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Edition 270 – Code of Conduct

One of the best things about family business is the presence of family. One of the worst things about family business is the presence of family. Confused? You shouldn’t be.

Amongst the family businesses that I’ve worked with for over three decades, it’s the strength of the family relationships and the trust, both implied and actual, amongst family members that is the glue that can bond the business and drive it forward. There’s nothing more powerful in the business world as a family business that has a strong, focussed sense of family.

Conversely, I’ve observed situations where dysfunction amongst family members has almost destroyed a family business. One client once told me he hadn’t spoken to his brother in over 30 years. Prior to my involvement, they’d been in business with each other and sold the business for a substantial sum. At settlement, an exchange of cheques was required between the brothers to finalise the transaction. My client did the right thing. His brother issued a cheque that bounced. When my client questioned this, his own brother replied “be careful who you trust”.

How we communicate with each other inside a family business on a day to day business is often loose. The familiarity of how we speak with our spouse or our adult children in a social setting permeates the conversation in a business setting. That can be unhelpful, particularly in businesses where there are non family employees who are also present in the workplace.

This plays out most obviously in family meetings and, at times, can be interesting to observe and, occasionally, embarrassing. I see and hear stuff in these meetings that I’m certain, no one outside the family ever hears.

With that in mind, and with an important family meeting coming up for a great client of mine, I took the plunge and prepared a Code of Conduct for Family Meetings. After 30 plus years, it’s time to tell families how they should conduct themselves in these important meetings.

  1. RESPECT – Be respectful of, and to, everyone else in the room.
  2. APPRECIATION – Appreciate and understand that others may have a different opinion.
  3. ASK – If you don’t understand something, always ask the question. You’re most likely not the only one that doesn’t understand.
  4. COURTESY – Allow others to speak – don’t talk over them.
  5. EMOTIONS – Resist the temptation to get emotional – it never helps.
  6. PERSONAL – Don’t get personal in your comments towards others. Similarly, don’t take any comments from others personally.
  7. TECHNOLOGY – Limit the use of mobile phones and iPads during the meeting – it only delays the meeting and disrupts the flow of conversation.
  8. LISTEN – Don’t dismiss someone else’s idea – hear them out, ask them questions and respectfully challenge their thinking.
  9. PARTICIPATION – Active participation is mandatory.
  10. UNDERSTANDING – Accept that, as family, there are things about each other that drive us mad! That’s merely the beauty of each of us as individuals.
  11. THINK – Not just of yourself, your own situation and your own family – consider the wider family as a whole.
  12. LOOK – Look out for each other – it’s what will keep you all together.
  13. UNITY – Work together – don’t undermine anyone else or their contribution.
  14. ENJOY – Remember, we each have a choice with what we do with our lives. Take the time to enjoy what you do. Life is too short otherwise.
  15. GRATEFUL – Be grateful for the opportunity that being part of a family business creates for you and your family. Few people are afforded the same chance in life.
  16. FAMILY – It’s the ultimate bond. Never lose sight of the strength it brings to each of you as individuals, and to all of you as a family.

Each family is different, so their Code of Conduct should also be different.
However, this is a great template to start with.