8 Myths of Running a Family Business

February 1, 2014 | Roger and Susie Engelau

I love being in business with my wonderful wife, Susie. She’s a brilliant marketing strategist and leadership advisor, someone I rely on constantly for her insight, warmth, and skill—in both our personal AND business lives. And though I’d be loathe to speak for her, I bet if you asked her, she’d agree that building our business together brings her a great deal of satisfaction, too. 🙂 [p]

If you’re in business with family you can probably relate. There’s something about working in a family business that brings a lot of joy: the pride of building something that could last for generations, the satisfaction from knowing your family name means something of value to the community.[p]

But let’s be honest. It can also be brutal! Do any of these sound familiar?[p]

  • “You can’t assume I know what you mean because I’m your mother.”
  • “My kids don’t want to work hard enough but they want the credit.”
  • “Dad will never retire,” or “Mom will never let go of this business.”
  • “Everybody’s running the business like it’s their own.”
  • “My parents don’t see any need for outside help.”[p]

The difference is in how you approach family relationships. Are you setting yourself up to win in your family business? Are you struggling with drama, lackluster performance of family employees, too much stress, and not enough fun in your day-to-day interactions with your loved ones/co-workers?[p]

My client load typically is 40% family-owned businesses and over the years I’ve used some good strategies that give these owner families the profound generational benefits of running a successful family business—WITHOUT all the headaches and heartache.[p]

Here are 8 “false assumptions” outlined by Edwin A. and Colette Lombard Hoover in their book, Getting Along in Family Business:[p]

#1 All we need to do is learn how to communicate better.

The tendency these days to diagnose relationship problems as ‘a lack of communications’ can lead to solutions that are temporary. Recognize that communication breakdowns are usually the symptom of something else wrong in the relationship(s).[p]

#2 The biggest problem around here is the clash of egos.

Instead of trying to solve problems with individual force, don’t come from the belief that when one person wins, another loses, or that there’s not enough recognition to share. You’ll need to take time to rebuild trust, respect, and optimism.[p]

#3 The answer/solution is simple—we just need to really care about each other.

Caring creates the motivation to deal with the complexities of running a biz together but it doesn’t provide the solutions. Families often take relationships for granted and leave them unattended until they fracture from the pressure of biz problems.[p]

#4 Who’s the cause of this problem?

In relationships it’s impossible to figure out the first cause of the problem—your brother yelled at you for being late to his meeting, you were late because he sold off the inventory last week against your better judgment, he sold off the inventory because you and your Dad sided against him the week before, etc, etc. Solving relationship problems begins with everyone agreeing that the cause is shared.[p]

#5 Everything’s fine; we never have conflict.

Lack of conflict is not a good sign. It’s liable to mean everyone’s gotten numb to it or a lot of things are not getting said that need to. In 2 weeks, I’ll devote an entire blogpost to dealing with conflict in family business.[p]

#6 We’ll never be able to work well together; we’re just too different.

Everyone is different from everyone else, family or not. If you don’t identify and manage the differences, they’ll pull you apart. If you do, you can leverage them to give you a diversity of perspective you’d otherwise not have.[p]

#7 We can’t worry about getting along; we’ve got to focus on the bottom line.

Quantify 5 hours/week of non-cooperation and commiserating of, let’s say, 3 people @ annual salaries of $200K and you’ve got $75,000. Broken relationships are a big bottom line issue yet, how much time and $ do we spend repairing and renewing them?[p]

#8 As long as we keep family matters and biz issues separate, we’ll never have a problem.

Not only is this impossible but it misses the opportunity that when combined correctly, family and business can be a powerful and positive mixture.[p]

Stay tuned for strategies to navigate family business relationships in next week’s blogpost.