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Family Succession – ‘The Pink Elephant’

We are often asked to resolve succession issues within multi generational family business. In many ways issues that exist with family businesses can also appear within long-established professional firms.

There are often many complicated inter-related issues that causes problems at this critical time in the long-term success of the business or partnership. We have found over the years that these issues can be summarised under one of four areas.

  • Communication
  • History
  • Boundaries
  • Timing

However, the major barrier to the smooth transition of family businesses to the next generation is true open communication. I will discuss the other three areas under future articles.

In many instances there exists the proverbial ‘Pink Elephant' in the room. This is an obvious problem or risk that no one wants to discuss and therefore is ignored.

This may be an issue that has grown up over the years that various family members are aware of but no one is prepared to name. There maybe fear that the naming the elephant will cause a major rift in the family and so the issue is not confronted. There is no straight talking to bring the issue out into the open. However it does not go away, it just festers and grows.

The result is resentment, lack of focus, possibly the creation of warring factions. Sometimes the pink elephant is so large it can ultimately have a destructive impact on the business and could mean talented family members leave or the business has to be sold outside the family or in worst cases the family breaks down – a high price indeed.

It’s not surprising that when we look at the statistics that some 73% of family businesses want to keep the business in the family but only 33% make it to the second generation and only 9% to the third.

Interestingly, studies also show that 57% of family businesses have no defined plan for succession; which perhaps is a direct result of not confronting the pink elephant in the room.

So let’s have a look at some of the reasons that open communication can be an issue specifically within family businesses, but also can be relevant to professional practice.

Fear of expressing feelings and wants.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to look at the succession through the eyes of the next generations. Often their wants and desires are subjugated to the needs of the business and the current leadership generation. They get caught by what they believe is expected rather than what they truly want.

Often feeling uncomfortable discussing their emotional needs and wants as they may feel that it shows their vulnerability and/or disloyalty to the family and so leave it unsaid and just bottle up their frustration.

Indirect communication

This can be the result of lack of confidence and manifests in people not talking with each other directly. Factions within the company can result in family members talking with other family members who are not involved directly. A deadly triangle is created and eats away at the core of family relationships.


Perhaps one of the most insidious areas is that of lack of appreciation and recognition. This takes many forms from the incumbent generation to the new generation not recognising their contribution to the growth and success of the business (or indeed vice versa). This is bad enough within the business but has an even deeper impact when it is from external family owners to those family members working hard within the business (or indeed vice versa).

Implied expectations.

This covers the whole area of assumed responsibilities and expectations. It is just assumed that the succession will go to the next generation without explicitly discussing the implications. Just assuming that all parties are happy with the arrangement or implied arrangements.

Lack of plan

It has been found that some 39% of family businesses expect the founder or MD to leave within the coming years but as already stated 59% of family businesses have no defined plan for succession. This leaves a lot unsaid and assumptions on the date have to be made. The incumbent does not want to formalise the date and so the future leaders are left in limbo, perhaps a little like the Prince of Wales!

These are only some of the issues impacting succession in family businesses. Succession in any business can have a significant impact on the future of the business. For effective long tern sustainability of profits and cashflow, succession should be a process not an event.

So succession and the many issues around the subject can become the pink elephant in the room. Often people can’t see it but they can certainly feel its impact.

Before the business can move forward the pink elephant needs to be named. Once it can be named then all involved can see it and with careful direction can start to deal with it. Often this needs firm but sensitive external professional involvement to truly align the family members to create a family plan as well as a business plan.

To view the next article in the series click here.

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How Important are Emotions in Leadership?

With the rapid pace at which the current business market changes, the ability of the leaders in any business to make quick and good decisions is becoming more and more important. As more time is needed from leaders to keep up to date with the current business market, they have less time to manage their people, so they need to delegate a great deal more of the day to day operation to their teams.

For many leaders, delegation brings out a number of fears that tasks and functions will not be done with the passion and commitment that the leader applies. They are torn between delegating and keeping up to date with the market and this is often the reason that slows or stops a business growing.

Recruiting, keeping and inspiring good quality people is quickly becoming one of the biggest challenges for UK businesses, wanting to grow.

So what role do emotions play in all of this?

The most important factor to remember in leadership is that it is about leading people, not tasks or jobs, and people connect with others in a predominantly emotional way.

The three key areas where emotions play a key role in the leadership of a business are;

  1. The external relationships with customers and stakeholders build the value of any business more so than the majority of services or products that a business offers. Customers want to buy from businesses they like and who show them respect. This value is most often measured at the lowest level of relationship and not by the quality of relationship between the leaders. A leader’s key role is to make sure all their employees connect to their business and build an emotional contract with their own business and the customers and stakeholders externally.
  2. The second area is the internal relationships and it is measured by the emotional commitments of the people within the business. To build emotional wealth within your business, as a leader you must treat your people as investors because that is what they are, investors of their talents and emotions.
  3. The third area is the level of energy, focus and passion you invest as a leader in your role in the business and in your personal life. As a leader, you will quickly realise that you cannot lead by asking people to do what you say when the way you act and behave is the opposite of this.

The primary role that you have as a leader is to create positive emotions in all of the key areas above in order to create a competitive advantage for your business.

When people do not really know or understand each other or when relationships are plagued by lack of trust or bad feelings, the ability to grow or even carry out business deals becomes more and more difficult.

Successful business leaders in today’s business environment are not just those who can see and act on opportunities in the market, but those who can inspire and connect with others so that they achieve and perform at levels higher than they thought possible themselves.

As a leader, building emotional wealth in your business is a great strategy to build a difference between your business and your competitors and could be the secret to taking your business to the next level of success and profit.

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Improve Your Sales Performance: Empathy

Sales is all about human interaction and the building of relationships. Too often, sales people just follow their natural instinct and believe that sales is about convincing the buyer how great their product or service is.

One of the most significant barriers to becoming a successful sales person is focusing more on yourself as a sales person, than the prospect in front of you. In every sales opportunity, the only person who has the power to make any purchasing decision is the buyer. Therefore, all focus must be focused on gaining an understanding of them and how they view or feel about the need of the product or service.

I have found that empathy is the most crucial building block I have used in my sales process; however it is often one of the most misunderstood words around. Many people get confused between sympathy and empathy. In my simple way, I define them as follows;

  • Sympathy is looking at an emotional issue through your eyes.
  • Empathy is looking at and understanding an emotional issue through the eyes of the person experiencing it.

To earn a prospects respect, time and attention, sales people need to understand the problem and look at it from the prospect's perspective. Approaching the situation in this way is how we get to understand why it's important to them. We need to stop talking at them and put yourself in the position alongside them.

How do we apply empathy to a sales meeting?

Let’s start by breaking empathy down into some key areas. Then at how to apply these to build better relationships with the prospects and buyers we come into contact with.

The three key components of empathy I would like to look at are;


In order to practise curiosity, we need to start with the mindset that we know nothing about the person or challenges they are facing. This will mean that that we do away with that old problem in sales, assumption.

By asking open-ended questions and exploring the emotional words in the response, we journey down the road of discovery. I like to equate the word curiosity with children. I remember my kids, when they were young, asking continuous questions until they received the answer that made them happy. This is a skill that every one of us had when we were children, but life just seems to often override it. If we are to improve our sales skills, then it's time to recall some of those wonderful skills we were so good at as kids.


The first point I would like to make here is that listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is about the sounds and words you hear. Whereas listening requires focus and the ability to understand what the person speaking to you is saying. Listening is not only taking in the words the person uses, but also picking up the tone and pace of voice and how the other person’s body language changes. This is the only way we can determine what emotional impact the message they are giving you has on them. In sales, one of the most important things to listen out for are all the emotional words. These are the key for asking those really penetrating questions that help you delve under the surface.

Building an Emotional Connection

The decision to buy something, no matter what it is, is predominantly an emotional one. It's vital for sales people to build this emotional connection with their prospect. We started by saying that sales was about human interaction and building relationships, so it's vital that we focus on understanding the emotional connection the prospect has with the challenges they are trying to solve. Relationships are built upon emotions and rely on us taking a true and personal interest in the prospect. It means really getting to understand their situation from their point of view. They need to feel that we are very much on their side and are focused on helping them solve any problems they have in a way that brings the solution they are looking for, not the solution that we think is best.

If you want to make a dramatic improvement in your sales performance, then practising your empathy skills is vital. Not only will you improve your results, you will build deeper and longer term relationships with your customers.

If you want to reduce the amount of closing techniques and effort you are putting into your sales meetings, then practice your empathy up front in the meetings and the need to use harder closing techniques will decrease dramatically.

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How Emotionally Intelligent is Your Marketing?

If you have attended any top level sales training or read any of the numerous books on sales available today, you will see repeatedly that the decision to buy anything is predominantly an emotional decision, in fact, most people who will say that 80% of any decision to buy something is an emotional one. How do we transfer this across to the many marketing messages we put out into the market?

We need to start by understanding how people measure marketing messages in general. Just think how you react to any marketing on the TV, do you hear yourself saying words like, “I love that ad” or “I can’t stand that advert?” What about when those local newspapers arrive and as you pick them up, all those flyers fall out all over the floor, have you ever said, “I am sick and tired, of all this junk mail they send!” All these words we use are almost always emotive words, so how often as a business leader or marketing person, do you think about how the audience you are targeting will react emotionally to the message you are sending out?

I believe that we measure marketing on the perception it creates within us and this perception is determined by the experiences of marketing messages we have seen and read, both past and current.

So how do we go about creating the emotional reaction in our marketing that will make our target audience contact us first or see us as their solution?

The starting place is in depth and effective market research, not market surveys. To understand more about the difference, please read my article titled, ‘Marketing, The Forgotten Piece.’ The key difference between market research and a market survey is that market research is all about finding out and then truly understanding the emotional reasons why people choose your business over others that offer the same or similar services, whereas a marketing survey is about evaluating and measuring your customer service or product offering. Marketing surveys are ideal to measure the processes and ways you communicate with your customers, but they do not unlock the emotional reasons why people choose your business over another.

Once you understand the emotional reasons why people buy from you rather than others, we can tailor the marketing message to hit those key emotions within your target audience. In many cases, it’s not your product or service, or what it specifically does that makes people choose it, but rather the way it is positioned to them and the way that the positioning connects emotionally to them that makes the difference.

Here is an example of this point. I worked with an Independent Financial Advisor who had dealt with my investments and pensions in an incredible way, completely different to any other advisor I had worked with in the past. His ability to listen to my concerns and what I wanted to achieve really gave me the wow factor, but what was even better, was that the results and level of follow up communication he had with me were exactly how he had said they would be. Based on my feedback, he decided to start a marketing campaign to attract more customers for his pension service. He created a flyer which he sent out to his database of contacts with the following headline; “Is your current pension plan going to deliver what you are looking for?” Now I am sure that many of you who understand marketing may be thinking, “Looks like a good headline at first glance, what is wrong with that?”

The problem with the headline on this flyer was all about timing, at this time, the press was full of numerous reports about how badly pension schemes were performing and that many people were losing money by investing in a pension scheme. When we did some market research around the flyer, we found that many people were reacting very negatively to the “pension” word and as such, as soon as they saw the word, they just stopped reading. The fact that this persons pension investments were performing incredibly well just did not matter as the target audience’s emotional reaction to the pension word in the flyer just stopped them reading the details.

So in addition to researching the emotional reasons why your clients choose to buy from you over your competitors, you need to also be very aware of the emotional feelings that are happening in your market sector as well as being aware of any press or TV coverage that may have an emotional impact on your target audience.

Understanding the emotional factors in your target market and ideal prospects can help you position your marketing message in a very effective way and help you differentiate yourself against your competitors in the market place. When your marketing message creates the correct emotional response amongst your target audience, you may be amazed with the change in perception people will have about your product or service.

Just how much are you aware of the emotional reasons why your key customers and ideal prospects come and buy from your business? What perception is your current marketing communication creating within your target markets? It is important that you only measure the emotional response and perception from those clients and prospects that you consider ideal to the profitable growth of your business and not those who you would rather not deal with.

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Understanding an ‘S’

Recent studies have shown that the ‘vast majority (82%) of UK business leaders identify disengaged employees as one of the top three greatest threats facing their business’ 1. Communication is listed as one of the top factors influencing and improving employee engagement. Yet still a recent study showed how effective communication in companies fell from 2011 to 20122

DiSC is a communication tool to create effective communication. It is a look at someone’s observable behaviour and encourages us to understand how we and others like to communicate. It also gives us the tools to deal with any misunderstandings if they arise, but crucially prevent them from arising to start with.

This series of articles will look closely at DiSC taking each dimension in turn. To understand the motivations and characteristics of each dimension in turn. Discussing how to recognise a style, and what adaptations we need to make to communicate effectively.

This article will be looking at the ‘Steadiness’ dimension.

Let’s quickly recap the DiSC quadrant. From a communication point of view people will have a natural tendency to be either Task focussed or People focussed and either faster or moderately paced. In reality we all have a balance of each of these but most people will have a natural preference and one style will stand out above the others.

From the quadrant we can see that the steadiness dimension or S’s are moderate paced and people focussed. So if we met a person with a high level of S in their profile we would expect to see someone who is relaxed, methodical, amiable and calm. Someone who would be described real team player.

The words that are used to describe an S all contribute to an S being the rock of an organisation, qualities such as loyalty, reliability, patience.

A high S is typically a really good listener and their calm approach means they are great diplomats within an organisation. They get the best from the team by co-operating with other behavioural styles.

The S will work best in an environment that allows them to work to a routine at an relaxed pace. They will work best when the have consistency and security. The moderate pace of the S contributes to the S not being fond of change. Many texts refer to the S as being fearful of change, in fact many high S people are comfortable with change providing they maintain their security. They will resist change if that are unsure where their security lies, be it job, personal, financial or relationship security. Managing change with an S can cause conflict in many organisations, the reason usually comes down to the faster paced styles (D & I) not giving enough consideration to the changes and how this will affect the security of the S.

The S style will get on with all lots of different personality styles and other dimensions will see the S as just a really nice person that is easy to get along with. They are patient and supportive and so work well as part of a team.

A S can be controlled and so their reactions can be hard to read unless you ask them specific questions. The S will assume you know how they feel, which can again cause conflict in many organisations. The faster dimensions (D & I) can sometimes miss this with an S. in their haste to get going they may take the nod of an S that they are comfortable with a task but actually they are just trying to process what is going on and are really not happy with everything that is going on.

Sincerity is very important to an S. This includes sincere eye contact, genuine active listening, and a genuine value of the work that they do. The S will see through insincerity very quickly and it will have a detrimental effect on your relationship with and S if you are insincere and it will be hard work to rebuild the relationship, as they will bear a grudge.

If you think you may have a high level of the steadiness dimension in your profile, how can you improve your communication with others?

  1. Take initiative in clarifying situations that you feel are difficult and confusing.
  2. Develop your capacity to accept change/instability
  3. Be more independent, have faith in your own opinions and abilities.

In the next article we will look at how to work with, manage and motivate an S.

1 HR Magazine Taken from Global management consultancy Hay Group and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)

2 Aon Hewitt – 2012 Trends in Global Employee Engagement

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Understanding DiSC- ‘D’

Recent studies have shown that the ‘vast majority (82%) of UK business leaders identify disengaged employees as one of the top three greatest threats facing their business’ 1. Communication is listed as one of the top factors influencing and improving employee engagement. Yet still a recent study showed how effective communication in companies fell in 2012 from 20112

DiSC is a communication tool aimed to create effective communication. It is a look at someone’s observable behaviour and encourages us to understand how we and others like to communicate. It also gives us the tools to deal with any misunderstandings if they arise, but crucially prevent them from arising to start with.

This series of articles will look closely at DiSC taking each dimension in turn. To understand the motivations and characteristics of each dimension and discuss how to recognise a style, and what adaptations we need to make to communicate effectively.

Let’s begin by looking at the ‘Dominance’ dimension.


Let’s quickly summarise the DiSC quadrant. From a communication point of view people will have a natural tendency to be either Task focussed or People focussed and either faster or moderately paced. In reality we all have a balance of each of these but most people will have a natural preference and one style will stand out above the others.

From the quadrant we can see that the Dominance dimension or D’s are faster paced and task focussed. So if we met a person with a high level of D in their profile we would expect to see someone who is competitive, determined, decisive, bold, and a person that loves to solve a problem.

The D style is a quick decision maker, and often won’t wait to be given the authority to take action. This makes them natural leaders but it does mean that they can struggle with being a ‘control freak’. D’s are most comfortable when they are in control of their situation and environment, when they are free from any restriction or control measures. A D will make their decision quickly and will act upon it quickly. Speed is of the essence to a D, they become bored quickly and will lose interest if things move too slowly or become bogged down with the ‘fluffy stuff’. New and varied tasks will appeal to the D and keep them motivated.

The D style has a tendency to make big logic leaps. When they are explaining a task to someone they may start at A but go straight to E, missing out steps B,C and D. This has the potential to leave other communication styles very confused. This is a key development area for a D.

For some of the other communication styles such as the C and S, a D can be hard to handle, the speed that they process information and decisions can be too quick and lacking in detail. Whilst for the D, communication with the other styles can be frustrating because they perceive them as slow or obstructive, because they don’t act quick enough. The contrast of styles can also mean that other dimensions are intimidated by the D’s communication style, meaning that they may not feel comfortable asking for clarification, fuelling the D’s frustration. The D will do things like finish the other person’s sentences, keep jumping in when someone else is speaking, become fidgety. This communication situation can often lead to the D being very blunt and lacking tact in their criticism. This is one of the most common areas of communication tension in a workplace.

D’s may often have their communication style reinforced because it brings them success, in their terms of getting results. However in many instances it is getting the task done that is important rather than the people involved in getting the task done.

If you think you may have a high level of the dominance dimension in your profile, how can you improve your communication with others and ease your frustration?

  1. Slow down and think before you speak. This is much easier said than done but will make a massive impact on the communication with other styles. Pausing before you speak and considering the feelings of others will help with being more tactful.
  2. Active listening. This means actually listening to someone when they are talking to you, not thinking about the next thing or new ideas. Give the person you are talking to 100% of your attention at that moment.
  3. Try and reach win:win situations. So the other person feels the outcome is as positive for them as it is for you. This may also be achieved by praising others more, recognising a job well done and giving recognition when it is deserved, will go a long way to getting people on your side.

In the next article we will look at how to work with, manage and motivate a D.

1 HR Magazine Taken from Global management consultancy Hay Group and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)

2 Aon Hewitt – 2012 Trends in Global Employee Engagement

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Recruiting In Style – DiSC

Recruitment can be a tough process to go through, especially as a wrong decision can result in a lengthy process to exit that person from your business.

Fluid Business Coaching would never advocate basing a recruitment decision based purely on someone’s communication profile. However, tools such as DiSC can be a brilliant to help you understand a potential employee's motivations, goals and fears when going through the recruitment process. This type of insight is also important and useful when introducing a new employee to your company.

The table on the right outlines the basics of each DiSC profile type. Hear more about each of the different profiles (D, I, S and C) on the Fluid Business Podcast below.

So what is the point of disc-recruit-styleunderstanding why people are motivated to join you and your organisation? A strong team can make or break a company and developing an ‘All Star Team’ rather than a ‘Team of All Stars’ we can unlock infinite value.

If you're interested in developing an ‘All Star Team,' find out more about our services or speak to one of the team about how we can help you with DiSC profiling. If you'd like to talk to one of our coaches about how we can help your business, call 01245 423377 or schedule a call back.


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What is Effective Communication?

Everybody has their own unique style of communication that is influenced by their current situation, the relationships that are involved in and the expectations they have of themselves and others. We all have different goals, fears and motivations of the world. If this is the case how can we communicate effectively with everyone we come into contact with?

Before we can understand if we are communicating effectively we first need to understand what communication truly is. Let’s go right back to basics. The dictionary defines communication the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings. The word itself has been derived from the Latin word “communis”, meaning to share, so to communicate is to make common. So our first major key to communicating effectively is to create a common, neutral language that is safe and accessible for everyone to use. That sounds all very nice and fluffy but in practice it is hard work, requires a lot of effort but brings immense rewards to an organisation.

Feedback is essential to effective communication. Actually, it is only when we communicating effectively that we read the feedback the other person is giving us and make changes accordingly. Many people miss the feedback signs, carrying on regardless and causing a mis-communication or conflict. People have different ways of communicating and giving feedback but there are some basic principles that we all instinctively follow.

DiSC is a personality profiling tools to help us understand these principles. With such tools we can interpret and understand the feedback people give us and adapt our communication accordingly, thus creating a safe, common, neutral language.

To understand more call us on 01245 423377
Have you read our ‘What is DiSC Article?’

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Helping Your Team With Change

On purpose I have titled this article ‘Helping your team with change’. One often misunderstood concept of change is that we want to change the team or change the people. If this is your starting point, you are doomed to fail. It is not the new situation that often creates the resistance, it is the uncertainty of what is going to happen. Either with the circumstances or with their personal situation. This is the main reason why people object instantly and question the change, often in a very defensive way. Questions like, “Why do I need to change?” or “What is the reason for changing this?”

I therefore recommend to flip this completely. When leading companies and teams, we need to show the vision and direction we are heading for. We also have to show what the new situation will bring. Explain the new situation and show how it is going to be beneficial to the individual. I have seen from experience that people are clever enough to understand that sometimes they need to change in order to commit to a common goal. If your team members do not see the need to change, help them understand it.

Years ago I worked in a company which was not known for embracing change and for over 20 years the company was run in the same way with nothing ever really happening. Then crisis hit our industry and in order to deal with this changed economy, change needed to happen. My starting point was to make clear to everybody what the end goal was and what we wanted to achieve (share the vision). I then explained to everyone what needed to be done (share the mission). At this point people were invited to contribute to the actions that needed to be done.


Many years ago I learned the following:

Tell the team, and they will know

Show the team, and the will remember

Involve the team, and they will learn


It has been on my whiteboard since, and I have applied this in Holland, Sweden and in the UK. And especially when change is concerned it is a very powerful reminder that effective change only happens when people are involved in the process.


The second thing we did was doing DiSC assessments and training with all the office staff, including the foremen of the warehouse. This was never done before and people were very anxious of the outcomes. Be profiled sounded very scary in itself, but what freshened even more was the next step when we discussed the profiles in small groups. The workshops however became a very big success, because people realised that the profiles were actually them. Also they understood that there was no right or wrong in the DiSC profiles. It was an assessment of who they were.

I still believe that one of the other elements for the success was my open involvement as a Managing Director. Also my profile (including some obvious characteristics) were scrutinised by the team. Some of them were basis for some nice banter among the team. For me the most fascinating outcome was to a few members of staff had worked together for decades, without really understanding their co-workers. With that understanding it was much easier to work together, because we all react in different way to various situations.

As said at the beginning. You cannot lead a team or any group from a big tower, shouting instructions. Especially in change processes it is vital you are seen as the leader. Show the team you are also going through the challenges and paces of the change. This will help them to overcome theirs and join you in the process.

Again, change is not scary in itself. The scary bit comes in, if we do not know why we change or what the change is for. Make clear to your team what destination you are heading for and what direction you are going. Trust your team with the responsibility to adjust their own course along with yours. This will give you credibility as a leader and much more success for the change.