Working for a Family Business

September 18, 2017

Working for a Family Business

Some of us work in big corporations; others of us in small corporations; and some are employed by family businesses. I want to focus on some of the particular challenges employees of family businesses face. That is, employees of the firm who are not part of the family which owns the business.

Some family businesses are great

If you’ve been lucky, you’ve worked in a family business in which both ‘family’ and ‘business’ are operating well. That is, the family members like and respect each other. The family can make the distinction between work and family dynamics and is fairly successful in keeping the two somewhat separated.

If you are employed by this kind of family, it can be a great place to work. You can be more or less inducted into the family and benefit from the warmth and generosity of spirit which good families can produce.

And then there’s the other type. Let’s do a typical interaction of such a family. There are at least three points where this family makes the typical mistakes in family businesses. See if you can identify them.

Some family businesses are not good places to work

First, the cast of characters.

Donna: mother of the family and creator of a line of organic skin care products

Carl: son of the family and operations manager

Martha: daughter of the family and finances/marketing manager

You (Sarah): the hapless employee, unrelated to the family, and the production supervisor

You: Carl, we could schedule the new lotion after the batch running now. Is that okay?
Carl: What new lotion?
You: You know, the pro-biotic one.
Carl: We’re not doing that.
You: But Martha told me—
Carl: Martha? Where does she get off making decisions like that? Martha! Martha! Get in here!
Martha: Do you have to yell? What?
Carl: I never approved the pro-biotic run.
Martha: Well, somebody had to, with you at the casino. During office hours and with the company car, I might add.
Carl: I’m in charge of production. Sarah, just do the runs as planned.
Martha: Sarah, we need new products. Do the run.
Carl: I’ll fire you if you do!
Martha: I’ll fire you if you don’t!
Donna: What’s all the yelling about?
Martha: Mom, we’ve got to keep up. We need a new line of products. Everybody’s going pro-biotic.
Donna: Says the miss with the fancy degree. I built this business up from nothing and I know how to make it work.
Martha: But times are changing—
Carl: Yeah, Mom, you should think about taking your well-earned rest and let me run the business.
Martha: You run it? Run it into the ground, more likely.
Donna: Stop! We go with the regular run. I won’t hear any more about it.

Wow. And where does that leave You?

You might think that this scenario is far-fetched but it is based on an actual incident. Try to identify the mistakes this family is making. I will reveal all in the next post.

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