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Juggling Expectations in the Family Business - By Kendall Rawls

Being in the family business is no easy task. You are juggling expectations amongst your loved ones from two different spectrum – family and business– as well as preconceived notions from managers, employees and vendors that you are likely enabled, under-qualified, and of course, grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth. No matter your work ethic, passion, and drive for the business; all family member employees are fighting the nepotism stereotype.

The term “family business” is actually an oxymoron combining two opposing perspectives. The “family” perspective drives unconditional acceptance based upon being born into the family. In contrast, the “business” perspective drives an environment of conditional acceptance based upon what you are doing to promote the family enterprise. As a result, the family business environment is fertile ground for ambiguous, confusing and, often times, unreasonable expectations.

Because of the family positioning and natural presumptions about business entitlements and pressure to balance both family and business expectations, family members employed in the business are not common-law employees; their status is complicated as they are simultaneously viewed from two opposing identities.

Deciding to enter into a family business is a big decision, because once you are in, it is not as easy as in a corporate setting to “just find a new job.” The drama that can occur of realizing business decisions may not fit personal dreams can feel like the “Days of our Lives.” Also, maturing in the business can be synonymous with sorted story-lines of child actors. Personal and business decisions are constantly scrutinized by family members, key managers and employees – and no one forgets.

Whatever reason led you to the business, as long as you are looking to bring value and fight the nepotism stereotype on behalf of all hardworking family member employees, consider the following as you navigate and balance family and business expectations:

  • Change is the only constant

Acknowledge everything has the opportunity to change. Your family member who may have been known as the bratty, overbearing, tattle tale, goody two-shoes, or the dark seed at one point all have the capacity to change – especially if these stereotypes were given in adolescence or due to a “mistake” made in college. As you work with family it is easy to assume one’s behavior based upon passed experiences, but take a moment and process if you are basing a 30-50-year old’s behavior upon a stereo type given when they were 7. With age comes maturity.

Very similar to giving your family members the benefit of the doubt for change, acknowledge you, key management, the economy, customer wants/needs, buying behavior, etc. all change.

  • Expect emotions

The family business environment is a hot bed for emotions. Fulfilling family obligations, honoring father and mother, getting along with in-laws, out-laws and siblings are dynamics that have made major television networks and movie houses billions of dollars. Accountability, profits, keeping up with market changes, fighting to be king/queen, launching new products/services are just a few dynamics that drive emotions in the workplace amongst passionate business professionals. No matter what – family and business are built by people. People are unpredictable, emotional and passionate beings – which can create conflict, but can also drive amazing things like creativity and innovation.

  • Give yourself and others a break

Managing both family and business dynamics is often times like trying to figure out a Chinese finger trap. Stuck. When you feel like there are no options, remember to give yourself and those around you a break. Step away from the situation – take a vacation with friends, enjoy a hobby, and take heart that working in a family business is not easy. It is very similar to running a marathon. There are very few people who are willing to give a marathon a try, even fewer people complete the training process, and even fewer finish the race. Those who ultimately finish the race know that every once in a while, you’ve got to give yourself a break and there are ups and downs on the journey.

A major part of this is also giving each other the benefit of the doubt and remembering that, even though it may appear you are on separate sides of an issue, you both want the same thing for each other and the business – to be happy and successful.

  • Find third party mentors

As explained above, working in a family business is complex. Assuming a relatively healthy family environment while growing up, the natural source of wisdom and direction is our parents. However, this becomes difficult if we are working closely with our parents and questions about career direction, conflict with siblings, or even conflict with parents become heavy on the heart. Finding a third party mentor or even a licensed family therapist can help provide direction and tools for overcoming internal and external conflict in a family business.

The balance between family and business is difficult to discover and delicate to maintain. Define your purpose in the business, work hard to earn your place and the respect of your colleagues, and remember that no family or business is perfect. There are struggles as either a family member employee or Successor, but whatever you define as your purpose, your reward is staying connected to a business you’ve known your whole life, fulfilling your professional passion, impacting your community for the better, and/or staying close to your family.


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Location (Map)

Atlanta, GA, USA
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