As a child, what did you imagine your adult work life would be like? Maybe you would debate big issues and make crucial decisions and mom and dad were okay with that. Flash forward 15 years. In the middle of a budget meeting you are arguing about why your mom still does your brothers laundry and not yours. Welcome to the family run business!
- Do you know you need better boundaries between family and work but can’t figure out how to make it happen?
- When you are home, are you fighting about whether to buy that new piece of machinery for the business?
- When you are at the office, do you find that you are arguing about doing the dishes at home?
- Are you worried that if you make waves at work you could anger family members or even worse lose your family?
- Are you wondering how you got yourself into such a mess and can’t figure out how to fix it?
- Are you a successful business person who can’t seem to untie this family/business knot?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. I too experienced much of this frustration when I was running a successful family business. A tremendous amount of stress and turmoil resulted for everyone at work and home and led me to ask myself if owning a family business was worth all the strife and chaos that resulted. Learning how to balance home life and business is the necessary but elusive solution for those running a family business. Unfortunately, most businesses fail to recognize this as statistics of succession clearly demonstrate.
More than 90% of businesses in the United States are family-owned and only 30% are still functioning by the second generation. Less than 10% are still operating by the third generation! Family workers in family run businesses often invest many long hours for less money than others doing comparable work. This reality often puts a tremendous strain on other aspects of family workers’ lives including their partners and children. As it becomes more and more difficult to spend non-business time with family, friends, or even by oneself, life seems to spin further and further into the business and away from home and things that should matter in life. Who and what should be the priority in a family business? How does one prioritize two values that have become so intertwined?
If you close your eyes, would you know if you were at home or at work? Not being able to separate family and business is a common sentiment of family members who work in family businesses. Unfortunately, this focus on the business can often cause tension and all out resentment from those not involved with the family business. Discussion of the business at family get-togethers creates similar tension and leads to even more discontent with those not involved with the business.
Working as an executive coach with family businesses have revealed to me how important it is for executives to develop habits that balance and reinforce one’s personal vision and leadership. Getting caught up in the day-to-day activities of running a business often leads the executive with little time for vision building, succession and strategic planning as well as stress and exhaustion at home.
Fighting with children and siblings over equity, power, and nepotism in a family business can be one of the most toxic aspects of family business dynamics. These conflicts often cause psychological duels between siblings, parents, and the value of the business. When one sibling owns more of the business than another and yet s/he doesn’t work at the family business, favoritism is assumed. Separating these issues is a complex and critical aspect of a family business if it is to survive to the next generation. Working as a psychologist, an experienced family business owner and business coach/consultant helps me to understand these very complex dynamics–dynamics loaded with emotion that are not simply solved with an elegantly designed business plan.
I have good news for the family business executive: the stress and turmoil lurking inside the family business can be resolved.
You can have a family business where people openly address and confront issues and conflicts are resolved constructively rather than destructively. You can have a business where everyone understands their roles, and decisions are made based on one’s competency, not out of fear of family wrath–a business where communication is direct, clear, focused and less emotionally charged. A family business coach/consultant can help you create boundaries between your home life and your business so that you have less stress, a more profitable and successful business, and more time for your family, your friends, your health and yourself. A coach will listen to your deeply held personal and professional vision and goals and help you bring your life and work back into alignment.
In addition, a council of advisors can be helpful for many of the complex issues that arise in family operated businesses. At a minimum, this council should include a lawyer, an accountant, and a consultant. As you know, your accountant will be focused on the profitability of your business; your lawyer on the legal aspects of your personal and/or professional issues; while the consultant/coach can help you stay balanced and in alignment with your vision and dreams for yourself and your family business.
Five quick tips for the family business
- Avoid playing family-at-work and work-at-home–
Creating boundaries between work and family are critical to the successful business and a more balanced and fulfilling personal life.