Philip Beyer realized his calling to business and leadership roles while still in his teens and established his first business in his early twenties. Currently, founder and president of Beyer Printing and Ebiz Products in Nashville, TN, Philip is also a business systems analyst and consultant, author of “System Busters: How to Stop Them In Your Business,” and InterTech award-recipient for designing and developing System100™ business process management software.
Small businesses are often owned and managed by two or more family members. In my work with systems, I’ve interacted with many management combinations at family-owned businesses—brothers, sisters, father and son, husband and wife, etc.—and I know first-hand the challenges they face. The main one is how to keep from permanently damaging relationships, as family members are in constant contact as they deal with the stresses of the business. That stress is especially magnified in times like these.
I’ve seen two sides of the coin in family-owned businesses:
Heads— Everything is great…making a lot of money…we’re the owners—call us in the Bahamas.
Tails—Everything stinks…barely making a living...too many chiefs—call us anytime day or night (we will be right here, stuck in the office).
There’s a workable solution for businesses afflicted with family troubles, and it’s not a flip of the coin that determines winners and losers. Winners are always seeking improvement—in themselves and the environment around them. And I’m not talking about trees!
So keep reading, and open your mind and your heart—begin seeking knowledge about how to build up an inheritance for those brothers, sisters, sons and daughters coming behind. Remember, it’s not about any ONE family member!
A sad thing to witness is, many second-generation business owners (or soon to be owners) don’t always appreciate what they have or are about to inherit—what their family has actually accomplished. If they are honest, they will consider how many people in America ever own a business, or even have the courage to start one—many with little to no resources.
If they are honest, they will come to the conclusion that precious few have what it takes to start a business, and even fewer can make it work past the fifth year! If it was easy, everyone would do it—everyone would own a business.
In the minds of some heirs, if everything seems to be coming up roses and it feels like they’ve hit the jackpot, it’s “HEADS—WE WIN,” with little thought given to what actually made the business possible to begin with. It can be dangerous when would-be heirs haven’t been properly prepared and trained to take the wheel. They are liable to drive the business into a ditch, with them having to leave the Bahamas sooner than expected and wondering what in the world happened!
But, when things are out of sorts and chaotic, and the business isn’t running perfectly, it’s, “TAILS—WE LOSE!” They just can’t seem to see the family-owned business as a blessing, or have the VISION to see —WHAT IT CAN BE!
I suspect some believe in blind luck—that they have no control over circumstances, company environment or outcome. They may be unwilling to go the extra mile and apply the same effort that built the “imperfect” business in the first place, and remake it in their OWN vision—maybe taking it from bad to good and then, as another blogger recently wrote, “Good to Great!”
Sadly, when WE lose, others also lose! The ugly side of the coin:
• For Non-Family Employees
Fear—not knowing who to listen to; who’s the real boss.
Feelings of inferiority, as some family members tend to lord over others.
Little respect for, or trust in, family owners .
Choosing sides with certain family members, causing uncivil war.
Little concern for quality, as some family members don’t seem to “give a rip.”
• For Family Members/Employees
“I don’t have to follow company policies—my name’s on the sign!” [If YOU can’t follow company policies, then change the name on the sign!]
“If my sister comes in late, why should I be different?” [YOU should care no matter how irresponsible anyone else is!]
“I hate this business—it’s all I ever heard about growing up!” [This business afforded those growing up years, and can raise YOUR family!]
“My mom and I just can’t seem to agree on anything, so I don’t care anymore!” [I’m sure Mom would be thrilled to go to the Bahamas and let YOU carry the burden for a change!]
“I’ve been working here since I was 12 and I’m sick of it! [Take two aspirins and decide what you want to be when you grow up. Your family business is a rare opportunity!]
Too great of expectations for them. [Employees take their cue from an owner. YOU decide how you want that to go!]
Envy between family members, causing resentment and lack of unity. [Leadership calls for maturity, cooperation, and the ability to recognize the value and contributions of another!]
Superiority complex. [Such a leader discourages willing followers who will enjoy seeing that person eat humble pie at some point!]
Power struggles due to pride. [How can I put it any better—someone once said, “Pride goes before a fall!”]
Does that sound familiar? What’s the answer?
Several things come to my mind. Surprise? SYSTEMS!
A written Chain of Command should to be established, even for family members, or many of the negatives listed above will hang around until someone in the family expires, retires or is excommunicated.
A Chain of Command is similar to an Organizational Chart, as they both establish the WHO in a company. However, the Chain of Command also establishes the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY—giving the WHO the authority to operate and delegate responsibilities within an agreed-upon set of boundaries.
The great tool for organizing daily responsibilities and establishing authority—the WHEN and WHERE—is a Daily Routine Checklist for each member of the family. With this system, you will be able to see—not ASSUME—what each person in the company does, and even approximately when they do it. This also helps equalize the work load.
“But, Philip,” I can almost hear you saying, “you don’t know my father and you really don’t know my sister. They won’t follow a system!”
You’re right, I don’t know them. However, I believe when most people clearly see policies, procedures, Daily Routine Checklists and other systems WRITTEN down, it instills a sense of order and professionalism that no one can deny. To take proper ownership, all family members need to play a part in building these systems.
If you, as a family member, will step up to the plate, become that leader, and begin the process of systemizing the company—you WILL see results. A leader is someone who serves others before serving themselves. When others see you have the heart of a servant, they will begin to follow your lead, become more involved in your improvement efforts, and, ultimately, become your witnesses to the success.
I suggest that FIRST you clean up the messes and disorganization in YOUR areas of responsibility, as much as possible, before attempting to interject yourself into the realms of OTHER family member.
Be patient, be committed, give grace where needed, and offer LOTS of encouragement. Most importantly—stay the course! It’s not just a flip of the coin—it’s choosing HEADS by using yours.
Have I mentioned? Great systems work!
Please don’t take a chance with your business by flipping a coin. Make time to read and watch the following: