The family dynamics of business.

A steady source of calls and emails that I receive from contractors of all different types of trades from all around the country revolve around the trials and tribulations of working with family.

If your family dynamics at work are great, congratulations! This article is possibly not for you - or is it?

If you don’t work with any relatives and you’re thinking, “I don’t need to read this,” think again. The nature of all businesses is they reflect the same type of dynamics that a related-by-blood family has. That means you act like the dad, the mom, the brother, the sister and so forth. Keep reading and see if you don’t agree.

I’m betting the vast majority of readers have either encountered these struggles already or they’re wise enough to see the potential pitfalls as they try to successfully transition family members into the business.

And if your family business is generating more stress and strain than you’d like, keep reading.

What do I know about the success and failure of family in business? I was the third generation of a company that now has the fourth generation hard at work. Plus, I’ve been coaching contractors for more than 10 years on how to do it right and with great success. And I’ve watched good companies go bad when family conflicts rip them apart.

What I can tell you is the same thing I tell those I work with: It’s fantastic and exhausting all in the same moment to have relatives in your business. I know on any given day, I felt there were either too many of us or not enough! I also can tell you I had the best partners ever in my brothers. I never spent a minute away from my business wondering about what was going on or, worse yet, about being ripped off. That, my friends, is peace of mind that money can’t buy.

Does any of this sound familiar?

For those of you who work with your spouse, you have my admiration and my concern. You have to work so hard not to bring the day’s events home and that’s not easy for those of us afflicted with a never-ending desire for perfection. Done right with good rules and discipline, it can strengthen a marriage. Done wrong, it can help rip apart any marriage.

Solutions to hurdles

I believe there’s something very special about building a business that’s made to last. To me, made to last means the ability to easily pass it on to the next generation to run, develop and grow for many more years to come.

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen if there are troubles such as:

  • You haven’t made a clear succession plan for passing the company from one generation to the next.

  • You saddle the new generation with old debts and outdated ways of doing business.

  • You treat the next generation like indentured servants, rather than welcome members of the team.

  • You treat the next generation too well and give them a free pass on conforming to company standards (assuming you have them) and you let them slide on being accountable. It’s demoralizing to the other staff members whether they’re family members or not.

  • You have no real training for the new generation other than criticizing them for whatever they say and do. This continues until they choose to wait and do nothing because it’s safer than risking your wrath.

    So, what should you do? Here’s what you can do right now to make working with family much better:

    1. Create the 10 Commandments of Family Business. These are the golden rules you all agree to abide by.  If you want a copy of the ones I use with customers, please email me at Contact Plumbing & Mechanical
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