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It’s been said that there’s no business like show business. Although I have no doubt that Hollywood is in a league of its own, my experience is that there’s no business like family-owned business, and there are 32.4 million family-owned businesses in the United States as validation.
Family-owned businesses are the engine of the American economy, generating 78% of new job creation and accounts for $80 million jobs, according to research by Family Enterprise USA. Studies have also shown that approximately 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled. In fact, the greatest part of our country’s wealth lies with family-owned businesses; contributing 54% of the private sector GDP, or $7.7 trillion dollars.
While working with family can be rewarding for many reasons, it also proposes a unique set of challenges, including the ability to separate personal from professional lives. It takes practice and a lot of patience, but separating the two is vital to achieve harmony between home and the workplace. When my wife, Blanca, and I launched SOS Hydration in partnership with my brother, Tom, we knew it was imperative to the health of our company and our personal lives to be flexible in shifting from our traditional familial roles to those of our business.
Acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader is essential to the prosperity of any company, and partners with the expertise to fill in the gaps help to provide a supportive foundation for building a strong team. When establishing the roles in our family-owned business, we took into account our different personalities and learning styles, which were easy to assess due to the nature of our relationships.
As a result, we effectively manage a successful business together without personal feelings clouding our professional judgment. Here’s how you can, too.
Key skills to master
There are three key skills that family-turned-colleagues should master to maintain a neutral work environment and avoid conflict.
- Embrace transparency. Before going into business with family, have a vulnerable discussion together surrounding the collaborative dynamic you each envision, and set clear expectations to help achieve those goals. Make a genuine effort to remain respectfully straightforward in all of your business interactions, including triumphs, failures and uncertainties.
- Listen objectively. Ego has no place in a family-owned business, and as such, it’s important to leave your family dynamic at home. Colleagues who are related should apply the same respect and fairness to business dealings that they’d expect to receive, and strive to listen with neutrality no matter the topic.
- Trust each other. When you’re in business with your family, it’s necessary to place complete trust in one another’s abilities, decisions and intentions. This is why transparency and impartiality are invaluable — they are actions that breed trust. Likewise, having trust in yourself is paramount, and taking ownership of your actions is true leadership.
Working with family is not for the faint hearted, yet there are fantastic benefits in doing so. When family members consistently apply transparency, nonpartisanship and trust as the cornerstones of their family-owned business, it has the opportunity to reach its fullest potential and make a lasting impact.
Best practices for a healthy dynamic
In addition to the key skills for maintaining a positive and conflict-free work environment, I’ve also implemented what I consider to be the four core best practices for a healthy family enterprise.
Set clear boundaries. Work should stay at the workplace. Talk through the pros and cons of work at the end of each business day and then let it go. When circumstances arise that require business conversations outside of working hours, allot a 30-minute time limit to discuss and then commit to revisiting at an appropriate time. Weekends are reserved for real family time and work talk is restricted.
Stay in your lane. Everyone has responsibilities and everyone knows to adhere to them. This is when trust comes back into play; trusting each other’s process (and progress) helps to prevent disagreements and conflicting opinions.
Enjoy extracurricular activities together. Myself and my brother are former elite runners, and still indulge in a run together whenever we have the chance. Spending joyful, quality time together outside of work reminds us that we’re human and more importantly, we’re family.
Learn from the losses. Allow yourself to feel the human emotions of a loss or a failure that affects the business, talk about it together, and then move forward. Don’t allow business lows to jeopardize your personal relationships.
Last but not least, recognize company victories in their various forms to further strengthen leadership, unify a team and foster loyalty. When you celebrate the wins in your family-owned business, no matter how big or small, you’re driving motivation and deepening the connection between the family members that are invested in the success of your business.