How to deal with tension in the family firm

How to deal with tension in the family firm - Just Recruitment

As the Royal Family finds an official position on “Sussexit”, Ernie Richardson has some advice on how to manage tension in a family business

By Ernie Richardson

Family businesses can be wonderful things, offering many advantages. You get to work with people you love and trust, with a common mission and the opportunity to build something you all believe in.

    If your family business is going through a rough patch, here are five tips for dealing with the tension.  

As a family, you can share the rewards of your labours and relish each other’s success. If one of you does well, the chances are you’ll all benefit, which can be a brilliant incentive to put in extra time and effort.

But there can be downsides to family businesses. Some struggle with a skills gap: they want to bring the next generation on, but its members simply don’t have the necessary expertise.

Perhaps a more fundamental issue facing family firms is when company members want to leave. As the Royal Family has found, if someone in the family decides the business isn’t for them, it can be hard to find a constructive way of decoupling.

At best there is commercial disruption, and at worst the whole family dynamic falls apart.

If your family business is going through a rough patch, here are five tips for dealing with the tension.

Let everyone have a voice - Just Recruitment1. Let everyone have a voice

One of the biggest challenges in many family companies is giving every member a voice.

But as with any business, it’s important to let all staff have their say. If you were a conventional employer, you’d listen to everyone’s contribution, knowing that some of the best ideas come from outside the senior team.

The same rules apply in a family company. Give everyone a chance to air their views, regardless of their seniority. You’ll all gain from each other’s perspectives.

2. Let the boss be the boss

It is important to acknowledge the company hierarchy. Most businesses have a management structure, whether they’re run by a family or otherwise. There’s always someone at the top whose judgment trumps everyone else’s.

With that power comes responsibility to do the right thing for the whole company, including every employee. It also brings accountability: get it wrong, and it’s their head on the block.

Even if you’re the boss of a family business, it’s worth cultivating and deploying effective management techniques. They can make all the difference to the success of your operation and ensure every member of your team – family or otherwise – feels valued and empowered.

    Work out how best to take the company forward with a new management and ownership structure.  

3. Don’t cling on if relationships have turned sour

Anyone who has ever worked in a dysfunctional family business will tell you that there comes a time when enough is enough. If everyone has fallen out, it may be worth biting the bullet and going your separate ways.

Such a decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ll most likely be breaking up a family unit as well as a business, and the implications of both actions are immense.

Even so, your employees and customers will thank you for putting a stop to the poisonous atmosphere. Work out how best to take the company forward with a new management and ownership structure. Make sure anyone who leaves is treated fairly.

Then get on with rebuilding your brand and creating a happier environment for your people.

4. Think of your customers

There is a reason why 40 per cent of UK businesses are “family controlled”. It’s because such companies are very effective at building relationships with their customer base, setting up the ideal conditions for commercial growth.

But if things start going south, those relationships can be lost in an instant. It only takes one bad experience to turn a customer off your brand. And with the damage done, you’ll have to work doubly hard to regain trust.

Keep focused on your customers, therefore. They’re what matter, not boring old family politics.

5. Plot a course for the future

It can be hard to stay motivated in a business that lacks direction. And in a family firm, where strategic planning is not always a priority, such a feeling can easily take hold.

Avoid this by identifying a clear set of goals that everyone buys into. There’s a whole raft of family business strategic-management tools out there to help.

At the very least, strategic planning enables every member of the family to express their hopes for the future, and to check them against everyone else’s. That way, there won’t be any surprises from disgruntled relatives who have a different vision, and who get tired of going with the flow.

The fallout from such eruptions is often complex, leading to a whole new set of challenges. Deal with them now and your family business will continue to thrive. Let them fester, and you could face a stormy future.

© 2020 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

Published: 22 January 2020

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