“We want you to be part of our family” is the common accolade. “We want to think of you as one of our children and we hope you feel the same. Make yourself at home and we will treat you like one of our own.”

To be considered a part of the family is a compliment in any social setting. You have standing. You can be counted upon and you can expect the benefit of the doubt. The more perceived social, political or financial power imputed to a family, the greater the compliment. Within the family business realm, being told you are a member of the family generally creates an immediate feeling of prestige reflective of the depth and breadth of the family’s business.

However, give thought to this recent experience. I was chatting with a Very Special Key Manager (VSKM) and seized the opportunity to ask why he did not seem overly responsive to his boss’ (the owner) repeated proclamation that he had earned his way into the family. It was apparent to me that the manager was not eager to become socially intertwined with his boss, his brother or his two children, all of whom were employed in the family’s business.

“Oh my,” the VSKM responded, “I did not know my reservations were visible.  However,   I am in a position to see how this family treats one another and I have no interest in adoption. I would rather be an outsider based on how the insiders treat each other. I respect them as business owners, but I do not respect them as a family. My concern is that one day this family will come unraveled and the business will be ripped apart and they will start to rip me like they rip beloved family.  My conclusion is that regardless of what a father would say or do to his children, he would do worse to me as an adopted member of his beloved family. I presume the only reason the old man has not started on me is that he does not know me well enough to assume that I will tolerate his crap. Family standing? No thanks! I feel more secure as an outsider”.

So let’s put this in perspective. Family is either an asset or a liability to a business. A family collaboratively pursuing business showcases the distinctive features of their family and business culture to managers, employees, vendors, franchisers, distributors, lenders etc. There is no hoodwinking anyone who depends upon the business regarding how the family respects and treats each other and subsequently may in a push treat them.  And as illustrated by the discussion with the VSKM, awareness of the family culture being communicated is very important.  When a “we torture our own” culture becomes distinctive, managers, employees and vendors become less attached to the business because they lack confidence that the business can continue to withstand this internal strife. This means the business has less resilience to stress and therefore less value. If family means a license to verbally abuse those most beloved, you can be sure that the family feature is a liability to business value.

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