business grows more corporate and formal? One method is to think outside the box and gaining an outside perspective.

1. Quiet Time (not just for kids anymore)

One of our suppliers had a scheduled 1-hour quiet time each morning for top managers.  Managers were required to read for 1-hour in their workspace, with no interruptions. Maybe it’s a bestselling business book or an industry trade magazine. This included no phone calls, no email, and no social media.

2. Back to School (and you thought you graduated already)

Have lunch with a local University business academic. It’s comfortable for you to rely on the same old proven strategies within your industry. The problem is every one of your competitors is doing the same thing. These ideas tend to be recycled each year and can become stale and limiting. Think outside the boundaries by discussing your business with an academic. They will force you to look at more general trends from other markets outside of your own, creating more unique and effective ideas. Request extra napkins at lunch to write down your new ideas.

3. Attend a Business Conference (but not in your industry)

Attending your own industry trade events is important for networking. But the speakers and topics tend to be much of the same re-treaded and re-circulated ideas from last year. Break out of this vicious cycle and go to a different industry conference to get some fresh thinking. The types of companies will be different, but don’t we all share the same goal, growing our business through increased customers/clients and sales.

4. Join a Business Peer Group (with people you don’t know)

Peer Groups are a great way to work through issues with your peers from other businesses. Your peers have a strong understanding and identity with your situation. Some groups are more broad and general, while others can be extremely focused. For family businesses, many University-based family business centers offer peer groups for their members.

5. Start a Business Book Club (okay, maybe we’re stretching it a bit here, maybe not)

Reach out to your peers in your town or local area to organize a business book club.  Each month, read a bestselling business book and discuss it. Maybe it’s over an informal lunch at each of your companies, or even online with a Google Hangout.  The discussions will usually turn to your individual business situations where you can apply some of the ideas right away. The more different the companies involved the better.

Thinking strategically should be a regular part of our routine, not a once a year event. It can help us get back the strategic edge we started our businesses with. After all, isn’t strategy the fun part of running our family business?