- 3 mins read
One of the joys of a family-owned business is having your sons and daughters working with you as a team in the interests of the family as a whole.
However, each generation needs to recognise that its goals and aspirations may not be the same as those of the older or younger generations - and not sharing and working through priorities can lead to conflict, which is not good for the business (or the family!).
The golden rule is, of course, good communication. This can be very difficult to get right - parents are often not good at sharing information about their business with their children, and the new generation can feel that their parents still treat them as small children, even when they are successful Directors in their own right.
Family members therefore need to build new relationships in the working environment, under which everyone is treated as an adult, everyone's contribution as a business-person is respected, and information affecting the business is shared.
Successful family businesses often help to achieve this by having the family members call each other by their first name (this can seem odd to start with), not discussing family issues at work, and leaving family disputes (such as sibling rivalries) at home.
You should not be afraid to set down some operational rules in writing, such as in a partnership agreement or a Shareholders Agreement (depending on how your business is structured).
Parents with a controlling interest in the business will understandably want to have the final say in major decisions, but they would be wise to consult with the next generation before any such decisions are made.
Parents should also never forget that where a business decision or area of responsibility has been delegated to another family member, they should not interfere in that decision or make it themselves. Doing so undermines the confidence of that other family member, reduces their authority in the eyes of other employees and also makes them feel that they are being treated like a child. This is not good business practice, and unsurprisingly causes resentment.
It is also a really good idea to set some business time aside to discuss business plans and long-term strategy, away from the phones and emails, where everyone can feel free to say what they need to say, without fear of criticism.
This process, which can initially be awkward (especially in relation to succession planning), does mean that all family members know where each other is coming from. This is invaluable in terms of business planning strategy overall.
There is nothing more dangerous than having plans that are not shared with people who will be impacted by those plans, and which are based on assumptions about other people's plans which are not accurate.
Finally, you should not be afraid to put your plans in writing, setting out clear goals and how each member of the family working in the business is committing to help achieve those goals. This gives the business a solid base, and the ability to measure the performance of each family member.