I was coaching some business owners this past week on growing their companies. One owner was discussing the need to manage his relationship with his father in growing his company. His older father didn’t always agree with his son’s ideas on growth. If my client (the son) had an idea he wanted to implement, the father would just disagree, or not follow through with the directives of the son. The father failed to recognize the necessary accountability that allows companies to grow
I spoke to the son about the subjectivity and objectivity of a team when trying to grow a company. It’s often taken for granted that a leader of a business is objective in their relationship with their team. This objectivity allows the leader to correct, train, support, hire, and/or fire that team member to meet the needs of the growing company. It is important to maintain this objectivity if the company is to remain healthy.
But family businesses often have subjectivity as a ‘side relationship’ while they are trying to maintain the growth of their businesses. And it makes growth more complex, confusing, and often times impossible to achieve. The successful growth of a family business depends on how objective the leader can be while working with their siblings, parents, or children. To be clear, it’s not that working with family is bad or wrong. It’s that these relationships can be highly subjective, often acting as a ‘trump’ card to any growth initiative proposed by one of the family members leading the company.
For example, let’s say a child is leading a company that a parent started many years ago. The child has just realized that if they are to build a healthy growing company, they have to price all clients consistently across the whole company and provide identical services to the clients. But the parent who started the company may have a special relationship with a client that is a ‘friend.’ And this friend gets special pricing and special consideration in receiving services. The child may require that the parent’s friend pay more for their services because of the child’s desire to create a healthy company. But the parent could ‘trump’ the son’s decision simply because they are working under the relationship of Parent and Child (subjective), as opposed to CEO and Partner (objective). The ‘trump’ card is played when the Parent switches the relationship to the subjective side. This hurts the decision of the Child who is acting as the leader of the company, and now has their power to grow a healthy company taken away. The company suffers as a result of this subjective relationship that exists in the company.
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Objective relationships are a cornerstone to building a healthy company. This is often assumed, but it’s worth stating clearly. Hiring friends, parents, siblings, or spouses can make growth decisions very hard. If you are in a business with family or friends, your best growth strategy will be to move these relationships to objective relationships as cleanly and quickly as possible.