Minding your (family) business

Making a family business work isn’t always easy. 5 tips for families who are also co-workers.

When you think of a family-run business, you generally think of children joining a business established by their parents or grandparents. But now there’s a new trend: more retirement-age executives are taking jobs at their kid’s companies.

Undoubtedly, working with family members has always presented challenges. But when parents work for their children, experts say that it requires an enormous psychological shift on both sides.

“The biological model is, the parent instructs and makes decisions for the kids. Reversing that is swimming against the tide of 10,000 years of human evolution,” Wayne Rivers, CEO of the Family Business Institute, told Fortune Magazine.

So how can families put old habits to the side and interact in a more professional manner? Here are 5 tips that can help to make a family business work.

Define roles.
As in any company, employee roles and responsibilities should be spelled out, preferably in writing. An informal family dynamic can make it easier to blur the lines between areas of responsibility, making the company a powder keg for turf wars.

Ask, don’t criticize.
If you have a concern, don’t give into the temptation to blurt out something to the effect of: “What are you thinking? That will never work!”

A more professional approach is to broach your concern in the form of a question, such as: “Have you considered this risk?” or “How do you see this fitting in with our strategy?”

Defuse conflict – before it gets out of hand.
Experts advise working out a plan for defusing arguments. It can be an inside joke or a private code word meant as a signal to cool down – or even better, produce a laugh. An example could be giving a mock salute when a family member is coming on a little too strong.

Another option is to bring in an objective third party before a situation becomes too stressful. A suggestion of “Let’s run this by so-and-so,” can help prevent a professional disagreement from getting personal.

Set benchmarks
Just as employee roles need to be specified, performance objectives should be clearly stated and understood by all parties – again, preferably in writing. If goals are set out in advance, it makes it easier to handle any negative feedback or performance reviews. Again, the goal is to keep the business environment professional – not personal.

Have an exit strategy
Situations and interests can change over time for family co-workers as they do for any other professional. It can damage both the business and family relationships for people to continue working at a company solely out of a sense of loyalty or obligation. As with everything else, keep the communication channels open.

Source: Fortune Magazine

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