Families and business – the ups and downs

We work with many family owned and/or managed businesses and know a great many more. We are also a family business in our own right. Our experience confirmed what others had told us; that family businesses bring many benefits but also some challenges. Too often the challenges build and eat away at the family relationships.
In my view the biggest single challenge is to keep some separation between the business and the family. Failure to achieve this can manifest itself in a number of ways, three of which are:
Business disagreements – assuming we aren’t members of a highly dysfunctional family, it’s more likely that we will disagree with each other about business issues than family matters. Getting comfortable with and encouraging open and frank discussion about the business without damaging family dynamics may be hard work, but when achieved strengthens both.
Role clarity – building on this, when we engage with other family members who are involved in the business are both parties clear which ‘hat’ we are wearing? Am I speaking as father, brother, son etc or as Sales director, line manager, trainee? And are you responding as my daughter, sister, mother or in your business role? The way we communicate and respond to each other will be different depending on the answers to these questions. Establishing clarity early in the conversation is critical.
Succession planning – introducing new family members to the business can be tricky. Who wants to join, what is their role, how do they fit in with non-family staff …? When the next generation of our family are approaching the time to decide on joining us or not, how do we handle it? Is there pressure on them to join, would they benefit from different experience first? And when is it the right time to hand over the reins? Do we fully let go and support them in creating their vision? Should the business look after the family or vice versa?
If your family business is struggling with any of these challenges, or other complications, there is an organisation that could help. Families in Business was established specifically to support family businesses with the challenges that they uniquely provide.