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.

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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.  

Helen Burgess

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

Coach | Consultant | Facilitator for Leadership, Culture and Career challenges. I have worked with a variety of clients, from senior executives to sole entrepreneurs; with those just starting out in their career and those returning after career breaks. I love the diversity and unique nature of coaching and am passionate about the calm quiet way it enhances confidence, communication and overall sense of personal wellbeing. 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).