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April 23, 2020

Is your family business trying to figure out the future? This one-on-one approach can get you there

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There’s probably never been a time of more uncertainty for business owners — and that can be especially acute if you’re a family business.

The Prairie Family Business Association is stepping in to help one-on-one, offering facilitated family meetings virtually.

They will be at 1 p.m. April 29 and last 60 to 90 minutes.

“We provide a facilitator for the family, we’ll work with the family on their goals, and the facilitator will serve as a guide and resource,” said Stephanie Larscheid, Prairie Family Business Association executive director.

“This is a great opportunity for families who are in crisis mode and are unsure of what the future holds, for families who have never had an outside facilitator lead a meeting, for a family who could use assistance with communication and for a family who needs to define their next steps.”

Dave Johnson found out firsthand the positive difference a family meeting can make. The chairman of Reliabank and his family participated in one in 2017. He shared his experience and how he continues to draw on it today.

First, what has the past month been like for you and for Reliabank? How have you been adjusting to the changing needs within your business and for your clients?

We’ve closed lobbies for the safety of our customers and employees. We also have handled a flood of loan customers online — not only spring operating loans but also CARES Act loans, including Paycheck Protection Program loans. We’re finding that as a family-owned regional bank, we’re able to quickly move to meet the needs of our customers. Some of our staff are working remotely, and we will have to decide if remote work is the wave of the future.

How would you say the resources of the Prairie Family Business Association have helped you in recent times?

It creates a forum to discuss uncomfortable topics for management succession, such as “the old man” letting go of the reins. And it’s happening — with our team making decisions surrounding COVID 19 without me being on the committee. As the next generation of Reliabank leads today, hopefully the groundwork has been laid for our leaders to be as creative and innovative as those who came before us in earlier generations.

You participated in a family meeting facilitated through the Prairie Family Business Association a few years ago. What made you decide to conduct that?

The facilitated family meeting was offered as a free resource through Prairie Family Business Association. It was a way to establish open lines of communication with our sons.

Had you ever had a family meeting before this? And how did the experience compare with your expectations?

No. The results far exceeded my expectations. Everyone’s voice was heard more. Having a third-party facilitator really helped open lines of communication and give all of us the chance to develop a personal identity.

What kinds of things did you accomplish through the facilitated family meeting?

We ultimately got our sons to disclose where they want to fit into our bank.  My expectations for my sons were different than theirs. I thought I would perceive what would make my boys happy. Little did I know that my perceptions were inaccurate.

Since that first meeting, how often are you now holding meetings?

We try to hold quarterly meetings with our facilitator. Our facilitator is a non-family member who plays an unbiased moderator role for our family.

What would you say to other families considering doing a similar meeting virtually?

The challenge would be to listen intently to what is being said since it would be harder to read body language virtually. But virtual meetings can work. And now is the time to take advantage of a resource like this. Bring your family together and spend an hour talking about your future, including the many what-ifs we all are facing today.

For information or to sign up for a facilitated family meeting, reach out to fba@usd.edu.