Many of Ireland’s best restaurants/ pubs/ eateries are owned and run by families, some third and fourth generation and beyond. They weather storms, innovate, get bigger and better and collectively employ thousands of people across the country. They are critical to the economy and the social fabric of cities, towns and villages. Not all family businesses are so lucky.
The definition of family is ‘a primary social group consisting of parents and their offspring’ yet another is ‘ a group descended from a common ancestor.’ Whatever way it is described, the business that is termed a ‘family business’ has a unique chemistry not seen in corporate entities. Being an ‘offspring’ of such a family business and with decades of experience of working with family businesses, a number of commonalities seem to be present.
However, what makes the family business so powerful in it’s perfect form and yet so destructive if it all goes pear shaped? The business world is littered with the savaged corpses of family businesses leaving a trail of destruction that can infect generations to come. When fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins and other kin decide that the business is just not working for them, the consequences can be unforeseen and bitter. When sifting through the ashes of a once proud and profitable business, it can be almost impossible to accurately pinpoint the cause. Was it a throw away comment that was the final straw, was it the failure to follow through on promises, was it a round member of the family being shoved into a square hole, was it one person shouldering it all or was it simply terrible communication all the way through?
If you are running a family business, how robust is it in times of the greatest flux for decades? How clear are the lines of communication? How many family members are as qualified as they need to be to hold the role/ shoulder the responsibility that has been given to them in the business? Are they being supported to carry out that role? What will happen if the business needs to grow? Are there family members that the business is ‘carrying’ because they don’t fit in anywhere else? What would happen if the founding member was out of the picture? Would the business carry on seamlessly? What would happen if you were not there?
Are there family members working in the business that you would not employ if they came in off the street looking for a job?
What parts of your business are working really well? What parts of it are causing stress, causing that gnawing feeling that you simply cannot control it? Are those parts related to family stuff?
We put up with stuff in families. We may make excuses and turn a blind eye. We tolerate stuff that causes stress- because ‘that is just Johnny or Julie’; while employees wonder what is going on.
A business is a business and all business rules apply. There are some simple processes that can be part of the business operation that safeguard against the family taking down the business.