If you’re part of a family-business you might be wondering if the crises you encounter are unique to others like yourself. The answer is a resounding NO and YES. The crises that family owned businesses experience are common among all businesses. Cash flow, communication, disparate goals; family or not, any business can experience these and a host of other problems.
So why then does the family business seem to suffer from a host of maladies all its’ own? I’d say it has a lot to do with expectations. You grew up together so you figure you know each other better than anyone else and that you can communicate without speaking. Heck, given those luxuries you surely can’t have many problems. But of course these expectations are just that and when they’re not fulfilled you’re far more inclined to behave as if you’re a family member rather than a business person.
So, is the family business destined to fail? Absolutely not! Of the successful family- businesses I’ve known or worked with, there are a couple of golden rules that apply.
If your family is not healthy how can you possibly build (or maintain) a healthy family business? I'm not talking about physical health (though that too is very important); I'm talking about healthy relationships, where communication isn’t just possible but it's encouraged and actively worked on. The health of a family business begins at home and the dysfunction of the family will become the dysfunction of the family business, if not the source of its ultimate demise.
It's All About the Business
It's not possible to remove the family from the family business, however, the business is an entity and just like the family- it needs to be nourished. Of course if you don't recognize the business as an entity, independent of the family, it will be a challenge to ensure it gets the attention it needs. Yes, the business and the family may be competing for that all important attention. To that end I strongly encourage family business folks to visualize the business as something tangible. That's right, give it a name, ask it how it's doing and check in frequently to ensure it’s getting the nourishment it needs. Funny as it seems, this step reminds family business people that it’s about much more than family.
The family business may indeed have a lot more distractions to deal with than other businesses and so it's important to be ever vigilant. The lessons learned about improved communication apply as much in the office as they do in the home. Periodically asking each other, "how am I doing?" is a great way to keep festering sores from developing. The only time that change is bad is when you fail to recognize it’s needed.
Family doctrine and dysfunction will become the doctrine and dysfunction of the business, if you let it. These simple steps will not solve or prevent all of your challenges but they will surely help you build a strong foundation for that family business. One thing for sure, whether it's in the home or office, it's likely that family is one of the most important things in your life.