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LESSONS TO LEARN FROM A FAMILY BUSINESS

There is no other business quite like a family business, which has its own unique set of challenges. I should know… my wife and I run one! On the one hand, you have a team that you trust implicitly. On the other hand, if things go wrong, it’s more than your business that is at stake.

The truth is that there are both pros and cons of running a family business. The major challenge for family businesses is to adopt traditional business values and principles. However, in my experience, big corporate businesses could learn valuable lessons from family businesses too.

Vested interests

One thing’s for sure… you can trust that your family will probably work harder than they would if they were working for another company. That’s because they have a vested interest in the success of the business.

However, there are family businesses whose employees take advantage of the fact that the boss is a family member. No business can survive on giving family members hand outs and protected employment. All employees should be carefully recruited and visibly add value regardless of whether the company is a corporate or a family business.

Familiarity

When you run a family business, the family grows up in the environment and is already familiar with the business long before they join your team. This means they will take less time getting up to speed, and you know what to expect from them.

On the flip side, familiarity may lead to unconscious indoctrination and a lack of fresh ideas. Senior management are often stuck in their ways. Founders feel threatened by younger family members who challenge the status quo.

My business coaching focuses on facilitating conversations and strategies that build on the foundations of the business’ past success, but drives the business forward to ensure sustainability for future generations. This is true for a family business and corporates alike.

Flexibility

The flexibility in working hours, work location, leave, remuneration and responsibilities that family businesses enjoy facilitate the balance of work and personal life. However, as the business grows, the allowances that family members make for each other may result in accusations of unequal and unfair treatment of employees.

All businesses – whether family-run or corporate – should strive to strike a balance between rigid rules, processes and policies and allowing for flexibility to promote a balance between work and personal life. The key is to be consistent.

Decision Making

There is often less office politics in a family business, and decisions can be made without going through the bureaucratic channels of a traditional business. However, when the family members disagree, business decisions have the possibility of getting personal, which is much more difficult to navigate.

When the goals and long-term vision of the business are clear, understood and shared by the entire team, business decisions are easier to make. In any business, my business coaching starts and ends with a common goal.

Professional and private

When you work closely with family, you sometimes bring work home and take family issues to work with you. However, there isn’t a business in the world that isn’t affected by its employees’ personal issues, and most successful people in business struggle to switch off from work when they get home. We tackle this common problem in coaching by aligning personal and business goals and dreams

It is also very difficult to have tough performance related conversations with family. As a business coach, I help put performance indicators in place for my clients. This means that conversations about performance are around agreed criteria and targets rather than a personal attack.

Who is the boss?

If your family run business does not clearly define who is in charge it could spell disaster. Every successful business needs an inspirational leader. The oldest founding member usually runs a family business. There comes a time when the leadership needs to hand over to the next generation. They need to acknowledge that the skills required to take the business forward are not the same skills that were required to establish it. This is true of most businesses (see last week’s blog) and can be solved with clear roles and responsibilities and by bringing in outside expertise when necessary.

Satisfied employees working for successful businesses will tell you that the company is like a second family to them. And most successful family businesses run their business with traditional principles and strategies to ensure they are sustainable. The trick is to implement the best of both worlds in whatever business you have. Email my wife to book a complementary coaching session with me!

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