Editor's Blog

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Family Dynamics

November 22, 2009

A steady source of calls and e-mails I get from all different types of contractors from all around the country center on the trials and tribulations of working with family. If your family dynamics are great, congratulations! This blog isn’t for you. But if your family business is generating more stress and strain than you’d like, keep reading.

Even if you don’t work with any relatives and are thinking, “I don’t need to read this,” think again. The nature of all businesses is that they reflect the same type of dynamics a related by blood family has. That means you act like the dad, mom, the brothers, the sisters and so forth. Keep reading and see if you don’t agree.

Why read what I’m saying? Because, I was the third generation of what is now a company that has the fourth generation hard at work. What I can tell you is the same as I tell my clients, “It’s fantastic and exhausting all in the same moment. On any given day, there were either too many Levis or not enough.”

Sound familiar?

You ought to know that I think there’s something very special about building a business that’s made to last so it passes easily to the next generation to run, develop and grow for many years to come. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen if there are troubles like:
    1. You haven’t made a clear succession plan for passing the company from one generation to the next.

    2. You saddle the new generation with old debts and outdated ways of doing business.

    3. You treat the arriving generation like an indentured slave rather than a welcome member of the team.

    4. You treat them too well and give them a free pass on conforming to company standards (assuming you have them) and you let them slide on being accountable. It’s demoralizing to all the other staff whether they’re family members or not.

    5. You have no real training other than what you think is training, which is criticizing them for whatever they say and do until they choose to wait and do nothing rather than risk your wrath.
So, what should you do? Here’s what you can do right now to make working with family so much better:

  • Create the 10 Commandments of Family Business. These are the Golden Rules you all agree to abide by.
      Note: If you want a copy of mine I use with customers, please e-mail me at al@appleseedbusiness.com and I’ll be glad to send it along.
  • Create an Organizational Chart with all the boxes it takes to run your company. We’re not talking about fancy titles like President, Vice President and such. We’re talking about positions like Service Manager, Marketing Manager and Financial Manager to name just a few.
      Note:  It doesn’t matter if there is no one at work besides you. You  must have all the boxes filled out and your name in every box. This way as you grow and people (especially family members) come on board, there is a clear place they’re at today and a clear path on where they can go tomorrow.
  • Respect the Chain of Command amongst family members.

  • Create a Buy-Sell agreement and cover at least the 4Ds which are death, divorce, disability and disabled.

  • Meet formally at least once a week some place where you won’t be overheard and get on the same page philosophically so you don’t present a mixed message to your other staff.

    These are just the basics, but they’ll go a long way to building a family business that’s worthy of your blood, sweat and tears.

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