Is Working with Family Really Such a Great Idea
Such a thought is quite interesting when considered in the context of various types of businesses. Often it is the desire of the senior family members to pass on their business, or the baton so to speak, to their children or even their grandchildren. When speaking with practitioners, one question we often ask in terms of their client base, particularly in terms of the larger clients, is who amongst their groups have or are in the process of passing on operations, ownership etc to family? Quite often the answer is in the positive. However, when it comes to the professions, we probably don’t see quite the same level of family succession. This approach is also often considered one of the more successful succession options, however there can be some difficulties around differences amongst generational expectations and performance.
Whether it be first, second or third generation on within a business, there are times when there can be different expectations in terms of performance, tasks, roles, rights and decision making within the business. Being second generation in a family business myself that was started by my father but also involved my mother, I remember being acutely aware of not seeking any special treatment or favouritism. In fact, I wanted the complete opposite. I wanted my involvement to be based on even higher expectations than a typical employee. I wanted this rite of passage to be via the school of hard knocks, especially once there was the opportunity to succeed my father. I recall one time in particular that took place, but more about that later.
So, in addition to an employee family member who actually is required to and/or wants to work harder than their non-family counterparts, there can more often than not be those individuals within the family that expect a free or easier ride, those who slide in on the coat tails of their forefathers. Typically such an approach doesn’t sit well with other personnel or staff within a business, often causing resentment and arguments. A third possible approach is where the upcoming mentee doesn’t actually desire a free ride, however they are provided one by the senior mentor or family member. Again, this outcome is not great in the eyes of independent employees.
Further issues can also arise when multiple family members are employed within a business where there is a perceived difference in their remuneration, responsibilities, opportunities, tasks, duties, trust etc for no apparent reason. In actuality, running a family business can be tough.
One of the greatest difficulties is separating work from family or home life. Understanding what happens at work, stays at work. Any decisions made at work, are not personal. That is often pretty difficult to master. Then there is always the dreaded situation where the ability of a family member to continue to contribute to the business changes and there may no longer be a need for their involvement, or the difficult conversation where performance isn’t meeting expectations. Often what happens is because these employees are family; they are allowed to continue on in the business indefinitely without providing the expected performance or outcomes. However, this will have a drain on the business overall, whether it be in terms of revenue, profitability or expenses. Just because they are family doesn’t mean that they stay at all costs. If you wouldn’t retain this individual as an employee, why do so just because they are family?
I remember all too well the difficulties of working with family. One night at home, when we all still lived together, I was sprouting off about my dissatisfaction about something, when I was swiftly informed by my mother that there was no need to attend work tomorrow. Just like that I had been sacked. The next morning I returned to work to ask my father for my job back. In hindsight, it was an excellent learning curve of the differences between employee and employer performance. As an employer you often go the extra mile for the benefit of clients and the business. If someone wants a nine to five job with no other responsibilities, then they’re probably best to remain as an employee. Looking back, my mum’s actions were probably warranted, however it was a rather tense household for those twelve hours or so.