Top Tips To Succeeding In A Family Business.

Monday, April 4th 2016

Blood is thicker than water. Friends are the family we choose. The clichés and ultimately, the warnings, go on. Family units are perhaps some of the most complicated hot beds of raw emotion. Legacies passed down from generation to generation can serve as motivating life forces or huge chunks of baggage we carry through life until we hopefully deal with it.

 Much of our self-esteem and identity is also wrapped up in our jobs and/or careers and can in turn be a huge source of drive or despair. 

What happens when the two worlds have to co-exist? Have to collide in the same space, in the same 8-10 hour day and those personalities are to engage as both relatives and colleagues?

 Family Businesses can be some of the toughest work arenas to be employed in whether you share the genetic pool of the owners or are a ‘non relative’ employee. Both can be lonely roles to be in. As someone employed in the business but not related to anyone the risk is the employee can feel unsafe in the order of things and in their ability to really progress upwards.

 As a relative within the organization it can also feel unsafe as one may never feel sure that fellow employees hold you truly in regard or just treat and view you as someone to be ‘handled’ given your blood or marriage connection. Friends and true colleagues at work may seem impossible.

 On the up side, much like in a real family at home, functional family businesses can be warm environments where talent is nurtured, invested in and rewarded and the ‘family’ is extended.

Here are some tips for those going into Business with Family members how to foster this latter, ideal Family business culture:

  1. Clearly defined Job Specs – an employee of the company is an employee, regardless of family rank or position each member must have their assigned Duties and Responsibilities and work within those remits, rank and hierarchy to be respected
  2. No Gossip rule to be respected whether this is at work or once at home. Gossip generally is a negative and can be a destructive force. Employees will expect that family members in their personal time will have additional, extra valued conversation and work interaction potentially and can feel threatened by this.
  1. Leave home at home – family spats, dramas or anything resembling a familial blow out should remain at home and not discussed once at work nor acted out. All family members have to respect the different hats they wear once they leave their front door and enter the work place.
  2. Boundary work time and meetings – no unofficial meetings, chats etc. about work once the day has ended and you are no longer at work. Becoming workaholics will not help your home life and being able to manage being relatives but colleagues and switching skilfully from one to the other will not be helped if you do not have boundaries.
  3. Delegate and do not micro manage – Use your team, respect your employees, never assign or attempt to micro manage projects, don’t use family members as your comfort zone when assigning tasks and managing projects. All your employees, whether blood related or not, were hired for their expertise and experience, their character and fit, allow them to do their job.
  4. Meritocracy and not Nepotism – relatives should work their way up same as everyone else. Younger family members should start on entry level salaries and positions and learn the business from scratch, identify their own talents and hone these for the benefit of the company. Automatic Managing Directors at 23 years old and fresh out of Uni with a bright new MBA will not further anyone’s happiness or future. Nurture nurture nurture. 
  5. Key roles such as CFO and most definitely the HR person should not be related members. Employees will not feel able to trust or communicate effectively with an HR person related to the business owners.
  6. Relatives should not be on the same team – whenever possible, relatives should head different projects and departments, to avoid Nepotism and help family members adhere to boundaries when the going gets tough. Family members have to be the ultimate role model to all employees.
  7. Succession Planning – as business grow and develop their own life cycle foresight and planning will secure further legacies and visions. Succession Planning with a skilled consultant who can navigate the family dynamics, the intricacies of the organisational culture and prepare successors is not a wasted cost.
  8. The Business is a business - all family members must treat the company as an entity on it's own and this becomes even more important when we look at spending. All costs must be accounted for, personal expenses should be kept personal and not allocated to the company.
  9. Mediators and Coaches – As in all family units or relationships where attachment and emotion are involved, it can be hard or even impossible to see the wood for the trees. An impartial outside influence, a professional Conflict Management strategy should be employed and respected when choppy waters arise. Acting out your divorce at work while running things from the helm will not be good for your business culture, employee retention or ultimately your revenue. Call in the experts.

The culture of any unit of people drawn together in the same space with common interests, over a large amount of time dictates how we chart zones fraught with emotional challenges. Emotions at work are a grey area, a work-life balance even harder to pin down. But acknowledge these things we must if we want to be happy at work and we want to foster happy employees and therefore satisfied clients. All of this is even more enhanced when businesses are created and/or run by Family members. Hopefully these few tips will help steer you in the right direction and give you ideas as to who to call in when things may go awry.

Feel free to contact me to discuss, debate or just to let me know what you think.


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