Wednesday, September 22, 2010

10 Tips for Making The Family Business Work

(I had written this prior to leaving for vacation, but in rush of things forgot to post. Anyways, posting it now).

Many when they hear of a family business, they imagine family members happily working side by side singing songs, floating through the days, happily ever after. While are there certainly numerous benefits of being in a family business, families in business together also experience tremendous stress, something those on the "outside" don't see nor experience.

It's hard enough to exist peacefully in a family. Add to that a successful yet very demanding business, things get really complicated. Business meetings at work turn into family meeting and home gathering become business discussions, often leaving those who are not involved feeling left out. And home tensions go into the workplace and tough decision made at work leads to feeling isolated at home with one getting "the stares, glares, the looks". It never stops. At time it can feel as if walking on a mine field.

If you're experiencing stress being in the family business (or partnership), here are 10 tips, to keep you and the business healthy:

1. Get involved in some group that nourishes your soul, something that has nothing to do with business and something in which you can participate without other family members involved. Some separation and break is healthy.

2. Exercise regularly and eat healthy. It'll relieve the stress and keep you healthy. You must stay in shape for family business is not for the weak.

3. Have a sounding board, a thought partner. In such a business setting, it's easy for one to feel isolated. I know I used to feel that very often, isolated and frustrated, wondering who to talk to freely, without causing waves. Have someone in your corner with whom you can have on-going conversations, to help you think through your challenges, help you see things from a different perspective, help you stay focused and sane, listen to you without judging and trying to fix you. This person must be someone who understands family business dynamics and is an "outsider", is objective, neutral, and has nothing to gain or loose.

4. Have regular meetings. You can never have too much communication. If you think regular meetings aren't needed, and you assume everyone is on the same page, you're wrong. Many business problems in family businesses find their roots in lack of communication.

5. Hold at least once every year an off-site retreat, preferably facilitated by an outside moderator, who can keep the conversation moving forward while keeping everyone together.

6. Be always watchful of unexpressed expectations, mood changes, issues brewing under the surface. When you detect them, resolve them before they turn into volcanoes for if situations reach that stage, it becomes very difficult to resolve even the seemingly simplest issues.

7. Run personality profiles on each family involved in the business and have the results discussed among the members, with the discussion being led by someone who is an expert in this. This leads to structured conversations and then the better everyone understands each other, the more effectively everyone can appreciate and leverage each others differences rather then have those differences tear the group apart.

8. Take the necessary time to establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountability for each family member who is involved in the business. While these may not be set in stone, it will lead to greater clarity for everyone.

9. Separate as much as possible, family roles from business roles. While this is far easier said then done, it's an important element to lasting success and peace. For example, if you're a couple in business, be the couple at home but when you're at work, be the professionals you are supposed be, doing what your roles require of you.

10. Last but not least. As business changes and grows, so do the family members. While they may have started with a similar vision and goals, overtime their own visions and desires change. To keep everyone on the same page, once each year, set aside time away from the office for business planning. Such planning is not only important for business success, it provides a forum for having structured conversations, which are vital to keeping everyone together, focused and aligned.

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