Family business: The effect of emotions on decision making

Dr Nicola Davies – psychologist and writer – takes a look at decision making within family-run garden centres where emotions are often running high.

When it comes to decision making in a family business, it?s often all too easy to let emotions rule so that you end up making choices that will be regretted later. In a family run garden centre it?s not just business, it?s personal for all involved and this can lead to some pretty heated discussions. So how do you keep the peace while making the best choice for your business?

A seven step process

To keep your emotions in check you need to keep a level head at every stage. Psychologist Sacha Griffiths identifies seven steps you need to take in the decision-making process.

?Identify what decision needs to be made; gather the information necessary to make it; identify your options; weigh up the evidence; choose the option the family deems best and lastly, review and evaluate the decision made before taking action.?

Pam Jacob, of the Driefontein Nursery and Garden Centre in the Ballito area of the Dolphin Coast of South Africa, had to make the difficult and emotional decision to move from the nursery and her family home on a large tract of land which developers had their eye on. For Jacob and her family it was a wrench to move from what had been carefully built up over many years. On the other hand, a change proved to be ripe with new opportunities.

?The move from the land, which is now being developed, to our present spot ?The Litchi Orchard,? was all part of progress and our present location is, for me, the better of the two choices at this stage in our history.?

Getting the best out of your emotional assets

While your family need to keep a handle on their emotions, that doesn?t mean you can?t utilise them. Emotion has been seen as a negative influence irrational decision-making but studies have shown that, as long as you take responsibility for your choices, various emotional, environmental and social factors can play a positive role.

For example, the enthusiasm that garden centre owners display for their business will rub off onto customers, who leave with memories of an engaging interaction with staff in addition to a car laden with gardening paraphernalia.

When your family has a brainstorming session about a decision that needs to be made, it is fine to go with intuition or gut feeling ? but only if all involved agree. Only when you own your decisions and take responsibility for your actions can you make any situation an opportunity for success.

You need to find the positive in every change and make the most of it in order to create your own success. Taking responsibility can be an important aspect of preventing family rifts later.

?The key feature in all decisions is about taking responsibility for one?s own success,? says Griffiths. Perception differs from person to person, depending on their experience and values so the involvement of everyone impacted is essential.

Not everyone will be 100% happy with a group decision but if you can get the majority to commit to making it work, the family can evaluate progress at a set time. Family is more important than money and if there is no agreement then it may be better to part ways as far as business is concerned.

SWOTting up on family strengths

Fortunately in family-run nurseries and retail plant centres, the love for plants and landscaping is often inherited. However, it?s important to remember that each person will have different strengths and weaknesses. A SWOT analysis can help establish what each family member?s strengths are, their potential weaknesses, opportunities available through training, and lastly, any potential threats they might bring.

Threats may originate from behaviour such as overspending, anger management issues or a tendency not to communicate decisions. When deciding who to put in charge of customer complaints, it might not be wise to select someone with anger management issues.

In a family business, each person should be placed according to their merits ? someone might not have the proverbial green fingers, but they may be fantastic at promoting sales. Jacob bears this out when she says: ?I have a huge respect for my two managers, Rita and Stella, and I am always prepared to listen to their point of view and experience.

This is also essential within a family business. I now have my son, Russell, helping me with the debtors and marketing side and I respect his judgement and ideas ? but he must respect mine for us to work well together.?

Perhaps there is a family member with an eye for design who could open a landscaping section using plants propagated at the nursery.

This could see business expand without clashing with the growing sections, which are run a certain way. Many nurseries incorporate restaurants and cafes, which would give a budding chef in the family an opportunity to make a name through the family business while at the same time adding value.

Decision-making between the generations

Young blood can take the family business to the next level and expand your number of outlets through the use of social media, but this isn?t always an easy path. This fits with Pam Jacob?s experience: ?I am the head of the business and have tried working with my son, Bradley, who now has a separate landscaping and maintenance company run independently of ours, but bearing the Driefontein name.

Brad and I didn?t last long as a team. I find within my family there are no true retailers. To be a successful retailer you

must be a servant to the people and can?t display arrogance at any cost.? Sometimes the best decision is to accept you might not be able to work with some family members.

When parents have run a nursery for years before their children join the business, there are bound to be differences of opinion that you should allow and prepare for.

?Working in a family business is extremely difficult,? says Jacob. ?Rules need to be laid down at the outset, especially when strong personalities are involved.?

The parents within a family business have often followed a tried and trusted procedure to reach success ? and then youngsters step in with all sorts of new ideas. It is important to examine each new proposal on its merits before making a decision.

?It is very important to be open,? says Griffiths. ?No one should feel obligated to join the family business. Only join a family business if you have a true interest.?

Make decisions together

Having the right family members in the right roles makes other business decisions a lot easier but this doesn?t make the decision-making process problem-free.

Again, a SWOT analysis can help, being applicable to new products, places and industries. If you?re doubting the best option to choose you?ll tend to focus on the your current emotional state and this heightens your perception of the risks of taking action.

Let?s say you?re unsure where to place the indoor plants. Do a SWOT analysis and let all the family have a say. That way, you won?t be excessively focused on the threats but will be able to balance this factor out with strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

Accepting outside help

Another important aspect of decision making within a family business is that everyone needs to put their egos aside and concentrate on what is good for the business as a whole. When presented with a life-changing decision involving the family business, putting egos aside can be extremely difficult and Griffiths suggests calling in an outside mediator.

A mediator with some emotional distance will be able to help keep the process on track and defuse potentially damaging situations.

By focusing on everyone?s strengths, taking responsibility for decisions and seeking mediation when necessary, there?s no reason that a family run garden centre can?t make successful decisions on a regular basis.

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