All in the Family

April 1, 2004
STAN Coveleski and his son, Trak, sat on the dais, separated by a few chairs. They were getting a bit testy with each other. Where are your notes? asked

STAN Coveleski and his son, Trak, sat on the dais, separated by a few chairs. They were getting a bit testy with each other.

“Where are your notes?” asked Stan, president of SIA Truck Bodies in Largo, Florida.

“They were on my laptop,” replied Trak, vice president of sales and marketing. “I mean, I … ”

“Where's your laptop?” Stan interjected. “See, I told your mother the other night at home that you really don't change, that no matter how old you get, you have the same habits you had as a kid. You (need to) bring stuff with so you you're prepared. I told you to get a day planner because you can't carry your desk around with you.”

“You're busy with all the NTEA stuff and I'm trying to find different ways to run the company,” Trak said.

“And you want me to pass the baton to you? Why would you be ready?” Stan snorted.

“You think Eminem is a dessert, a candy,” Trak countered. “You don't know anything about the current generation. You think a PDA is a Public Display of Affection. My mom's out in the audience and she knows you aren't computer savvy.”

After a few moments of silence, Stan unraveled the mystery of their very public disagreement: It was staged at the beginning of Ron and Carol Ernst's presentation, “All in the Family,” to illustrate the ways relationships can break down in family-owned businesses.

“Guys,” Stan said, “in that span of two minutes, we violated nine codes on our Code of Conduct. Nine of them — all at one time. Real simple, real basic.”

Ron Ernst asked the audience members to raise their hands if they could identify with the tone or content in the skit. Most of those in the audience raised their hands, and Ernst suggested that the ones who didn't perhaps were lying.

Unexpected answer

Ernst said that in the early 1980s, when he was executive vice president of a consulting company that is now a division of Price-Waterhouse, he was having dinner with the president of a company after a day-long presentation. He asked the president, “Did I give you what you wanted?”

“Yeah, you gave us what we wanted,” the president said, “but you didn't give us what we needed.”

Asked what he meant by that, the president said: “Your strategy was brilliant — exactly what the company should be doing. But Bill doesn't get along with Sara, the controller, and the controller doesn't get along with marketing. They don't even talk anymore. How do you think we're going to implement this plan?”

Ernst was intrigued with how organizations go about doing what they said they were going to do in their plan. He ultimately founded his executive development consulting company, Leadership Horizons, and specializes in executive coaching, team effectiveness, strategy implementation, and developing RealTime Coaching training programs.

He believes that when people look back over their careers, they may believe that a company was the first organization in which they were involved — when in fact it was their family.

“You had mom and dad, brothers and sisters,” he said. “We learn so much about how to get along and work together as an organization from our family. How many of you managers have ever caught yourself saying, to someone you report to, some phrases that your dad or mom used to say to you? It happens.

“Seems to me that if you want to improve the relationships with anybody, you can go about it two different ways: look at the behavior that each of you does that contributes to cooperation, collaboration, coordination; or all that contributes to dysfunction, separateness, breaking, divisiveness, and distancing, and try to change those. I don't think that's a very productive way to do that, because I think there's something deeper at work in relationships, and before any of you try to work on a relationship with family members, it would be helpful to have a vision in your mind of the type of relationship you'd like to create. What are the characteristics? The behavior will follow.”

Types of relationships

Ernst says there are three different types of relationships:

  • Do-To

    “In raising kids, many times parents do this. They determine the consequences of the other person's behavior. A boss or manager or a mom or a dad has control of the consequences of that person's behavior. It could be a reward, also: ‘If you do this and sell this, I will give you money.’ ”

  • Do-For

    “Do it for them. Do-For bosses have difficulty delegating.”

  • Do-With

    “It's more of, ‘Let's put our heads together and see what we can accomplish.’ It tends to be characterized by collaboration and cooperation with the underlying feeling that if it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for me.”

Ernst said that in theory, there is always going to be a mix of all three. But in general, we'd prefer a Do-With relationship.

“Do you want fear, mistrust, anger, frustration? Then go with Do-To or Do-For,” he said. “If you want collaboration and fun, go with Do-With. Forging Do-With is a challenge of letting go, teaching, coaching. We have a lot vested in this business, and now we're turning that over to someone else. That's tough. It's as much about the younger generation's earning trust as it is about the older generation's being open and surrendering.

“What Carol and I have found is that regardless of the ideal we choose, the biggest challenge tends to be friction within the communication style. We have a difficult time getting there. Whether it's blaming, second-guessing, criticizing, belittling — that's all Do-To. It's unilateral and it's negative. Becoming very aware of your communication style can go a long way in helping you develop the type of relationship you want.”

Breakout groups

To illustrate how to become clear and insightful in a behavior style, he distributed a sheet with four different groups of personalities and their traits:

  • Group 1: ambitious, forceful, decisive, direct, independent, challenging.

  • Group 2: expressive, enthusiastic, friendly, demonstrative, talkative, stimulating.

  • Group 3: methodical, systematic, reliable, steady, relaxed, modest.

  • Group 4: analytical, contemplative, conservative, exacting, careful, deliberate.

Ernst asked each member of the audience to pick a group that most defined him or her, then meet together by group in different areas of the room.

He poked fun at Group 2, saying: “When was the last time you had a short telephone conversation?” He said they focus on experience, have a psychological need of interaction, high expectations of others, a fear of rejection, and will flee conflict. Percent of population: 28.

On Group 1: “These are the starters. They are the people who get things going. Problem is, they finish very little. They like a lot of change.” He said they focus on results, have a psychological need to direct, very high expectations of others, a fear of being taken advantage of, and will confront conflict. Percent of population: 18.

On Group 3: “This is the loyal group. You like to finish something before you start another project. You like closure. But you don't like a lot of surprises. You win through persistence.” He said they focus on adapting and understanding, have a psychological need to serve others, low expectations of others, a fear of losing stability, and will tolerate conflict. Percent of population: 40.

On Group 4: “Anybody ever nicknamed you ‘Data’? You guys are the quality-control people. You love making decisions within policy and framework.” He said they focus on following the rules, have a psychological need of quality, high expectations of others, a fear of their work being criticizing, and will avoid conflict. Percent of population: 14.

He summarized by offering that while all of us are a mix of all four, we have a predominant group.

“You have a wealth of information about different styles,” he said. “Make it work for you and use it as a vehicle with your family members. You have a great reference manual that will give you insight on how to manage and how to motivate. Research shows that you will be 85% accurate in identifying another person's style.”

The Coveleskis, along with Bill and Mark Boice of Warner Bodies of Noblesville, Indiana, finished the session. The Coveleskis dissected their 19-part Code of Conduct, then all four discussed how the family businesses are being turned over to the younger generation.

A few of the Coveleskis' codes:

  • I will give you authority only with accountability. “My first responsibilities at SIA were pretty menial, in my eyes,” Trak said. “But over time, I was given authority.”

  • I will expect more from you than any other employee; I know your gene pool. “When I first came to work for Stan, I said, ‘OK, when do I start in the morning?’ He said, ‘Well, you get here before I do.’ I said, ‘When do I leave at night?’ He said, ‘You leave after I do.’ I said, ‘How am I going to know?’ He said, ‘You never know.’ ”

  • This business is not a sprint, but a team relay; I will pass the baton when you are ready. “Just because you came into the business doesn't mean you can run it,” Stan said. “You're intelligent, computer savvy, market savvy. Understand the different aspects and earn what you get.”

Bill Boice, president of Warner Bodies, said he is transitioning the business over to Mark, the marketing manager, by “practicing retiring.” He basically took the winter off, working when he could while putting increased responsibility on Mark and the management team to see how they handled it.

“I'm becoming less dominant,” he said.

“He's moving a lot from the Do-To to the Do-With,” Mark said.

Ernst interjected, saying, “If you're committed to making a transition, go slowly. Go a week and say, ‘What went wrong?’ Go two weeks. ‘What went wrong?’ Go a month. ‘What went wrong?’ Go through why you were needed and why it wasn't done when you were gone. That builds trust in the older generation in leaving and develops confidence in the younger generation. Then you take off three months and see what happens.”

Said Mark, “I think the practicing has helped a lot. One of the biggest benefits is that we're close friends as well as business partners. We have very few problems talking about how we feel about things.”

Bill said that because most of his financial portfolio is tied up in the business, it has been difficult to surrender control.

“You might be able to not worry as much about the financial portion of the company, but when that is your retirement, it's real tough to give that up,” he said. “You do it in pieces. As we go along, those pieces will get bigger, and I'll be gone more and more, and the team will be doing a good job and learning from it, and so I'll be feeling more confident.”

Ernst said the older generation needs to take the lead in the transition and determine when it's going to happen. He also said that the older generation needs to give up more control than it thinks it should, allowing the younger generation to step up.

“If you wait in your mind until you think they're ready, well, they'll never be ready,” he said.

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.