It is safe to say that over 90 percent of all printing businesses are family owned. Most have bumpy roads and, frankly, do not understand why. Here are some thoughts.
Family life, even under the best conditions, is difficult. Business, even under the best conditions, is difficult. Combine the two and life can become extremely stressful. In fact, business problems do not simply add challenges to family relationships, they intensify family problems, often bringing out latent ill feeling within the family unit.
For example, if brother #2 always resented the perceived favoritism of his father toward brother #1, the formula for resentment over distribution of power (or perceived power) within the business is set. Now the issue of favoritism is no longer subjective; it involves money, authority, and prestige.
How does this happen? It is simple: Family members play out their familial conflicts on the stage of the business. Sibling rivalries, marital conflicts, and family rifts become open wounds in the pressure-packed cauldron of business. But there are some very basic things you can do help alleviate these issues.
Set & Maintain Boundaries
First, it’s essential for all family members to separate family roles from business roles. There must be boundaries. Family members should see themselves as trustees of the business, charged with doing what is best for the company.
Second, boundaries need to be reinforced verbally. Drop all family nicknames or references at work. Marlin should be addressed as “the sales manager” or “Marlin”—not “my brother”, “my son”, or “Junior.”
Why is this important? The obvious reason is that at work Marlin is not acting as your brother; he’s the sales manager. But there’s also another factor at work. We think in words. The more often we refer to family members in terms of their titles, the more the boundary notion is reinforced in our heads.
Make it Work
You need three things here:
1. A clear understanding by all parties that this is the way it must be.
2. A commitment from every member of the family to adhere to this rule.
3. Consequences for violating the rule.
Consider the last two components. If the company is run by the two parents, it is absolutely necessary that they agree and mutually commit to this boundary and the best-for-the-business approach. There is little hope for success if the parents are at odds over the children.
The last component is where we get into real-time reality. Too many parents are unwilling or feel too guilty to take the necessary measures—including dismissal—to enforce the boundary lines imperative to success. If the children fear no consequences, you will not get compliance.
Components two and three are why the thumping majority of family businesses fail in the second generation. As the parents step back and the children take over, the unhealthy relationships and behaviors bring the company down.
You don’t have to be a victim. But success takes courage.
Dr. David Claerbaut has spent more than 25 years consulting in the graphic arts industry. Contact him at 702-354-7000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.