Managing Conflict in a Family Business

A skilled mentor can sometimes identify family friction as an impediment to business development.  Family businesses have the potential to be a hotbed of discontent, says Carol Ann Casey of CA Compliance Limited, specialists in corporate grievance investigations and mediation.  She has this advice on strategies to avoid tension in the first place, rather than having to deal with the consequences of conflict.

Conflict is normal within families.  People grow up trying to differentiate themselves, and are encouraged to be independent and responsible for themselves.  But if ‘being independent’ goes too far, self-absorbed behaviours and controlling relationships can lead to conflict when working in a family business.

Family tensions, maybe from competing opinions, needs, approaches or interests, can spill into the workplace, and business disagreements may then affect harmony at home.

Issues can arise due to not having agreed and shared family values, goals and objectives, and from inter-family friction, favouritism, nepotism or rivalry.

Essentially, family members must continually work at relationships to be successful.  Trust is why families chose to work with each other.  And, it is a choice.  Trust, however, cannot be based on assumptions.  Mistrust can come from many sources, such as not treating all family members as adults in the business, focusing on differences rather than commonalities, or seeking self-goals over family-goals, such as who holds the top job.

Open communication and dialogue help surmount perceived or actual conflicting views.  Dealing with issues is essential, however, rather than pushing them away, assuming they are too volatile to discuss.

Trust allows positive change that correlates to growth.  It creates efficiency and effectiveness on the family business journey, with the need for fewer professional advisors.  It also builds loyalty, not only with the family owners, but with employees and other stakeholders.

Any attack means either defence or withdrawal, and both of these destroy trust.  But, tackling issues in a productive way allows people to move forward positively.

Family conflict or attack behaviour demonstrates poor leadership to younger family members; the future leaders of the business.  Modelling good behaviour in the business is essential among older and younger family.

Tools and Systems

To thrive, and pass on a successful business to the next generation, the family must develop tools and systems for managing conflict and internal challenges.   It is not about avoiding conflict, but managing it.

  • It is vital to listen, to ensure matters are spoken about within a business.

The best leaders listen well and actively.  They reiterate what is said and think carefully about other people’s perspective.  It is important not to be self-righteous but, instead, to focus on what ‘we think’ is the right decision, or idea, for the business, thereby reaching cooperation, collaboration, or maybe compromise.

  • Talk about the problems, not the people.

Do not label the person with the problem.  Involve all the family, as every perspective is valuable.  Avoid accusatory language, and take responsibility for your own role in any conflict.

  • Get robust contractual shareholder and employee agreements in place.

Having family business policies helps define the boundary between family and business.  These include employment regulation policies and a shareholder dispute resolution policy and procedure.  From a governance perspective, it is important to align with the business constitution.

  • Draft a code of conduct on how the family members work together.

A code can be drafted, agreed, and signed by each person, setting the tone from the top, like a charter on how ‘we will’ work together, professionally and practically.  This will expressly state expected behaviours, the commitments of each family member, and investment in relationships among family members.  Also, importantly, that each will speak with ‘one voice’ to non-family directors, staff and the public.

  • Consider soft skills training

Family members should regularly attend externally-led soft skill training sessions together, covering topics like self-awareness, communications, conflict resolution, and understanding and working through family dynamics.

  • Use independent mediators

Complexities and conflicts can easily arise inter-generationally and inter-family within a family-owned business.  Electing someone, perhaps a ‘family elder’ who is not employed in the business, and is trusted by all, can help bridge a communication gap or mediate competing strategies or disputes.  Depending on the circumstances, however, it might be more appropriate to engage an external party.

Independent non-executive directors can bring objectivity and perspective on strategy, policy, supervision and accountability, and may help mediate disputes, depending on the issue.

Conflict is a fact of life and, when used constructively, forces us to challenge our assumptions and automatic behaviours.  Family members, who are owner-managers, need to pause, listen to those not directly running day-to-day operations, and reflect.

Good family leaders listen more, encourage opinions, cooperate and collaborate, which is much more likely to lead to an agreed position, even if it is a compromise.

And, family owners and leaders are never too important to be nice to people, including their family directors and shareholders.  By respecting, trusting and collaborating, plus espousing shared values, the possibility of conflict can usually be mitigated.

People are the biggest risk

I have always proffered that the biggest risk, above all, is your Human Resource risk.

When we look at crises in sectors such as banking, insurance, healthcare, football, charity, etc., at the core of each of these breaches or scandals are people. People control, manage and handle risk, from the board table cascading down into organisations.

We are now faced with ever-increasing cyber risks – handled by people – and pandemic risks – spread by people.

We know that risks are inevitable and organisations have a moral and legal obligation to attend to the safety and well-being of those they serve, those who work for them and other stakeholders.

However, this duty of care applies to and from us all, in whatever station we fulfill in life and work. I am struck by The Golden Rule principle of treating others as one wants to be treated, which is a maxim found in most religions and cultures.

The recent pandemic and global cyber attacks have brought the world closer. Maybe if we all turned on our screensavers to self-reflect whether our actions or inactions are contributions that adhere to The Golden Rule in all that we do, the risk impacts would not be so widespread.

Carol Ann Casey

Factual independent investigations process

CA Compliance is an established provider of impartial independent investigations delivering findings as to fact.

CA Compliance’s approach to conducting independent investigations is to:

  1. Attain clarity on what the investigation will achieve through a signed Terms of Reference between the parties and stick to this remit
  2. Interview the complainant and respondent followed by relevant witnesses to gather factual and documentary evidence
  3. Explore and investigate the information gathered to include inspections, seeking expert opinion, viewing CCTV footage, etc. to assist validation of findings
  4. Share settled interviewee meeting notes and documentation for party commentary as applicable during the process
  5. Document findings as to fact gathered during the aggregate investigation within an evidenced based report
  6. Share draft report with the complainant and respondent seeking their comments on any factual inaccuracies before finalising report
  7. Issue final report to the relevant parties and the investigation lead of the entity

4 Tips to manage HR risk


Commonly people think about risk based on financial risk and internal controls. Admirable, of course, however I proffer that the biggest risk, above all, is your human resource (HR) risk.

When we look, for example, at crises in sectors such as banking, insurance, healthcare, football, charity, etc., at the core of each of these breaches or scandals are people. People control, manage and handle risk, from the board table cascading down into organisations.

Risks are inevitable and organisations have a moral and legal obligation to attend to the safety and well-being of those they serve, those who work for them and other stakeholders who come into contact with their operations. This is known as their duty of care. However, organisations also need to peruse all the risks throughout their entire operation (not just financial and legal) and incorporate risk management strategies throughout their planning and decision-making processes.

So I believe for a business to run in a transparent, ethical and credible manner it must address its most important asset – its people and how they run the business.

To address these matters organisations could consider the following 4 HR risk and compliance tips are:

  1. Diarising on the board agenda the regular re-assessment of the organisation’s vision, mission, values and culture. This will help reaffirm who they are, their unique proposition and strategy, risks, particularly in an ever-changing economic climate.
  2. Ongoing assessment of the CEO’s performance to monitor and motivate best strategic performance, and where applicable the board’s effectiveness needs to appraised to drive strategic growth.
  3. Regular monitoring and development of their succession planning model, particularly identifying future gaps and managing the knowledge transfer of key leadership and technical talent.
  4. Regular monitoring of continuous professional development (CPD), as well as compliance to regulatory standards and requirements’ obligations, to ensure fit for growth and retention purposes for both employees and the organisation.

So, risk assessment should be an ongoing working document of the board. I believe a basic risk assessment will identify, assess, analyse and evaluate each risk in question specifically for their organisation. This will help decide and document the treatment of that risk, i.e., whether to tolerate, terminate, treat or transfer it.

We believe to adequately assess the sources and handling of risk, organisations must risk assess their aggregate internal capability, i.e., their resources, systems, structure and culture. All of these risk areas require people. People are a source of risk. People handle risk.

With the right people, in the right place, doing the right transparent, ethical and credible things, organisations can identify aggregate risks, areas for improvement, leading to increased productivity and ultimately the big P – Profit!

© CA Compliance Limited 2019

The Negotiating Table

Negotiation, like a Krav Maga self-defence course, has become a survival skill for many. It is primarily concerned with striking a bargain, attaining power and a means by which people with different interests can agree on how to reconcile them. Good negotiating is about asking the right questions or doing the right things to achieve desired results.

The same applies to career negotiations. Your negotiation at your first job interview is your most important because it sets your salary package for the future. Put harshly, salary negotiations are based on ‘price the space in the organisation’ and then ‘price the person’. This is equally the case if you are negotiating for your business where you have to ensure that your overheads are covered with an equitable profit that makes the business transaction worthwhile. It is, of course, always worth remembering that companies make decisions on their cost planning – which is likely to include you – yet customers are in charge of their revenue in terms of building equitable profit.

Women can often not ask for what they really want and this can disadvantage them significantly in the progression of their careers or businesses. By learning how to talk themselves up (self-promotion) – a skill more common among men – women can maximise not only their current compensation, but also their future earning potential. Success to me is made up of ability, breaks and courage – the latter is necessary for good negotiating.

To conduct successful a negotiation meeting the following steps may be helpful:

  1. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

Information is everything. You will argue from a stronger position if you know how your salary or business compares with those doing similar jobs, both at your company and in your industry, or in the sector in which you deliver your goods or services. This involves establishing the facts getting quality information, preparing the case and for the negotiation meeting. Preparing can involve joining professional organisations, establishing relationships with recruiters and industry peers, searching the Internet for market data and intelligence on your discipline, etc.

Another crucial goal of your investigation is to learn how valued you are by your company and customers or clients. To quote Donald Trump: “If you owned the company, would you think you deserved an increase?”.

  1. Build up your alternatives

The ultimate power in negotiation comes from having a good alternative. The classic strategy is to ask for more money than you will settle for perhaps adding an extra 10 to 20% cushion or bargaining amount. Ask for much more and you risk seeming unrealistic.

The most obvious and potentially powerful fallback is an offer in hand for a better-paying position. This does not mean you should bring up a job offer in your first conversation about a raise since it will likely put your boss on the defensive. If you do not have another job lined up, the fallback could be to ask for something else important to you besides more money such as more annual leave, working at home a few days a month, an expense account, an Apple Mac, etc. as you want bargaining chips when it is time to talk. Once you determine which options are important, prioritise them – this is a skill of a good negotiator. Exaggerate the importance of issues you do not care about so that you get what you want the most. So, in practice, you might ask for a 10% raise but be willing to accept 7% if you also get extra holidays. Good negotiators get something in return for everything they give up, and this goes for business owners selling their goods or services also.

  1. Think about the other side’s perspective

Negotiating aims at solving problems. So your case will be much stronger if you focus on what your manager’s pressure points are and how you can demonstrate alleviating them, or say what you or your business can do to add value to their company.

Effective negotiators always think about the other side’s perspective. You need to understand your company’s financial situation, i.e., does your manager or client have budget constraints and how can you get what you want which is both reasonable and attainable to you both.

  1. Walk the talk

The preparatory work is done, now comes the talk. Pick a time to meet when you will not be interrupted, e.g., first thing in the morning or right after lunch. This is a serious conversation or tender meeting so have the discussion in the office and not over food or drinks.

There is no reason to feel nervous if you have done your research and homework. To reduce your anxiety before the meeting, focus on the merits of what you are asking for, not on the person you are asking. Be polite yet assertive – think if the meeting was recorded would you like to give you a raise or a contract!

  1. Be clear and listen attentively

Start the conversation by explaining why you deserve a raise or why you think your goods or services will benefit the prospective client. (This is where a written list of accomplishments or client testimonials is valuable.) Keep the meeting to the point and timely.

The best negotiators are not the people who make the most vehement argument; they are the ones who pick up on what is really being said. As much as 90% of the communication between two people speaking face-to-face is non-verbal so pay attention to body language -your manager’s or potential client’s, and your own.

Be prepared to hear no but do not give in, re-negotiate your bargaining chips and always remain calm.

Once a negotiation is reached get it in writing soonest to include building for the future in terms of measurements on job expectations or your business’ deliverables.


Negotiation should aim at a win-win situation for both parties. This will only be achieved if there is clarity of focus, preparation, proactivity and consideration for all parties. Commitment, action and positive thoughts will take you a long way.

© CA Compliance Limited 2019

The process of investigating complaints

Complaint Header

By ensuring a fair investigative process, those investigating can help build morale and trust among employees. On the other hand, a poorly conducted internal investigation can cost an employer financially and damage its reputation, not to mention the reputations of the persons involved in the investigation. Therefore conducting a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation is critical to mitigate against future risks.

Conducting workplace investigations is very challenging as often those investigating may not be properly trained or often feel under pressure to resolve complaints too hastily. Conversely employees are often very aware of their rights and fair procedures.

Linked to this awareness there are a myriad of employment laws that regulate how investigations should occur to include Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2007, Code of Practice on Disciplinary procedures 1996, Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work 2012 under the Equality Acts 1998-2011, Health and Safety Authority 2007 Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work.

The following are 10 steps for handling a complaint that could be followed if an employer is faced with a complaint it needs to investigate:

10 step complaints handling process:

  1. Plan and prepare gathering factual and documental evidence (decide who will investigate, who and what will be investigated, what evidence needs to be gathered, etc.)
  2. Communicate clearly and promptly – do not ignore any complaint/complainant
  3. Confidentiality is critical, and only with the parties involved
  4. Ensure objectivity and impartiality
  5. Be attentive during interviews and allow no distractions
  6. Ask open probing interview questions
  7. Investigate thoroughly and data record appropriately
  8. Do not make assumptions; act fairly and proportionately
  9. Document factual findings within a written report *
  10. Follow-up with those involved

A well-written investigative report* can help minimise liability risks. Such a report should include:

  • The matter being investigated with date(s)
  • The people involved
  • Applicable employer policies or guidelines
  • Key factual findings and credibility determination
  • Summaries of witness statements
  • Specific findings and conclusions
  • Issues that could not be determined/resolved
  • Employer actions taken
  • The name of the investigator.

Once a written report is submitted to the decision-maker (who is not the investigator), they will determine what, if any, disciplinary action will occur. Typically the decision-maker will:

  • Notify the employee who made the complaint that action was taken
  • Re-integrate the employee(s) involved back into the workplace, shifting focus from the complaint to the changes the investigation has brought about
  • Where applicable, remind employee(s) that retaliation will not be tolerated, and check back within three months to ensure that there has been none
  • Review the investigation to determine what could be done better the next time, should there be a next time
  • Look for patterns in complaints that might suggest more training is needed to avoid similar problems in the future
  • While every complaint is unique, having a well-defined, consistent procedure in place can ward off future complaints.

© CA Compliance Limited 2016

The GDPR approach in simple terms

There is so much talk about the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) that come into effect on 25th May 2018, I am setting out my simple approach:

  1. Appoint a Privacy Lead.
  2. Make sure you have effective ongoing communications in place – internally with employees and externally with customers/clients and suppliers.
  3. To meet the requirements of the core principles of the GDPR be open, honest and transparent with your customers/clients about what data you are collecting, as well as why and how you are using that data.
  4. Ensure you have consent from your customers/clients to process their data.
  5. Audit your data and update your privacy policies (personnel and customers/clients), as well as identify relevant technology to help fill in the gaps.
  6. When auditing assess the data you are holding, i.e.,
  • What kind of data are you storing?
  • Where does the data reside?
  • What is the format of the data?
  • Can you anonymise the data?
  • Is it centralised or does it live on multiple devices?
  • Why are you storing the data?
  • How did you get the data?
  • Do you need to keep storing the data and can it be deleted or changed?
  • How do users access the data? Is access encrypted and secured?
  • Is the data exposed to third parties?


  • Personal data is “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person”[1].
  • Ultimately the increased protection of EU’s citizens and their rights is the end goal of GDPR.
  • A main difference between pre- and post- GDPR is that your customers/clients will now have the ability to request their data is completely erased.
  • Fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global revenue are a possibility for those who are deemed to be negligent.
  • The Data Protection Commission’s “The GDPR and You” is a good preparation tool.

[1] The EU definition of “personal data” is set out in the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC


If-then planning

If-then planning

Analysis with charts of progress in business and metallic pen

I am actively re-reading classic books and listening to podcasts through a plethora of different genres. One Harvard Business Review podcast struck me recently relating to If-then planning which prompted me to read into the topic.

In essence it is a very simple strategy to help us deal effectively with distractions, which we so often try to achieve.

How many times are you disrupted by a colleague at your desk, a phone call, or just ‘glanced’ at your email and ten minutes later you are still not back to what you were supposed to be doing? Making If-then plans helps to tackle your current projects, or reach your goals, and is probably the most effective single thing you can do to ensure your success. Most of us are familiar with goal setting and If-then planning is a more structured version of that.

4 steps to achieve If-then planning
1. Set your goals/objectives
2. Break-down your goals/objectives into tangible sub-goals/sub-objectives
3. Identify your detailed actions, including who, when and where, for achieving each sub-goal
4. Create if-then plans that trigger actions

Examples of If-then planning
• If I am doing my work, then I do not check for texts or messages.
• If I feel irritated by a co-worker, then I will take a break and go a speed-walk to get the irritation out of me.
• If it is 4pm, then I will spend an hour reading and responding to important emails.
• If I am at a meeting, then my phone is put away (respectful to others also!).
• If I have to drive my car, then I will not even look at my phone.

To achieve success with your If-then planning the following is required:
– Commitment
– Fix the start date
– Be specific
– Expect the unexpected: be prepared to adapt and stay on track.

© CA Compliance Limited 2017