The Do’s and Don’ts of Working with Family

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Kathy Kolbe, @kathykolbe co-author of Business Is Business: Reality Checks For Family-Owned Companies. She is the global leader in discovering and accessing the power of human instincts. She has done the brain research to prove the relevance of her Kolbe Theory of Conation to individual and organizational success… For more info log on to her website:  http://businessisbusinessbook.com

SmallBizLady:  What are some of the most common misconceptions about family-owned businesses (FOBs)?

Kathy Kolbe: FOBs are often thought of as small, insular organizations. In fact, many are global, highly sophisticated enterprises such as major hotel and retail chains. The Trump business, for example. Other examples are: Ford Motor Co., Wal-Mart, Comcast, and SC Johnson.

SmallBizLady: What are the benefits and burdens of running an FOB?

Kathy Kolbe: Families benefit by sharing the joy of working together toward common goals – especially, if they are reached.  There is a great burden, however, of both fearing making mistakes – and worse when a Family Member’s action cause harm to the family name and its financial security.  Surviving FOBs have a pride in overcoming obstacles that is unmatched by publicly owned enterprises. Leaders of sustained FOBs are the unsung heroes of our economy.

SmallBizLady: How do people avoid bringing family member work relationships home?

Kathy Kolbe: Family Members trying to avoid bringing their personal issues into the workplace need to drop all use of family names (Mom, Pops, Sweet Heart, Sissy) at work.  Yet, at home, Dad is Dad. It’s got to be OK to use nick names and to tease co-working relatives about foibles you would never mention at work. The name you use for a person sets the stage for the different types of scenarios.  Your home life needs to be sacred.  While it is ok to vent about something that happened at work, never spend energy on solving business problems together at home.

SmallBizLady: Why is it crucial to assess potential family members’ values before bringing them into the family business?

Kathy Kolbe:  It’s crucial to assure all Family Members working in the FOB share basic values. Imagine how non family members interpret a brother brought into an FOB using the company’s petty cash to pay for his lunches, or an employed uncle telling off-color jokes in the office.   It only takes one noncompliant family member to tarnish the image of shared values

SmallBizLady: What are some of the boundaries you recommend family members set in their FOB?

Kathy Kolbe: Even if you are the boss at work, do not try to control non-work behaviors of family members. Avoid saying:

  • “We need you to come back rested from your vacation, so don’t do too much partying.”
  • “I don’t want you representing us until you lose weight.”
  • “Stop spending so much time watching sports, so you have more time to keep up with finance issues.”

Know when and how to separate the backstage from what you do and say in front of the curtain. Backstage you can make caustic comments to other family members, but audiences may not understand your personal jokes.

SmallBizLady: What are the four Action Modes to FOB problem solving?

Kathy Kolbe: According to the Kolbe Theory of Conation, there are four Action Modes and universal instincts that drive problem solving in both family members and non-family members.

What are the four Action Modes?

  • Fact Finder, which is how you gather information
  • Follow Thru, which is how you organize your life
  • Quick Start, which is how you deal with uncertainty
  • Implementor, which is how you deal with space and the tangibles around you

SmallBizLady: Why is it crucial for leaders to listen to next-generation family members? What are some of the ways to incite next-generation ambition?

Kathy Kolbe: If you don’t listen to their ideas, embers of the next generation they will move on to places where their ideas are valued. Best way to incite ambition in the next generation is by challenging them to earn everything they get (salary, bonuses, kudos, and sought-after opportunities).  As they learn the joy of creative problem solving, they’ll get hooked on doing more of it.

SmallBizLady: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to exit a family-owned business gracefully?

Kathy Kolbe: Don’t wait to be told you need to do it. Being aware of when the time is right comes with it being about the business, not about you.  Don’t drag out the process. Once you decide to do it – Do It! Once you’ve done it, don’t hang around. Move on to other fulfilling purposes.

SmallBizLady: What is the Golden Rule for working with family?

Kathy Kolbe:  Trust your instincts; knowing your natural strengths will help you navigate the business and the many challenges you’ll face along the way.

SmallBizLady: What are the most common myths or stereotypes that can cripple a family business?

Kathy Kolbe:  Things like gender and birth order. Your first-born son may not make the best CEO, and the baby of the family could very well take over the business someday. If you follow stereotypes such as these, you may be putting people in the wrong roles or you may be leaving your most capable family members out of the business – to your detriment. Build a family business based on natural strengths and instincts.

SmallBizLady: How do you know if a family member is the right fit for the business?

Kathy Kolbe: You discover their natural talents. For younger family members, they should go work somewhere else before joining the family business. When they finally decide to join, the business should add something to their life, and their natural talents should add something to the business.

SmallBizLady: If you work with family in one business, should you have them join you if you move to another organization?

Kathy Kolbe: It depends.  Just because you worked well together doesn’t mean it’s going to work in the next organization.  Make sure you’re working together for the right reasons and that the new organization uses each person’s natural strengths. If you’re running an established business, your family member may not be interested in joining you at a startup, which is a whole different kind of endeavor.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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