Strategy, Strategy, Strategy

Article excerpt

For many family-owned businesses, the opposite of strategy isn't non-strategy or unstrategy or strategyless. It's chaos.

The term strategy has evolved from its original military usage through a short span as a corporate buzzword to its current status as U.S. business lexicographical lynch pin. Check the course listings of any B-school worth its corporate endowment and you'll probably find strategy tied to subjects ranging from global economics to inventory control.

Not bad for a Greek derivative that's most elegantly defined as the pathway of planned steps or actions that takes your company to its goals.

Some companies apply strategy in short, targeted bursts to pursue limited objectives. Others crawl under a big, fuzzy strategy blanket where they feel secure while they carry on business as usual. For family businesses, an integrated family-and-business strategy, or FAB, can play a special role in interlocking family and business goals, improving business performance and profit, and reducing the stress surrounding major decisions like ownership continuity and management succession.

To be effective, the FAB strategy should be more than a management tool. It should almost be a way of life, linking business planning and management to the larger scope of family interests. A FAB strategy includes the following ingredients:

* Vision -- There's a lot of value in short-term strategies that accomplish short-term objectives: a one-year jump in market share, muscling up production capacity for a specific project, building the management skills of family newcomers to the business.

But an overarching family-and-business strategy should be built on the longest time frame possible. When the family's vision of the future is clear and concrete, and everybody stays flexible (more on that below), the longer term FAB strategy can provide stability, coherence and forward motion to both the business and the family.

* Comprehensiveness -- On past occasions, this column has burdened your consciousness with the five plans that are essential for every family in business: business plan, strategic plan, succession plan, estate plan and disengagement plan. When they're bricked together and mortared with family values and eccentricities, the five plans can be the rigging for a comprehensive FAB strategy that incorporates business goals and processes with a wide array of the owners' personal goals and interests. …