You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family,” and this can be true in the context of family businesses. When you operate a family-owned business, there’s a good chance it’s going to be complicated by sibling rivalries, hostility, or friction between father and son, cousins, or other family members.
Our coaches are aware that hostilities are common in family businesses, but they also know that unless such friction is dealt with head-on, it can have a negative impact and, in the worst cases, businesses can suffer gravely. Here, we offer advice to family businesses that find themselves in this peculiar predicament.
Honoring the Family Tradition
In the United States, some of the most successful businesses are founded by men and women who build their businesses from scratch. Often, such founders will bring in family members to help them run the business. As such, the founder’s managerial decisions are often based on their feelings of obligation and duty to take care of certain family members.
When hiring decisions are clouded by nepotism and honoring family tradition, rather than employing family for the “right” needs and purposes of the company, trouble is likely to brew. However, there are ways to avoid it.
It Starts with the Founder
Often, challenges with family businesses start with the founder. Usually, the founder feels like the business is their “baby” and those who work for them are instruments in seeing their company vision become a reality. If another family member wishes to acquire power, this may not sit well with the founder and before they know it, they can end up on the outside looking in.
For the founder, their company is an extension of themselves; they find personal gratification and fulfillment in the business. What founders should do is consider what will happen to the business when they die – this way their concern can shift to thinking about the kind of legacy they’d like to pass on and how they’d like this to occur.
Many founders have great difficulty handing over the reins, even to a son or daughter. In such cases, the founder may have trouble delegating authority and stepping away from the family business, even though they’ve made repeated promises to retire.
If a powerful and charismatic founder fails to properly groom their successor for the leadership role, the business could fall apart when the next generation finally does take over. While an unprepared successor is trying to gain the respect of the staff, they can be subject to criticism from fellow employees who may be envious of the position and waiting for him or her to stumble.
So, how can this negative fate be avoided? The founder must select a successor who is the best fit for the leadership role, and the selection should be based on the best interests of the business, not on the family title. For example, just because the oldest son is next in line, it doesn’t mean he’s the best choice to take over the company.
Next, the founder must delegate authority to this individual and spend at least a year, if not longer, grooming him or her so when the founder does step away, it’s a smooth transition.
Solutions for Intrafamily Friction
Now, for friction: It can be very difficult for family businesses to cope with emotions and hostilities involved with family members, but that doesn’t mean that families should endure them. It’s pointless to stew in chronic anger and resentment because it doesn’t solve anything.
A family member who has such problems can take steps to resolve them, as they can with any problem in their life. The first step is to freeing oneself is to discuss their feelings with his or her rival in the organization, and this is best done with a neutral third party. Sometimes, it’s necessary to seek professional help.
The goal is to establish trust with the rival and reduce the intensity of emotions involved. By doing this, the individual can more clearly see the alternatives and make choices more freely. In other words, the aim is to establish trust and open communication.
Moving toward professional management is a solution that is a wise course of action for family and nonfamily businesses alike. With the business’ framework, there should be a tight system for hiring, training, and promoting all family and nonfamily employees that is based on performance, and what is best for the business.
At AdviCoach, our business coaches understand the complex family and nonfamily dynamics that affect family businesses. To maximize the potential of your business and to improve family relationships, feel free to contact us directly. We’d love to use your family’s skillsets to your full advantage!