10 Tips to Improving Communication in a Family-Owned Business

Differences and disagreements between family members in business together are virtually inevitable.

The constant contact in both work and family settings and the difficulty of separating business relationships from family relationships are just two of the factors that can bring feelings to bear and disagreements to the forefront in daily business operations.

I have worked with family-owned businesses for 15 years and communication is always (yes, always…) listed as a primary challenge.

The level of severity ranges from “annoying” to “excess use of power and manipulation.” Simply put, communication is not easy in a family owned business, but it is critical to the overall success and satisfaction for those organizations.

Developing your communication methods can help you and your family find a balance between efficient daily business operations and achieving a healthy balance outside of work.

How to Enhance Your Family Business Communication

If you and your family are committed to a business together, but struggling to communicate effectively, here are 10 tips to assist you turning that challenge around.

1. Set Clear Boundaries

Start with clear boundaries on business and personal or business and family.

Decide together when business will be allowed into your family or personal life. I recommend that you have “business hours” and only discuss business during those hours.

My client Matt says he leaves the family business at his door each evening when he returns home and picks it up again when he leaves each morning.

This is harder than it sounds.

For so many small business owners, life is work and work is life. Be diligent here. Keep your commitments to separating the two. When you do discuss business, leave any “family baggage” out of the communication.

2. Consider Your Values

When in discussions about arguments and misunderstandings with family owned business members, it is common for me to ask, “What is most important to you in this situation?”

Almost without fail the answer will be, “That we retain our relationship(s) as a family.”

The translation is that a wide majority of family-owned business members value “family” over the “business.” That concept alone means their value system as a family prioritizes the family health and well-being over work, career, or business.

Family businesses that make family values such as “inclusion”, “unique contributions”, “respect”, and “caring” a part of their business and business communication find it improves their ability to communicate and their satisfaction rate with their business overall.

3. Play the Role You Have Agreed To

In the family, you may be a father, daughter, wife, or son.

In the business, you have a very different role.

Be sure to play the role you have agreed to when communicating in business.

If you are the youngest child but the President, you still have the most power. If you are the father but have agreed to consult, then play that role and do not expect to be the final decision maker.

This also means to respect the role of others. It is not easy to lead in a family owned business, as it requires the respect and support of every staff member, family or not.

4. Listen and Be Open to New Ideas

Listening begins with a willingness to see the point of view of the other party or parties.

Be careful not to assume your position or answer is the only one, and be open to hearing and considering that the other person(s), even if they are the daughter you raised and still think of as your “little girl”, may have a new, fresh, better idea.

New ideas are born every day and your experience, while valuable, may be trumped by the knowledge and perspective of a younger, less experienced, individual who has no preconceptions.

5. Written Communication

Family members who own a business often see each other in person regularly inside and outside the business. They tend to share ideas on the “fly” or over the dinner table, often discussing matters that relate to the business.

Although less formal verbal communication about the affairs of a family business plays a role and is appropriate, written communication cannot be overlooked.

Written communication within a family-owned business works to ensure that all persons are on the same page regarding major decisions as well as changes in day-to-day operations. A family owned business can avoid misunderstanding which can easily occur by putting it in writing.

Recap family dinner discussions in an e-mail or changes agreed over a weekend game of golf in a memo. It will save time and ensure everyone is in sync.

6. Meetings

Informal communications like those mentioned above should never take the place of regularly scheduled business, management, or planning meetings.

Meetings in a business of even as few as 2 persons are important. They should be pre-scheduled and held as agreed.

A family business requires the same types of structures associated with any other successful organization. These include regularly scheduled and special meetings to discuss and resolve issues.

During these meetings, everyone should be given time to be heard. The family hierarchy should not come into consideration in a family owned business meeting.

7. Communication Guidelines

Agreeing to and creating a written process or protocol that guides internal communications in a family business assists in ensuring the appropriate conveyance of information. The process need not be complicated.

For example, they can include a description of how and when information regarding the circulation and approval process for proposals or notice for closures and vacations. They should be clear on how and when they are circulated, leaving no key person in the business left out of the decision-making process. This is often accomplished by a simple “initialing” of a document by all parties.

Whatever your process, be consistent.

8. Facts Versus Feelings

Recently I had a client tell me they couldn’t believe their sister, President and founder of the organization, had not considered them versus a ten-year manager for a new officer position.

This young man had joined the firm less than two months earlier straight from college graduation and admitted he could not qualify for the position had it been offered by any organization other than the one owned by the family.

Still, he could not help but feel he should have been considered and it should have been discussed with him now that he was an employee of the family business.

In this case, this junior member with no ownership was letting his feelings get in the way of the facts. That is easy to do in a family-owned business and the perfect reason why facts, not feelings, should be the basis of communication.

9. Keep Your Agreements

We tend to be less committed to promises we make to family members. That is true in life and in a family-owned business.

We know they will “love us anyway” and we take advantage of that. This can get in the way of progress and create resentment between family members and business partners.

When you schedule appointments, keep them. When you agree to deadlines, deliver on them. When you promise follow-up, send it. And always be on time as if the meeting were an airplane that will not wait at the gate for you to arrive at will.

10. Take Responsibility for Yourself and Your Actions

Typically, the first thing we deal with when addressing this issue is the use of “blame”.

Rather like some of the excuses I heard as a mother, “He started it!” or “I only did it because he made me,” communication among family business owners seems is always the fault of the “other party.” Take it from me, it takes two to tango!

That is why in my tips for improving communication in a family owned business my final bit of advice is to turn the mirror on you.

Take responsibility for doing all you can to improve your communication with others. If you follow the tips above and make the changes needed to be a better communicator, the communication just improved 50%!

Effective Communication in a Family Business

Family owned businesses have served the world for thousands of years. They were the foundation of life in a simpler time and will likely be the lifeblood of our future.

No matter how big the world gets or how vast today’s global scale marketplace, family working with family to serve others will always have a place in our economy.

Learning to communicate with each other better will make each and every one of those ventures more productive, profitable, and satisfying.

Business Tips from Sherry Jordan

Communication is a key component to an effective business strategy.

Mastering your communication skills can benefit your daily business operations. In a family-owned business especially, it can improve the way your business runs as well as benefit your family relationships outside of the business.

To receive personalized advice for improving your business operations and developing a strategy to achieve future goals, reach out to Sherry Jordan Coach today!

 

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