3 Things (As a Business Owner) You Should Know About Running Family Businesses

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Most people that I speak to, seem unhappy in being in a family business. I am referring to the CEOs and Managing Directors, who seem usually more unhappy than happy. I thought that they would be much, much happier working with their family in a business, and foster such a great relationships with workers and family members. On the other hand, I meet business owners who treat their employees like family (without even having any blood ties with any one of them), and they seem happy.

So what’s this all about? I have seen some family businesses really take off and make it big, and I have seen some that just can’t stop fighting about their differences, and eventually they chew each other up, and set up their own companies that compete with each other. Only to find the family bond has gotten so sour that they only meet and smile once a year during festivities, because it’s the “family tradition”.

Runs in the family

Why doesn’t it work when it doesn’t?

Most family businesses have employees that are made of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces or nephews, and there is a lack of professionalism when employees want to behave like family while at work. Yes, you can acknowledge you are family, but behave professionally. Some family members bring into work the family arguments they had on Sunday, into work the next day! Its normal to have family arguments, but to bring it to work the next day, only makes employees very uncomfortable.

Ironically, we should be as honest and transparent as possible with our family members, because we love them, and care about them right? Actually, I find almost the opposite with businesses run by family members. There is this thick under-current of not being able to say how you truly feel, for fear of more family issues, or they might start talking about you, or you might shame the family, etc. When I hear all these, I start to think (wow), maybe it is easier running a business with no family members in it. By the way, that’s what some people believe is better (for business).

There is this thick under-current of not being able to say how you truly feel, for fear of more family issues… Sometimes it’s easier to stay out of business with family members.

Here are some things you should note, in running a family business:

Everyone needs to have their professional role

I knew a married couple, who were in a printing business together, and every time they had an argument their staff would have a horrible time at work. And it got so bad, until one of the staff rang up their Coach, and spilled the beans on what was really happening.

There was a lack of professionalism in this business, because they could not resolve their issues at home. Truth of the matter is that, not all issues can be resolved overnight, but the issues shouldn’t affect the work environment and business performance.

We have worked with many family businesses in the past, and the biggest advice is: “Leave your Family Title at the Door”. You may be older sister at home, but when you come to work, you are “HR Director”. Be conscious that you are wearing this identity, so that you can maintain professionalism.

Another thing I noticed with family businesses, they find it hard to DEFINE their roles. When I worked with this brother and sister that ran a tuition center, it was unspoken rule that the sister handles the finances, while the brother manages the teachers. When they needed growth (meaning work harder and smarter), it became an issue because the scope was unintentional in the first place, and no one agreed on the role. It just fell on to them organically.

The one thing I find breaks great family businesses is the lack of consistency enforcing the rules. It’s so easy to enforcing rules of the game on people we don’t consider as family because we take the situation at face value. With family members, we are SUPPOSED to know, what this person has been through, and actions/inactions are based on that background knowledge.

Have a Clear Outlet to Grumble and Not Be Judged

This should be an important rule of the game, and this is important. Run a WIFLE, and this stands for “What I Feel Like Expressing”. In the WIFLE, everyone stands/sits in a circle, and expresses the way they feel and passes the WIFLE on to the person on the right. During the WIFLE, no one interrupts or interjects, and every one listens.

WIFLEs have been instrumental in keeping businesses together. It is a neutral place to air your frustrations and celebrate happiness, and it is the duty of the CEO/leader of the organization to ensure this place is safe. If you (CEO) react and scream during these sessions, rest assured your employees will back off and clam up. Do the WIFLE regularly, and invite openness in sharing, including yourself.

Do a WIFLE regularly, and ensure that you (the CEO) maintains its openness and its warmth. If you start barking at people at this session, and taking things personally, this will get your staff to back off and begin clamming up. How your employees are, begins with You.

Have a 3rd Party or Outside Party Involved

I wouldn’t say that this works only for family businesses, but any business. Sometimes getting an outside person, can be more effective than getting things done yourself (as the CEO).

….Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Working with someone experienced from the outside can reduce blind spots, and can quickly help you to align when you have gone off track. Just someone to ask tough questions, and even mediate difficult conversations, can enable you (the CEO of your family-run business) to overcome barriers, that were difficult to talk about in the past.

….Non-biased and Neutral Approach

Getting a close friendly party, like another business owner, mentor or business coach, can help you see things for what it is in a very clear and objective manner. More often than not, good facilitation by a 3rd party enables better accountability and stay on track for growth.

-Maresa Ng-

Maresa Ng, CEO and Certified Business Coach of ActionCOACH Spark Activators

Maresa Ng, CEO and Certified Business Coach of ActionCOACH Spark Activators

Originally posted on www.smetalent.com.

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One comment
  1. Krista Goon August 8, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    HI Maresa
    Interesting take on family businesses. I have heard of horror stories of family businesses going haywire when 3 generations work together. I like your concept of WIFLE and I think it takes a strong, safe environment to voice one’s feelings. Most people who can’t take the stress of a family business often resort to going outside the family and starting their own business! Family businesses tend to be hierarchical too so that’s another aspect to grapple with!

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