8 Mistakes Families Make in a Family Business

By Paul Joiner

Do you own a family business?


Work together with your family?


Do work together with your family in a family owned and operated business?


Then you know where I'm going.


A family business can be challenging. For both the family and non-family employees.


Some of the most successful companies in the world are family-owned and operated businesses. If examined closely, you will find these companies have clearly defined personal and professional boundaries, familial expectations, and best-practices for the entire organization.


However, many family businesses are in turmoil because, well...they work with their family. What works at home does not always work at work. The family business should not be confused with family business!


In working with my own family for years, and working with so many other family business clients, I believe there are eight mistakes made by family members when they work together in business. If you confuse these eight things, it can ruin the love for and life of your family organization.


1.  When You Confuse Professional With Personal


You must decide, personal or professional? Motives come into check here. "I am here to be the best at my job, but not at the cost of my family's business. Just because I am a family member does not mean I do not make mistakes, will not require direction or correction, will always do excellent work, or shouldn't be replaced if I am holding the organization back." Wanting what is best for the business often means you don't get your way. Your idea is rejected. Your work is critiqued. If you're the kind of person who takes things personally, you probably do not receive feedback because no one wants the drama. However, it doesn't mean you didn't need the feedback. You could have been better.


Confusing professional with personal not only happens between family members but it in the family's expectations of non-family employees.  Family sees the business through sentimental eyes, where your employees see their work through operational eyes. You cannot expect a non-family employee to see something they cannot feel or do not own.


Check your motive: Do I want to be valued and respected as a professional, or pacified as an emotionally and needy family member?



2.  When You Confuse Positional With Preferential


As equally loved as we may be in a family dynamic, we are not equally gifted. It is very difficult to move from family equality on the weekend to business reality on the weekdays. The reality is staff, including family, should be placed in positions of leadership, authority, and rank based on ability, experience, work ethic, and tenure. Though your family mindedness says we should all be equal in the family business (even if you have been employed only for a month), the business mindset must think differently. What's best for the organization sometimes will shake up the family tree.


You should not expect preferential treatment at the office. It will do you no good as you build your career and earn the respect of your co-workers. Prove to everyone that you would have this job even if you weren't a family member.


One more thing to consider here: Your staff will be able to distinguish whether your business treats your family professionally or preferentially. Good employee morale depends on your family insisting that merit is earned, not bestowed.


Check your motive: Do I seek preferential treatment, or do I want professional treatment built on my success and hard work?


3.  When You Confuse Accomplishment With Acknowledgement


Good work should be acknowledged...even if it is not your work. This doesn't mean that you aren't recognized as an important and valued part of the family business, it's just that today may not be your day in the spotlight.


The ebb and flow of family business, or in business in general, shine a light on the newest project, the latest idea, the most recent report. Certain "high profile" positions in the organization are naturally highlighted when the dynamics of the work are recognized. Sales and creative staff, as well as customer service, tend to live in the spotlight a little more than those more operational positions. And though these people may receive a few more accolades, don't confuse them being acknowledged with you not being valued. Accomplishment builds the business. Acknowledgment motivates the business.


Check your motive: Do I work to be an acknowledged part of the family business or an accomplished part of the family business?


4.  When You Confuse Freedom With Familiarity


Working with your family can be great! You can be yourself. Your co-workers remember your birthday! You don't have to put on any masks or be someone you are not. However, the family bond doesn't mean you should not consider family boundaries at the office. Respecting the position and purpose of your family co-workers is of supreme importance if you want a healthy work environment.


By not taking advantage of the rules, being on time for meetings, following instructions, honoring protocol and procedures, and honoring deadlines proves to others, including your family members, that you honor their job, your job, and the health of the organization.


Check your motive: Do I see a family member as a professional or someone who allows me to be less than professional when I am around them?


5.  When You Confuse Empowerment With Entitlement


Be empowered, not entitled! Some of the most powerful and well-respected individuals in the business world are women and men who came from wealth, power, and fame but rejected any offer of a "hand out." They didn't want to live entitled, but to live empowered! Not only did this make them confident individuals and professionally proficient, but they gained the respect from all those watching and working alongside them.


On the other end of the spectrum, some of the world's most accomplished women and men came from nothing and were motivated to be something. The rags they wore were the motivation for their riches. They had no one to depend on. No one to lean on. No one to give them a break. No safety net. No chance for a handout or even a hand up. It was by sheer hard work and determination they built the success they now enjoy.


Your family wants to empower but not entitle. Why? Because it's the best thing for you. Because as we were just reminded, an empowered person is a much more successful, fulfilled, and accomplished person than one who is entitled. Entitled persons seldom make great employees as they are not hard workers. They are not as confident. Their eye is on the clock and not the company's bottom line.


Be thankful that you share a platform of empowerment with your family. But don't use that platform as a place to erect a hammock, do nothing, be served, and expect to reap all the benefits.


Check Your Motive: Do I feel I have the right to reap the benefits of the family business I have not earned, or strive to earn the right to partake in the benefits of my family’s business?


6.  When You Confuse Openness With Opinion


As a family member, you have a place at the table...but it doesn't mean you have to speak. This is where a lot of family drama takes place. The family loses respect for each other in the dynamics of the family business and speaks into areas they have no business being a part of. "We're family, aren't we?" Family members lose sight of professionalism. Respect, honor, trust, and humility are tossed to the wind as family members speak up and often speak loudly to be heard. Again, just because you are a part of the family doesn't mean you should let your opinion be heard. Or more specific, if not asked, you shouldn't give it.


There is a pecking order and hierarchy that must be honored in a family business. Be thankful you feel the freedom to be involved with business decisions, but there is a point where you have to humble yourself, trust others, and be faithful to support the decision and do your job.


Check Your Motive: Is expressing my opinion more important than honoring the position and responsibility of my family’s business?


7.  When You Confuse Favor With Favoritism


Let's face it, though it is "required" that we get along with everyone in our family, it doesn't mean we don't connect more with certain members. Depending on who we are, it's natural to get along with certain personalities, and not with others as much. This is true for a family business as well.


Whoever is running the show, or those who are in places of leadership, have the difficult task of leading everyone, but more naturally connecting to certain personalities. If that “certain one” is not you, don't confuse favor with favoritism.


Favor is a natural connection. Favor is actions based on a kindred spirit. A personality combination that easily and naturally meshes together. Favor is usually a connection based on shared ideas, interest, activities, humor, and “we just get each other” living.


Favoritism is a preferential treatment that is awarded only to one or some. It is ignoring equality, denying accomplishment, overlooking achievements, of all to and granted only to one. Favoritism is an active preference to do for one what they could do for all.


Distinguishing the difference between favor and favoritism is part of the maturity required to accept your family as the individuals they are— with whom they connect, and how they most naturally operate.


Check Your Motive: Do I seek to be the “favorite” at all times and at the cost of not allowing my family to enjoy life with their favorite people or other family members?”


8.  When You Confuse Work With Perks


Perker or worker? What? Wow! So true!


Perkers look for what they can get instead of what they can give. Business decisions are colored by what's in it for them, not what's best for the business. They make choices that not only benefit the organization but them personally as well. Seems harmless until those choices are costing the business more time or money. For instance, air miles, points, and other perks are directed back to them personally instead of being dispensed professionally. With these perks, making selfless decisions is difficult. Being addicted to the perks, instead of dedicated to the work, can distort decisions that should benefit the business. Perking will also cause your family to question if you are serious about the work or just looking for beneficial play.


There is nothing wrong with perks, as long the pursuit of them isn't the motivation for work. Take the perks off the table, and see how a perker will be a better worker.


Check Your Motive: Do I look for the perks I will receive when I make business decisions or is my eye on what's best for the business? Am letting the extras affect my leadership?



So what's my advice to those working together in a family business? Don't confuse personal with professional, positional with preferential, accomplishment with acknowledgment, freedom with familiarity, empowerment with entitlement, openness with opinion, favor with favoritism, or work for perks and see how well your family business is family friendly once again!

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