When you head a family business, you face a number of challenges that are absent in non-family businesses. One of the most trying can be determining whether family members have the requisite skills and experience to be productive employees, or you need to look outside the family to staff your team.
If it sounds like this is a slippery slope, believe me, it is. Family dynamics aren’t the same as business dynamics, and a combination of the two can be a disaster or a blessing—depending on how proactive and transparent you are.
Your first challenge is to identify the philosophy of your family business. Having clear focus as to what really drives the business will assist you tremendously in making decisions and dealing with office dynamics, so think about which of the following three philosophies resonates with you:
- Family first. The happiness of family members comes before everything else. Unity is favored, even if it results in negative business consequences.
- Business first. What’s best for the business is put ahead of everything else. Professional business practices are followed and stringent rules are in place.
- Family business enterprise. Striking a balance between the family and business first philosophies is the goal. Family satisfaction is created while the economic health of the business is supported.
There is no “right” philosophy, but you must understand the consequences that can result from each one. Let’s consider what you may face and how you can overcome it.
If you choose family first, that means you’re willing to live with the possibility of family members filling positions they’re not qualified for—and that can be very hard for non-family employees to swallow (especially when they report to those family members). It’s important to be upfront with non-family members so they understand the lay of the land, so to speak, and can decide whether they feel your business is the right environment for them.
If you choose business first, that means you’re willing to live with the possibility that you’ll have to tell family members they’re not up to snuff. The best way to approach this is to develop criteria for success that are applicable to all team members—family and non-family alike—and be clear that family members will not benefit from favoritism. Sometimes the price may be too high to operate this way, i.e., if you’re dealing with your spouse, but it’s your call.
If you choose family business enterprise, that means you want to ensure business success while keeping family members happy. This can actually be the most difficult way to operate because there’s a bit more “gray” involved. You need to placate family members while ensuring that non-family members don’t feel slighted and thus not as apt to give it their all. The best course to take in this situation is to be honest and keep personal issues outside the business as best you can.
For all three operating philosophies, it’s important to ensure that non-family members understand the parameters of their power as well as the fact that they are valued team members. You need to keep your finger on the pulse of the business to determine whether resentment, jealously or even anger is present in non-family employees—something that can harm the bottom line and negatively affect your family. In the best situations, family and non-family members work well together toward a common goal that benefits them all.