Working in a family business? Five tips for making it heaven not hell.

Don’t try to kid yourself that running a family business is just like any other – it isn’t – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be rewarding, fun and stress free.

Go to the profile of Helen Burgess
Mar 04, 2020

Every family business has a unique history full of personal bravery and passion, mixed with the extra dynamic that comes from being blood.  Shared values and experiences go back to childhood, but how do you move forward, allow the next generation to take the lead, with the freedom to look for opportunities and courage to make mistakes. 

A family business is more than just a business; it's the life's work of someone you admire, to be nurtured and protected - a privilege and a responsibility.   For the founders its tough to let go, to let the next generation test their ideas and do things in differently.

Family dynamics impact both positively and negatively.   Every company is different however here are five things that I have learnt always make a difference.

  1. Don’t try to ignore the emotional ties that come from being part of a family.  Emotional baggage can be toxic but when you recognise that you have shared history, value and purpose you have the opportunity to put yourself ahead of the competition.
  2. Clarify and document your roles and responsibilities. Are appointments made on merit or because of order of birth?  Use professionals from outside the family at senior non-executive levels and give them permission to challenge and act as an objective sounding board.
  3. Consider how you are impacting on non-family employees – are they receiving mixed messages, asked to take sides when opinions differ - without honesty on roles and responsibilities they are likely to be working head down and reluctant to get involved or contribute ideas. 
  4. Talk about it!  Burying differences or unhappiness does not make them go away, it builds resentment and puts up barriers to growth. 
  5. Ensure you are working in the ‘here and now’, behaving like adults and not letting the issues of the past push you into childish responses and cloud your decision making.   

There are many advantages to a family business when you harness your shared values to differentiate yourselves from competitors.  Invest time into understanding what is important to you all, what are your shared hopes and dreams for the future and where do your individual strengths lie. 

If you fear opening up the dialogue, then bring in a specialist such as myself to work with you.  Removing emotion, expanding communication, talking about your vision for the future brings families together and creates a sense of common purpose and supports changes in behaviour.  

Go to the profile of Helen Burgess

Helen Burgess

Coach, Consultant, Facilitator Specialising in working with Entrepreneurs & Family Owned Businesses , On Point Coaching

I specialise in leadership development with entrepreneurs and family owned businesses. Starting with your challenges rather than teaching possible solutions, my coaching will support ongoing development of individuals and teams within the context of your company. Working in a family business brings a unique dynamic, with additional challenges and advantages that need to be recognised and explored rather than ignored. I have experience working with second generation siblings and succession planning for founders. You don't need to have employees to be a leader - solo entrepreneurs are pushing the boundaries, passionate about doing things differently but may also be prone to fear and dips in confidence around their decisions. I know how that feels and will support and challenge you, acting as a sounding board and thinking partner. I have a PG Cert in Business & Personal coaching, training in interpersonal dynamics via Transaction Analysis TA101, team and group coaching training and am a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA).

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