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Edition 394 – Words

The best thing about family business is family.

The worst thing about family business is family.

Confused! Well, if you’ve spent any time inside of a family business, my guess is that you’d agree with each of these sentiments.

When your back is to the wall, and times are tough, it’s the support, sweat and dedication of family that helps you through.

Conversely, if relationships are going to end up pear-shaped inside a family business, it’s as a result of the familiarity of the conversation that takes places between family members. As I alluded to in the past, we talk to our family members – whether they’re our spouse, our children, our siblings or our parents, differently to the way we would communicate with our staff that we are not related to.

Sometimes, those conversations contain words that may be harsher than normal. Or, cut to the bone when we really don’t want to hear the truth. Someone has bitten their tongue for a while, says something in a moment of frustration and then, before you know it, it’s on for young and old.

I don’t mean a full blown dust-up. I mean that there’s an avoidance of interaction, let alone conversation, until such time as one party backs down. Except that sometimes, people don’t back down.

A former client many years ago, in a moment between just him and I, let me know why he hadn’t spoken with his brother for over 30 years. When the family business, which they owned, was sold, there was a swapping of cheques (yes, back in the pre electronic banking days) between the family entities that each brother controlled. The sale was a big deal and whilst most of the money had been disbursed, the last two cheques were the final wash-up.

My client informed me that the day after breaking the cheque, his bank contacted him and advised the cheque from his brother had bounced. When my client phoned his brother to work out the problem, the response was “be careful who you trust in business”. And, that was it! Brothers – business owners – would never speak again as a result of the greed of one of them. That’s a reason for dust-up. That’s a reason to get angry.

If you’ve had a disagreement with another family member in your family business, each of you needs to make the effort to resolve it, and quickly, for two reasons:

  1. You need to get your relationship back on track, so you can keep the business focussed on what it does best;
  2. You will quickly drag non-family members of the business into the disagreement, which invariably creates collateral damage.

When non related employees of family business are impacted, you are staring down the barrel of three issues:

  1. Loss of one or more great employees, who don’t want to deal with the family issues any longer.
  2. Loss of revenue as the business loses focus on what it should be doing, and instead, focusses on internal warfare.
  3. Loss of a major client – for when you drop the ball, your quality and level of service drops to the point where your customers ask, “what’s going on”.

Next time you have something to say to a family member inside your family business, think about perspective. How big is the issue? How important is it to resolve it? How can you deal with this in a way that is professional as well as respectful for all involved?

This Week’s Tip

“Have the honest conversations outside of the business premises, to minimise the impact on others. And, be determined to resolve the situation, for the benefit of everyone.”