Family businesses are widely popular, yet they can be fairly complicated. Not only do you have the typical difficulties of operating a business, but you encounter unique issues that come with managing relatives, such as emotional involvement, varied interests and lagging skill levels.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 90% of all U.S. businesses are family-owned. These types of businesses are extremely common and present their own set of challenges, such as inheritance, balancing personal problems with work and making non-family employees feel included.
This guide will help you manage some of the common challenges of operating a family business and will help to alleviate issues as they arise.
1. Business First
First and foremost, you are running a business, and that must take precedent over family politics or issues. Your decisions should be made on what is best for the business, and you need to remain objective. Everyone must understand the structure of management and where they stand in the business. You must have a formal and professional structure with clear policies.
You can do this by defining the company’s goals, plans and employee job descriptions clearly. By including a thorough description of what each person is responsible for and what decisions they make, you can avoid a lot of power struggles and personal conflict.
However, remember that completely taking your emotions out of the workplace can cause problems at home. Try to find a good balance of understanding and professionalism.
2. Family Issues
Family issues will arise, but the key is to try to keep it out of work as much as possible. Any conflict within your business can cause problems with other employees and hurt both performance and productivity. When issues do arise at work, be fair and don’t take sides. If you must choose a side, make sure to explain very concrete reasons for your decision, so they can’t be perceived as coming from a place of bias.
The best way to handle issues is to consider outside mediation or a consultant to help make big decisions or resolve problems. You also need to take time for family relationships outside of the office and set boundaries at work. This includes detailing when you can talk about certain topics in and out of the office. Don’t infringe on personal time outside of the office, and don’t bring personal life into the office. By nurturing your personal relationships outside of the office, you can be assured that problems at work won’t hurt your relationships at home.
3. Non-Family Employees
It is important to make sure that employees who are not family members feel included. You can make sure this happens by communicating with everyone regularly at the office. It may be easy to mention a new project at home and then forget about it, so be aware that everyone needs to stay informed.
Reward competence at work and punish bad behavior or underperformance, regardless of who it is. Family and non-family employees must be treated the same, so create a fair system for salary and promotion. When developing groups for projects, consider including both family and non-family members.
You should also consider placing a non-family member in management to help make tough decisions and to have someone outside of the family that people can report to. This may make it easier for people to speak up when there is a problem and can show non-family members that it isn’t just family in the power positions.
4. Succession Plan
One of the toughest decisions for family-owned businesses is how to plan for death or retirement. Deciding who will take over is an important decision that should be based on much more than simply who the closest relative is. Of the 5.5 million family-owned businesses in the United States, only about 40% get passed on to a second generation. Meanwhile, almost half of business owners in the U.S. would like to pass their businesses on to a family member.
Make sure everyone at the company is fully aware of future goals and plans. Find out who is interested in staying in the business long-term and who shows the most promise for a leadership role, whether they are a family member or not. Slowly work this person into that leadership position so they will be ready to take over when you are gone.
5. Family with No Aptitude
Another common problem that you will encounter when running a family-owned business is relatives with no skill or aptitude. As tough as it may be, you can’t and shouldn’t hire someone simply because they are family. If you have to hire them, put them in a role that will fit their talents, and work on developing their skills in that area. And while it may be a difficult decision, don’t keep people on the payroll if they aren’t performing. This is too much of a financial liability for your business and may breed resentment amongst other workers.
6. Family Council
Consider developing a family council of all owning members to meet regularly. At meetings, the members of the council will develop and discuss strategic plans as well as family concerns within the business. This could include everything from special funds to pay cuts. One person on the council should be appointed to take these decisions to the board for approval. This ensures that all family matters are fully discussed and properly addressed in a professional manner.