Managing Partner · Continuity Family Business Consulting
Blair is an experienced negotiator, mediator, and family business consultant Blair has a background that includes executive posts on Wall Street and in other corporate settings. She earned an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School, a BA in psychology from Connecticut College, and certificates in negotiation and mediation from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University.
What has been your greatest challenge as a family business consultant?
Discouraging families from defaulting to “best practice” solutions is a major challenge for me as a consultant. Some of these best practices may have worked for other families but might not be appropriate for another family’s situation. While it takes more time and work to conduct a thorough analysis and develop customized plans that incorporate all stakeholders’ perspectives and interests, in the long run it’s significantly better. By taking this approach everyone feels heard and fairly treated and what is implemented is designed specifically to fit the needs of the family and their business.
What is the most important thing you have learned when it comes to navigating conflict?
I have learned that it is critical to distinguish between dispute resolution and conflict management. Family businesses are interdependent systems where stakeholders often have many overlapping roles and responsibilities. Accordingly, a dispute generally is symptomatic of a larger underlying issue and trying to resolve that individual dispute is not effective over time because once that issue is resolved another will surface. It’s like a doctor treating a patient’s cough with a simple dose of cough syrup without checking for fever, rash, smoking behavior etc. A dispute is akin to that cough symptom which is part of a larger, more complicated situation. Once conflict is broken down into its component parts it can be diagnosed, understood and appropriately managed.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing family businesses can do to prevent conflict?
A family business that evolves overtime by developing appropriate “structures” ie policies, accountability and oversight will be able to successfully avoid and/or manage much of the conflict that is woven into the fabric of family enterprise. Having good corporate and family governance will provide a forum for strategic discussion that will help ensure that family members maintain an aligned vision for their enterprise and continue to progress together.
What is one piece of advice that you would give a family that is stuck in passive conflict?
When families are stuck, unable to make the decisions they need to make to move forward, it generally is due to a fear of conflict. I would advise family members to “un-pack” what is going on to identify the underlying reasons for their conflict and how best to approach the situation. Taking an objective look at all the moving parts will allow them to understand why they are stuck, what options exist for them and what it would take for them to move forward. I also would encourage them to do what they can to build and leverage their “family factor”, their family bond. If they have a strong desire to be a close and united family, they will see the benefit of implementing the perhaps difficult changes necessary to manage their conflict over time.