Content originally taken from eBella Magazine, “Family Values” by Kelly Townsend.
One of my biggest pleasures as a business coach is having the opportunity to work with family businesses. If you’ve been employed by a family business, you’ve probably experienced the rewards, and perhaps the pitfalls. Whether you’re part of the family by birth or employment, a family business can truly be a rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable experience.
In my experience, I’ve found that the biggest barriers in having a productive, thriving and fulfilling family business is that relatives keep relating to each other from their past experience. For instance, if you were known as the sibling who didn’t work hard, family members often continue to view you that way — even if you’ve changed your work ethic. I’ve found that it is possible for people to get past those old, outdated opinions by articulating what’s important to the family and creating an environment that pulls for those dynamics to be present in the interaction, activity and performance of the people in the company.
Know What’s Important
When creating what really matters to the family it helps to explore what values the family stands for, and how that can be expressed to non-family members. Any employee can experience be-ing a part of the family when they know the big picture. In fact, I’ve discovered that many people enjoy working in a family business because they prefer and benefit from the intimacy and authenticity of a family environment. In a more corporate environment, people can often get wrapped up in personal agendas and the need to look good for the boss. Once you’re clear on your values, it helps to establish the roles each member of the family plays in the organization. What’s more, those roles have to be honored and respected.
Too many times, I’ve seen relatives relate to each other as they did in childhood. The results are unproductive and undermining; this is often where breakdowns happen in family businesses. For instance, it won’t work for a child to relate to the business owner as ‘Dad’. One must relate to him as the business owner. Likewise, a business owner who is the parent has to relate to their children as adult workers — not their children. Now that each family member has a role, it’s important to create ground rules for how to interact and hold each other accountable. This could be as simple as treating each other with honor and respect. It doesn’t work for employees to witness siblings in their 40s arguing with each other like teenagers. Working with the family requires a discipline and integrity that can be challenging at times. It’s very easy to bring up past arguments or deficiencies when someone has made a mistake or hasn’t done what they said they would. It’s important for everyone to relate to each other as adults and business partners.
Talk It Out
Another key to having a productive, thriving and fulfilling environment is communication. Many of the complaints I hear from employees working for family businesses are centered around how relatives don’t always honor the organizational structure of the company, bypassing the non-family member to get what they want from the family member. This can really breakdown relationships and frustrate employees. To keep your workers empowered and engaged, you must follow the structures and practices of the company. This practice is critical for everyone to feel like they are part of the family team and not an outsider. Most people enjoy working for family business because they’re known and loved as if they’re kin. By making sure every staff member is fully included in the direction, planning and decision making of the company, you’ll create the ultimate experience of working in an intimate, authentic family environment.
Five Steps to a Successful Family Business
1. Toss out old perceptions
2. Establish values for business
3. Know each member’s role
4. Set ground rules