Four Things Every Family Business Owner Should Keep in Mind

If I’ve learned one thing from my conversations with family business owners, it’s that you are busy people. Sure, any executive faces countless hours and complex decisions. But combining that with family affairs can prove to be overwhelming at times. Through the experiences others have shared with me, a common theme emerged: the day-to-day requirements of family business owners often causes them to overlook underlying problems and opportunities that inhibit long term success. Let’s look at four crucial ones.

1.) Confusing values with preferences.

There is a key distinction. Do you know the difference? Values are important because they shape our belief systems. They are the underlying things in life we see as true. Preferences, on the other hand, are the way we express those values. People can have matching values and different preferences, and vice-versa. Look at the basic principles of Democracy and Communism. Both seek to improve the lives of individuals in a society (a value), but take varying routes to try and achieve this (as in, different preferences). This concept tends to be a prevalent issue among generations of a family. For example, a senior owner can often misunderstand his or her children’s behavior – whether this is in the form of disinterest in their family business, or simply a disagreement on how to run things. Families have been torn apart trying to achieve the same goal in different ways. Carefully evaluate how this arises in your life, and recognize that you may have more common ground with another than you realize. 

2.) The importance of a team of advisors.

For many companies, advisors can be a great tool to ensure the business is being well-managed on all fronts. Along with owners, I’ve met with family business advisors. One was particularly knowledgeable regarding tax and legal procedures. She said that her goal was always to leave the family better off than where they started – with finances in place and relationships maintained. However, she quickly realized that this required her to have a strong understanding of the law (which she did), and of the unique and complex dynamics in place within every family business. For example, the expectations of every member, the relationships between each, and their skills and weaknesses. This advisor admitted much of her work could have been done more efficiently and effectively if she had more skills in reading people. Another advisor I met was exactly the opposite – trained in psychology, but lacked a legal background. He was much better suited to tackle the social dynamics. This is why a diverse team of advisors is crucial. One person cannot be a “professional everything.” 

3.) When your children just aren’t interested.

Of every owner, member, or advisor I’ve ever met, not one has neglected to mention their interest in using the business to improve their children’s lives. I get it. We all want to do what’s best for our family. Unfortunately, this devotion can be an enormous source of conflict. Intentionally or not, the senior generation can create an impression (or reality) that one’s decision not to participate in the family business makes them less of a person to their parent. Consider whether you have created that environment within your own family. A couple of important questions to ask yourself: 

  1. What do you want for your child?
  2. Would it be okay if they found as much joy in their chosen work as you have in yours?
  3. Does your child have an avenue for expressing thoughts, feelings, and perspectives about the business? If so, how? If not, why?

It’s okay to not love the answers right now. These are meant to serve as a starting point, an opportunity to develop a richer and more transparent relationship with your children.

4.) Maintaining the family (business).

How do you feel about your future as a family business owner? Is your routine sustainable? Is it sustainable for your family? You may have heard the saying, “Take care of the mind, and the body will follow.” It’s becoming much more common in the world of athletics – coaches, trainers, and players are recognizing the impacts of mental preparation and wellbeing. I think of you like an athlete. The business is your team – you’re devoted and passionate about it. However, like every athlete realizes, life isn’t just about the game. Therefore I say, “Take care of the family, and the business will follow.” While performance today is important, you also can’t risk a career-ending injury. Ensure you are balancing work and personal time. While determination, persistence, and unfaltering dedication to the business can be good, recognize when you’re taking things a little too far. And become good at having difficult conversations, with your children, with your spouse, and with yourself. I can’t promise that a happy family will equate to a successful business. But I can promise that a dysfunctional one will not.

If you’d like to discuss harmonizing your family with your business, we’re here to chat. For more content, be sure to check out our video carousel on the Family Business page.