A CNN online article caught my attention late yesterday afternoon, "When Your Mom or Dad is Also Your Boss." As a family member of a family-owned business my interest was piqued! As I read the short article I, I was comparing the author's suggestions/observations to what I experience/observe day-to-day in a family business. My experience is not only someone whose mom is her boss, but I also observe the dynamic of my mom's dad (my grandfather) being my mom's boss. I thought that offered up a unique perspective and insight into how we handle operations in our own family business.
The author hits on six crucial elements that don't typically effect non-family businesses. I took each one and compared how we do it in our family business.
1. Don't force it - Here the author suggests, with good reason, don't work for the fam if you are not interested in what they are making and/or selling. Admittedly, when I first started working in the business world I did work for my family and I'll be honest I hated it! In retrospect, I was twenty and trying to finish up school. I also had no idea what I wanted to do for a career or what career goals even looked like! I ended up working for my family for five years and then several other small businesses in consecutive years. While I didn't have a career plan in my twenties, the experiences I had during those first five years set up me up for success in every job succeeding the first one for my family. My suggestion would be to stay open-minded about working for your family. Maybe you don't want to take it over someday, but those first experiences could wind up being invaluable.
2. Have a clear work and life separation - I love this as an idea, but it's almost impossible to accomplish! Oftentimes family discussions about work happen post-workday because it's just the family. It can be a good time to powwow. Also, everyone has to agree that work shouldn't interfere with personal lives. Most of my family doesn't hold to that mindset.
3. Write job descriptions - This is difficult too! I have worked at jobs where there were clear job descriptions and it was highly beneficial. Job descriptions can layout responsibilities and place boundaries around those responsibilities that keep staff in their perspective corners. Two problems we face as a family with this, 1.) everyone wants to be in charge - we just seem to be wired that way and 2.) most of us have more than the role and/or have shared responsibilities because of the size of our company. I myself do customer service, accounts payable and accounts receivables. The lines can get easily blurred.
4. Use names in the office - I 100% agree with this! When I first started with my family's company I referred to my mom (my boss) as "mom" and I felt like it made me sound like a child around co-workers that weren't family. It just sounds weird to me even though that's who she is to me. I do the same thing with my uncles. I refer to them as Uncle X and Uncle Y when speaking to them directly, but when I refer to them with co-workers, vendors, or customers, I use their names. I practice a 50/50 split on rule, referring to my family by their first name when speaking with non-family co-workers, vendors, and customers and referring to them by mom or uncle when speaking directly to them.
5. Don't over manage - Not an issue in my family. The expectation is you do your work and if you made an error be prepared to face the consequences. It's hard enough to have a boss who is your parent. If they treat you like a child in the workplace no one else is going to take you seriously either.
6. Be flexible - Oh bless it! My family is great when it comes to being flexible with product changes, price increases, negotiation, pretty much all aspects of business EXCEPT technology. I fight my family EVERY DAY on this. Some of which who still believe handwriting everything is the best way to go. (Can you see me shaking my head?)
The CNN article was a great overview of some of the challenges family-owned businesses face on top of just the standard aspects of running a business. The mother-daughter duo in the article seems to have it figured out. I should have them come to talk to our family!