family owned business challenges

This past week was a little out of the ordinary for me as I took a quick trip to my cottage to get away and clear my head. My intention was to rest and plan, but instead it turned out that I was pretty productive.

I’m not sure if that makes it a successful week then, but as someone pointed out to me, sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Good Fences = Good Neighbours

One item on my agenda during my visit to the cottage was to deal with a part of our property on which there is a building that’s in need of a lot of work. After initially considering demolishing it or carting it away, we are looking at salvaging it instead.

A neighbour from two doors down asked if he could purchase it and fix it up to rent to his sister who’s moving to the area.

After discussing it with him, I went to see the local land surveyor who had drawn up the plans a few years ago.

Sidebar: As a fan of languages, I’ll point out that the French term for Land Surveyor is “Arpenteur Geomètre”. An “arpent” is an acre, so that makes the profession one of “Acreage Geometrist” as a rough translation.

Warring Neighbours

While making small talk with the man, he noted that he was being more selective in choosing the jobs he’s taking on at this stage of his career, sticking to the “easy ones”.

It turned out that the degree of difficulty he was referring to has zero to do with the complexity of the land, and everything to do with the people who own the land.

All this time I had imagined that the profession of land surveyor was all about surveying land (and acreage geometry), but as it turns out, most of the stress of the job comes from the people who own the land.

Working with drawings, driving stakes into the ground, using a transit (the scope instrument on a tripod), calculating the square footage, well, that’s the fun stuff. Standing between warring neighbours who are each arguing that the line should be “further over that way”, well, not so much.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

When my new friend related this aspect of the job, I had a bit of a flashback. A few years back when I first became a member of PPI (Purposeful Planning Institute), I joined one of their weekly thought leader calls.

I’m not 100% sure who the guest was that week, but I recall that they got their start advising families after being called in to mediate a number of sticky situations. I also recall the guest stating that he now tries to avoid those types of clients, preferring to work with good families, helping them become great.

Professional Stress

So if the land surveyor is stressed out by the fighting neighbours, and the family advisor is stressed out by family fighting, how bad must if be for the parties on the INSIDE?

What can be done to lower the level of conflict and to help everyone coexist? Neighbours are kind of “stuck” with each other, and families even more so. Their interdependence is pretty high.

Sounds like some good, clear rules and guidelines would be helpful. Once again, it comes back to governance. (See Governance Aaaah!)

Drawing the Boundaries

Right now I own the land that is being re-drawn, so it is the perfect time to figure out where the stakes will go into the ground to divide the property.

Things are calm, and I control both sides, so I can divide it as I wish, and will make it clear what I am offering to sell to my neighbour BEFORE we make the deal.

When you look at your family situation, and how things will shake out when the next generation will be in control, are all of the lines and boundaries clear and well understood?

Although we hope and would like to think that our kids will just get along, hope is not a strategy, and many families who ended up feuding used to think the same thing.

Bottom Line: Draw the lines in times of peace, don’t wait for the fighting to start, because then it is MUCH more difficult.