Communication, Communication, Communication (aka Leadership made simple)

When a painter considers what to paint there are two primary factors that he/she needs to take into account before beginning to paint on the canvas – form and color.  The approach to these two factors has influenced the style of painting throughout the ages.

Leaders also have two main ingredients with which to work –  Energy and Information.  The latter is so essential, that leadership without communication is unthinkable.

I recently assisted a mid-sized company to address the issue of effective communication at all levels.  This company is a family business in Germany’s Westphalia region which is specialized in the area of technical gases.  Over time, the number of products and services which the company offers has multiplied. As a result, the geographical footprint of where these products and services are sold has also expanded into 6 different countries.  With this much sought after and desired expansion, both the complexity of the business and the challenge of optimizing effective communication throughout the organization have increased.

As with any company, communication is at the heart of co-ordination, effectiveness and efficiency. But how do you go about adressing this key issue?

The first step in the process is to create a collective awareness of the specific issues at hand.  By doing so, the foundation is being established for taking decisive action and implementing concrete measures.  140 managers from across the organization were invited to participate in a 4 hour large group participative dialogue. During this dialogue, they discussed and mutually agreed on the communication issues which are of greatest importance for their work in the company. The following Word Cloud captures the key issues that were discussed.  (FYI – the larger the words, the more importance which was placed on the issue by the managers).

word_cloud_communicationAll of the 140 managers explored these issues together and identified concrete recommendations on how to improve the communication within the company.  The following mind map summarzies the managers’  key recommendations. A detailed data base of the individual entries were used to create this overview. The numbers adjacent to the recommendations record the number of suggestions made in this category.


Through this large group dialogue process, the communication issues within the company was made visible to everyone.  The platform to launch a systemic change in the way the company communicates with each other (as well as with clients) has been established. The next step is to prioritize the issues and create working groups of managers throughout the company to put these ideas into action.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”     James J. Hughes


Over 200 leaders explore growth in family owned businesses

This past week I attended the 14th Annual Conference for Family Businesses hosted by the University of Witten/Herdecke on February 10th and 11th. Approximately 250 people were present representing some of the most powerful family businesses in the German speaking world. Not only was I able to attend, but I had the privilege to facilitate a dialogue session that included all conference participants.

Family businesses form the backbone of the German economy. The top 500 owned family businesses employ 4.5 Million people in Germany and have a  total sales volume  of 900 billion Euros. These family companies have done considerably better than publicly traded companies. During the period of 2006 to 2010, they increased employment by 11% while the DAX publicly traded companies only added 2%.

Family-owned businesses answer to a different rhythym than publicly traded companies. They are often not under the pressure to produce quarterly results, but can take a longer term perspective. They also tend to pay more attention to issues such as values and organizational culture.

Some of these family-owned businesses have been around for a long time. In 1668 Friederich Jacob Merck began a pharmacy in the city of Darmstadt.  These were the beginnings of what is now a multibillion Euro pharmaceutical company – Merck KGaA – the oldest pharmaceutical company in the world. It is still owned by the family.  The US company with the name Merck, Sharpe and Dohme – one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world – was once the US subsidiary of Merck KGaA but became an independent entity during World War I.

The dialogue I facilitated included all 250 participants at the conference. It brought participants in conversation around the key questions surrounding the theme of the conference – “Growth”. What does it mean to grow sustainably? How do you know when growth represents a danger to the company? Can growth affect the nature of the family business? How does the family need to grow to keep up with the growth of the business? What internal organizational growth is necessary in order to take advantage of new markets? Where does personal growth fit in this overall picture?

To prepare for this dialogue, I had interviews with Professor Dr. Rudolf Wimmer who gave the initial keynote address as well as interviews with several CEOs running family businesses – including Jon Baumhauer, the current CEO of Merck KGaA. The dialogue ran for three hours and was rated one of the highlights of the conference.

The University of Witten/Herdecke invited Jeffrey Beeson to hold a World Café about growth and Leadership

Leadership Catalyst Jeffrey Beeson and Caroline Schürenkrämer – memeber of the organizational team of "Faszination Wachstum", 14. congress for family businessJeffrey Beeson from Entheos hosted the 14. issue of the congress "Faszination Wachstum"














“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement,

achievement, and success have no meaning.”

  Benjamin Franklin