Look Before You Leap: What Parents Should Know Before Their Children Join the Family Businesses

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Having the opportunity to bring your children into the family business can result in the best of times—or the worst. I find many parents who have their children work with them wish they’d given more thought to what would transpire after bringing them on board.

Some parents have been expecting their children to join the family business from the day they were born, denying them the chance to achieve their own dreams. Many parents are objective bosses, seeing their children for who they are, while others can’t take off their “parental-colored” glasses, which can stymie children’s professional growth. Family dynamics can also be an issue; some families benefit from working together and it’s detrimental for others.

The tips presented below are meant primarily for parents who haven’t yet invited their children to work in the family business, but they can also be helpful to those who’ve already made that choice. Last month’s blog post looked at this issue from the children’s perspective.

Before you ask your children to join the family business, ask yourself some important questions:

  • Why are you doing it? Has it always been assumed that your children will join the business? Are you seeking to continue your legacy and/or do you think your children won’t be able to secure a “real” job?
    What do you expect? It’s very important to provide specifics—in writing—with respect to your children’s pay, benefits, responsibilities and title. These items are often vaguely outlined, and that can cause problems down the line.
  • What’s the “end game”? Are you going to give your children the chance to buy the business at some point, or will you gift it to them? To ensure no misunderstandings occur—between you and your children and between multiple siblings, if applicable, ownership opportunities should be defined upfront.
  • What value proposition do your children have? Do they have the qualifications for the job, from both a skills and education perspective? Additionally, for those who may be leaders one day, do they have the personality qualities to be successful?
  • Will communication be an issue? It’s very important not to patronize your children at work, taking care to use the same language with family and non-family employees. Also consider how you already communicate with your children; if the relationship is strained, would it be a mistake to move that dysfunction into the work environment?

If after answering these questions, you decide to ask your children to join the family business, you must be deliberate in the way you treat these family employees. Since your non-family employees may think you’ll favor your own children, you have to work hard to show them that isn’t the case. Also, if you name one of your children as heir apparent, be sure to outline the accomplishments that led to that honor, so everyone knows it was earned, not a birthright.

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