Over the past year, we have all faced unprecedented circumstances and unforeseen challenges. Those who maintained strategic agility and stayed proactive will find themselves ahead of the curve moving forward, while those who have not – will not. Among the many lessons learned, one that jumps out is the importance of being prepared for an unpredictable future. This includes building a strategic transition plan for the known, and unknown, foundational shifts that lie ahead.
As a second-generation family business, we know first-hand the importance and value of partnering with a transition consultant. We did so when moving from G1 to G2 back in 2013, and that support proved more beneficial than we could have imagined. So, as more and more businesses add transition planning to their overall strategic approach, we caught up with Allie Taylor – Business Psychologist and Co-Founder of Orange Kiwi – to get her thoughts on the subject.
Your resume demonstrates a diverse educational and professional background. Your education includes a bachelor’s in biology & chemistry, masters in marriage and family therapy, and a PhD in business psychology. Your professional experience began in your family business buying distressed businesses and turning them around before moving into non-profit executive roles and ultimately founding Orange Kiwi. While the industries vary, the underlying theme of helping people grow and improve their lives are the same. Did you always know helping others achieve their goals was the career path you would take, or did that path reveal itself along the way?
That is an intriguing question. The desire to help people overcome struggles, reach their potential, and (more importantly) exchange potential for meaningful impact has always been an important motivational driver. As far as career paths go, doing what I’m doing today is the most rewarding role I’ve ever held… but, getting here was definitely a wild and crazy journey.
What life experiences do you feel best prepared you for the leadership position you hold today?
This question brings a flood of experiences to mind. I guess it is human nature to experience the greatest growth during life’s greatest struggles. I call these crucible moments. Going through the implosion of our family business and my first marriage was a big one. This one taught me to trust the data and my instincts. Leadership requires using your head, heart, and gut. When any one of those three dominate we get into trouble.
Going through my Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy I realized that far too much of my leadership was driven by fear. Fear of disappointing people or worse, being rejected by people. Operating out of an imbalance of heart and a need to be accepted kept me from having the hard conversations that needed to be had. No matter how much my instincts (gut) were screaming to be acknowledged and my head told me I wasn’t crazy the financials really did not make sense I didn’t know how to have the hard conversations without triggering a major family explosion. Yes, my family system was dysfunctional – to say the least.
The greatest lesson of all was how these experiences shaped my identity. Leaders lead based on who they are on the inside. Not who the world thinks they are or who they want to be but, who they really are at 3am alone with their thoughts. During a particularly difficult crucible moment I decided I realized my identity was my kryptonite and I resolved to do whatever it took to become the best leader I could be.
Making my identity a superpower meant taking control of the inner theater of my mind to transform the narrative. The starting place? Beginning to love and accept myself, building my self-awareness, gaining control of my emotions, and learning to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics. This eventually led to Orange Kiwi, getting my PhD in Business Psychology, and helping other leaders transform their identity into a superpower.
Who has had the biggest impact on your professional growth and development?
So many faces flood my mind. Dr. Barry McMurtrie was the first to really push me into going for things I didn’t think I could get causing me to see myself differently and break free of self-limiting beliefs. He helped me realize how critical the self-identity is to personal and professional success.
My husband, Andrew, provided the support and encouragement I needed to pursue my PhD in Business Psychology. That experience was about far more than academic knowledge. It was a deeply formational experience that led to developing a deep understanding of my personal and professional leadership philosophy.
My dissertation committee, Dr. Martin Sukal, Dr. Alex Aguilar, and Dr. Jeremy Nicholson gave me the freedom to try, fail, and learn, try, fail, learn and grow until I finally succeeded. They did not accept anything less than my best at each step of the way but also taught me that perfection is not only unattainable but, the pursuit of perfection actually limits creativity and innovation.
Finally, Dr. Sarah Sumner was the first woman to earn a degree in Systematic Theology. She is the author of several books, a professor, consultant, speaker, and leader of leaders. Women lead differently than men and I had not had a strong woman leader help me understand the nuances until I attended a seminar Dr. Sumner was teaching. Sarah’s book, “Leadership Above the Line” was seminal for helping me embrace my strengths to lead above the line and to recognize when those strengths become weaknesses that would take me below the line into the leadership basement.
Reflecting on this question reminds me just how important people are during crucible moments. Curating an informed self-identity, defining a personal leadership philosophy, rooting out parts of our psyche that keep us from achieving our goals, and understanding how to leverage our psychology so it doesn’t get used against us are critical for navigating significant transitions. Had these amazing people not given of themselves I would not be where I am today. All of these experiences have informed how I lead myself, my team, and my clients as we navigate the challenging waters of significant transitions.
Since 2009, Orange Kiwi has been helping business owners navigate points of significant transition. Due to the pandemic, virtually every organization has transitioned in some way over the past year. Are there notable differences between the transitional approach a family business should be taking compared to that of a global corporation?
Logically, the answer should be “no”. When it comes to business matters best practices in any situation should be best practices regardless of the ownership structure. If this were true, I would be out of a job. As ironic as it sounds, from a business leadership perspective, family or closely held businesses are far more complex than that of a global corporation.
In family or closely held businesses there are twenty-two variables across three domains – business, money, and self – that leaders are constantly navigating to maintain or maximize shareholder value and socioemotional wealth. It can be a very delicate interpersonal balancing act that leaders of other business ownership structures will not face. Leading a successful family business takes tremendous skill.
Without a doubt, every organization has its own PACI (power, authority, control, and influence) profile. In family or closely held businesses PACI profiles are exponentially more complex due to the interdependent nature of relationships in the business, money, and self domains and their resulting motivational drivers.
Leaders in public companies are compensated financially for maximizing shareholder value – how they do that is the complex part. The motivational forces are more straight forward. Some combination of personal need for goal achievement, financial reward, and professional prestige.
Financial compensation is not the motivational force behind most behavior for family business leaders. In fact, many are paid less than market rate for their skills. When things are tough – as with the pandemic – owners have been the last to get paid and in many cases they went without pay. They had to protect not only a business but a family or families. Complexity comes not only from how they achieve their business goals, but the motivational forces that drive behavior.
Socioemotional wealth (SEW) is the non-economic glue and essential motivation driver that gives a family business its resilience and competitive advantage. When SEW erodes the family not only decreases its competitive advantage but, makes life tough in both the business and the family system. SEW is an incredibly powerful force.
An interesting fact – there are more than 28 million businesses in the US today. Less than 0.04% ever get above $5M in annual revenue and only 0.000061% get above $50M in annual revenue. Today there are about 17,000 businesses in the U.S. that meet or exceed this revenue threshold. According to the Family Enterprise USA’s 2020 study ~65% of those are family or closely held businesses.
When speaking to a family business preparing to transition from one generation to the next, what is the first question you would ask or topic you would address?
How clear are all parties on what they want for MOM?
MOM is management (governance and operational), ownership, and money. Expectations for transition of these elements must be well aligned from a values perspective and tested through a strategic planning process.
Successful transitions occur when all parties have as close to their ideal outcomes as possible and the post-transition adjustment phase results in significance and satisfaction needs being met. The key to achieving success rests in creating clarity about MOM through an exploratory process and then testing the goals against the current reality of variables in the business, money, and self domains. This increases confidence and control as the strategic and execution phases unfold.
Are there any quotes that you find particularly motivating or inspirational?
When things get really hard I think about Victor Frankl. A German psychiatrist who survived a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. During his internment he wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning” in this book he writes , “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”
For inspiration I think about 4 words:
PERSEVERANCE: The greater the obstacle the more joy in overcoming.
INNOVATION: The best way to predict the future is to create it.
PASSION: A powerful force that cannot be stopped.
SOAR: One’s attitude determines one’s altitude.
To learn more about how Orange Kiwi is helping family businesses transition and grow, click here to visit their website.