Strategies for Handling Conflict, Especially Key in Family Business

This piece is presented by the Prairie Family Business Association.

There’s likely no such thing as a workplace without conflict. That can be especially true in family businesses.

But there are strategies for how to identify, prevent and resolve it.

Gayle Ver Hey, founder of Volt Strategy, will lead a Lunch & Learn webinar Dec. 7 about conflict resolution in the workplace through the Prairie Family Business Association.

Lunch will be provided by sponsors at each host site. For more information and to register, click here.

In your work with family businesses, how have you found conflict in their workplaces differs from other businesses?

As you might expect, it’s more personal. Perceptions that were built years ago and situations that may have happened as children are brought along into the family working relationships. There’s also a unique dynamic in the role of employees versus family in decision-making and leadership. It’s different from the nonfamily corporate world where people are hired for a role, with job responsibilities and levels of authority clearly defined through job descriptions. That’s not always the case in family businesses.

Do you find family businesses sometimes struggle to recognize when conflict is occurring in their business? Why might that be?

Yes, I have seen that happen. I’m not sure it’s in all family businesses, but I do see a higher tendency of it happening in family businesses. It could be because over the years they have learned how to avoid conflict so they can move on. Or rather than make a parent or sibling upset, they learn to live with a situation that might seem too big to tackle.

What are some strategies for preventing conflict in the workplace?

I encourage people to become really aware of triggers in the family or within the organization that are causing conflict. Keep an ear to the ground to hear about ripples before they become waves. Also learn and practice active listening skills, which includes asking questions.

Without naming names, do you have an example of a family business you helped resolve conflict and some approaches you used for doing it?

Yes, in one family I worked with the brothers who were active in running the business had stopped talking directly with each other. The process started with interviewing each person individually to find the root causes of the issues they were having to find common ground. Then, it was a process of setting ground rules and getting conversations started again between them. It took regularly scheduled, facilitated, face-to-face meetings solely for the purpose of finding a way for them to build trust, respect and start working together again. We kept the goal in mind to find where they wanted the same outcome and where they were willing to make commitments to each other.

Are there some common mistakes families make in trying to resolve conflict?

Too often, family members bring their personal conflicts with each other into the office and aren’t aware of the impact this has on the morale and productivity of employees. Another common mistake I see is confiding in employees and sharing details of family conflict with them. This can tend to pull employees into the conflict and at times make them feel like they have to pick sides between family members.

What can people expect to leave your webinar having learned?

A better understanding of conflict resolution as a process without emotions tied to it. They will leave with tools and simple steps to help them in creating honest and difficult conversations with respect. This will help them work though conflict situations with more ease.

 To learn more and register for Conflict Resolution in the Workplace, click here. 

Prairie Family Business Association is an outreach center of the USD Beacom School of Business.


Leadership Way Beyond Top Cover

What do you want from your boss? If you are the boss, then what do your employees want from you? Sometimes people just need to know that you're all in. It is much more than just having their back or providing top cover, which implies a reaction to a potentially negative outcome. People want to know we are in it with them and they do not have to face challenges alone.

Vinny Antonelli, Steve Martin's character in My Blue Heaven, was spot on. At one point in the movie, Vinny, a mobster in the witness protection program, is talking to uptight FBI agent Barney Coppersmith and he said, “Now when I say I'm with you, I don’t mean I understand where you’re coming from. I mean… I’m with you.”

What he’s really saying is: I hear you, I understand you, I empathize with you and, beyond that, I am totally in it with you…right by your side. We are in this together. Now that mentality resonates with people. Add it to your leadership toolkit and people will follow because they know you care, or maybe out of sheer curiosity. But either way, they will follow.

General Douglas McArthur portrayed a great example of this principle. As a young Lieutenant, he was assigned as an observer to the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. During this inter-war period for the United States, the only way for military officers to gain combat experience was to observe other conflicts. His task was to watch and learn from a position of relative safety. On one particular day, McArthur witnessed a Japanese battalion try and fail to overtake a Russian position at the top of a hill. Time and time again the Japanese would attack, only to be beaten back with heavy casualties. After watching repeated failed attempts, McArthur had seen enough. He rushed down from the safety of the nearby ridgeline and into the battle. He rallied the Japanese soldiers, and despite language barriers and cultural differences, he led them up the hill to victory.

You don’t have to rush into battle or have some intensely dramatic circumstances to lead that way. All you need to do is show people we are in this together. Without even uttering one word of Japanese, McArthur clearly and decisively told them “I’m with you.” His actions did all the talking, and ultimately spoke louder than anything he could have actually said. This kind of leadership will set a solid foundation for the organization to succeed. Beyond just providing top cover, show people you are in their corner and will do anything you can to help them be successful. It will leave people thinking “I want some of that!"

Maximizing Your Most Precious Commodity

“I’m so busy.” Do you hear that a lot?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word busy used as an adjective means “engaged in action” or “foolishly or intrusively active” or “full of activity.” You will notice that busy implies action, but does not mean anything specific was accomplished. Busyness does not necessarily lead to any tangible results. Consider this…we are all busy, and by the very nature of the physical world, we all consume the exact same amount of time. The question is how are you consuming that time?

With that in mind, let’s consider being busy as simply activity that consumes an amount of time unless there is something gained from the effort. A former boss liked to say “effort is good, but results are what matter.” The message is to stop being busy and start being deliberate with your time. A good start is to follow the example of effective leaders and managers. They own their calendar by blocking time for what’s really important…their “rocks” or must dos. They also purposefully take time to look ahead.

As a leader in any organization, the value of time is very clear. Thomas Edison nailed it when he said, “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” Following that line of thought, there are two very specific areas you can focus on to start maximizing your most precious commodity.

The first thing to tackle is your schedule. Have you ever had someone stick their head in your office and ask, “You got a minute?” Well, you-got-a-minutes can easily eat up a large portion of your day. It takes discipline and setting expectations to combat the problem. Block time for yourself to work on your priorities. Make time to look up and out, to think strategically and assess where your business is headed. Set the expectation that people in your organization need to be mindful of the time they take for conversations and respectful of one another by not wasting anyone’s time.

The second area to consider for improvement is meetings. You need to look no further than Dilbert comics to realize just how painful it is to endure poorly run meetings. They are necessary, but also drain time if run without rules or purpose. Why are you having the meeting? What outcomes do you expect? Is it informational or decisional? Tell your people to come prepared and stick to the objectives. Be deliberate, consistent and disciplined.

One parting thought on the topic. Great leaders take time to teach, knowing that investment up front can pay huge dividends. At the core of this idea is the need to instill professional behaviors and effective time management throughout the organization. This will change the paradigm of being busy and foster an Edison-like culture of productivity and accomplishment.

Shed Light On Your Blind Spots: Employee Engagement Surveys

How is your organization performing? What do your employees think about organizational effectiveness? How do you know?

There are many ways to assess organizational performance. Most of the time, we rely on metrics, data analysis and financial statements. But is that enough? And is it giving you the full picture? Having sound processes and measuring the right things is a great start. But if you pay attention, feedback comes from everywhere. Being open to all possible feedback…from 360 degrees…will shed light on your blind spots. As leaders, our #1, and most complex, resource is human capital. Tapping into it takes a deliberate approach, a level of trust and sometimes a thick skin. Done right, it provides a powerful insight into your organizational culture, processes and performance.

Think of everyone in your organization as a sensor. Just like electronic sensors providing information on machine or automated process performance, your people constantly sense what is going on around them within the organization. They see, hear and are affected by everything around them, which could be a wider range of factors that executives and managers are exposed to. Human factors yield a full spectrum of challenges and possible effects on the organization. Closing the feedback loop increases awareness, allowing more deliberate application of resources to solve problems and improve results.

Employee engagement surveys provide a mechanism to receive candid feedback. The value is maximized by sincerely communicating an expectation that all constructive input will be evaluated and considered. Ask the tough questions. Formulate the survey to hit on specific areas of concern. Solicit feedback on how to improve processes, performance and climate. You may be surprised by the results.

Transparency is the hallmark of a great organization. In a transparent environment, employees spend less energy trying to ascertain or worry about direction and expectations. They understand where the organization is going and what needs to be done. This leads to trust, which builds respect in leaders and the team. Strive for transparency through open, honest communication of your vision, clear messaging of expectations and embracing areas for improvement. Albert Einstein said it best, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

As an organizational leader, consider that some of the best solutions and process improvements come from employees entrenched in operational processes. They have tremendous insight into how things are really going and can provide solutions to problems that senior leaders don’t even know exist. Get them engaged in your business, more empowered in seeking improvements and finding solutions to take your team to the next level.

Steer Your Ship: Turn Strategy Into Action

What direction is your business going? Are you getting the results you expect?

Think of your business as a cruise ship. Just like a 100,000-ton ocean vessel, it takes time, energy and consistency to change the course of an organization. If you want to make meaningful, lasting change, you have to get your people and operations moving in the right direction.

To put it in perspective…your leaders are on the bridge, guiding strategic direction, measuring progress, and making course corrections. Others are in key positions like the engine room, engaged, churning operations and processes…getting results. Some people are on the deck, enjoying the ride, contributing and providing the energy required to do their job, get through the day and collect a pay check. A few more people are at the back, hanging out at the bar, complaining about the situation, disgruntled and unwilling to put in the effort to change things for the better. They might be stuck in the status quo, feel like they are unheard, they may lack empowerment to make changes, or maybe they are not a good fit for the position. Then there are some people hanging on the railing, not sure if they want to be on or off the ship, in or out of the organization.

Like a cruise ship, it is difficult to change course for an organization. It is doable, but takes a clear vision and a focused plan. Is your strategy steering the ship in the right direction? Are your objectives, goals, processes and training in alignment?

Let’s focus on the vision that lays the foundation for your strategy. It points the direction, sets the course. Everything else, all the components of your organization, need to align with the vision. It is absolutely critical that your vision statement is clear and unambiguous. Refine it into a statement which is understandable, repeatable and actionable. Give it substance by writing it down, then hone the message, and most importantly, communicate it to everyone in the organization.

In his book Traction, Geno Wickman talks about the need for clear leadership vision. He wrote, “Most entrepreneurs can clearly see their vision. Their problem is that they make the mistake of thinking everyone else in the organization sees it too.” Don’t fall into that trap. Refine it, share it and get your organization moving in a more effective, more profitable direction. Keep the message sharp and consistent, knowing that like steering a giant ship, meaningful change will take time and commitment.

The Path to Excellence

The Path to Excellence

January is a great time to reflect on performance and professionalism in our organizations. This month offers an opportunity to refine strategic plans and goals for another year, or to create a new strategy. It also marks the culmination of another exciting football season, making it a great time to learn a few leadership lessons from a famous coach. Regardless of where you stand as a Green Bay Packer Backer, diehard Vikings fan, flying the colors for any other team or maybe you don’t even like football, we can all learn from Vince Lombardi as a winning coach with a clear vision and a lot to teach about getting the best performance from any team.

Lombardi once said, “We will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we will catch excellence.” 

We can apply his idea to the organization and connect it to individual performance through the cycle of confidence. There are many psychological models for learning and building confidence, which simply is a belief in a positive outcome. Many of these models center on methodology for connecting individual training to performance. Our theme this month is getting results, and while there is not one particular model that stands out, we can fuse ideas in a way that ties to our central theme.


It all starts with why. Why do I need to learn something new? Once that becomes clear, there is a purpose for learning, a suitable reason. This provides the goal and motivates practice which in time and through repetition creates competence in a refined skillset. Competence establishes the basis for achieving results, the foundation of confidence, and becomes the driver for loftier goals and further development. From an organizational viewpoint, the why, the training and the skills should all align directly to the strategy.

Lombardi was well known for having a relatively small playbook compared to his peers and relied heavily on a trademark play called the power sweep. It was simple in design and required near perfect execution against teams who knew what was coming. He stayed true to his strategic objectives and wasted no effort in anything that failed to deliver results. His attitude on training to the standard of perfection instilled competence and led to his players having confidence in his scheme and their own abilities. They all knew if they did their job right, the team would be successful. And that is exactly what Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers did…winning 5 NFL Championships in 7 years. Another Lombardi quote sums it up, “Confidence is contagious. So is the lack of confidence.” Let’s strive to get our people on the right side of that equation.

Thoughts for the New Year: An Ol' Chicken's Philosophy on Getting Results

In his book The Power of Professionalism: The Seven Mind-Sets that Drive Professionals, Bill Wiersma asserts that professionals have a bias for results. He also describes accountability as a means to “advance the ball in spite of adversity.” From another viewpoint, he is talking about holding yourself professionally responsible to achieve a goal or make things better in your organization.

So, what does this have to do with the New Year? Well, this idea ties in perfectly to the reflection and planning we tend to do as we flip the calendar to January. Many of us make resolutions to do something new, change an unhealthy behavior, exercise more, read more, complete a degree program, or to break an old habit. According to surveys, less than 8% of people were successful in keeping New Year’s resolutions last year. So, instead of making a new resolution, why not reshape your mindset to a different type of resolution for 2017? Be resolved. Keep your attention and energy on your core competencies and resolve to take steps to get better results in the things you already do. Realign your attention to achieving the goals you already have, personally and professionally.

There are always opportunities to improve in areas critical to success, such as personnel management, strategic planning, training programs, and operational processes. For instance, symptoms of a problem are often easy to see while the root cause may not be. You can create a more cohesive and actionable plan for improvement by refining your problem solving process to discover the actual cause of various obstructions without sub-optimizing performance.

Resolve yourself to doing what’s right by having a professional mindset to overcome challenges and getting to the root cause of problems. This can shape your focus and help you become more resolute for the New Year. You have another opportunity to get the results you expect! The famous Looney Tunes character, Foghorn Leghorn, whose quips were often simple yet profound, once said, “Stop! I say stop it boy…you’re doin’ a lot of choppin’, but no chips are flyin’.” After all, effort is good, but results are what matter.

John Glenn's Inspirational Message

We lost an American hero on December 8, 2016, when John Glenn, Mercury Astronaut and Senator, passed away at age 95. He was a national icon who inspired many and lived a life of high moral character while striving to do his absolute best in every situation. During the press conference in 1959 when he was introduced as 1 of 7 Mercury astronauts, he made a statement that became an iconic quote and provides inspiration still today.

“We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live.”

This quote by John Glenn connects directly to VOLT’s philosophy of matching the right people to the right positions. Using proven tools like the Predictive Index, we guide organizations in the placement of talent for maximum results. While it is truly each individual’s responsibility to make the most of their strengths, each organization can and should play an active role in job placement and training to get the most out of their biggest asset…people.

Organizations can use the Predictive Index to develop people and teams through data-driven decisions.  By placing people into roles that naturally fit their personality, capabilities and talents, business managers can increase the stability and productivity of their workforce.  We help businesses by using this powerful tool to ensure the best possible matches between people and outcomes. The focus is to enable organizations to attract, recruit and retain employees to meet their goals, leading to dramatic results.