Oh, the drama! The very word “Family” engages us all, at a visceral level. Whether it’s a light, dark, hot, cold, happy, sad, loved or lonely response, “family” always stirs some sort of emotional response.
The words “Family Business” engage us in several additional dimensions: emotional, intellectual, professional and financial. And from the outside they stirs us vicariously with the promise a spicy soap opera dealing with love and betrayal, greed and saintliness, naiveté and ruthless cunning, success and disaster. “Better thee than me” and, “There but for the grace of God ….”
While we like to think of family as a warm and loving environment, and we like to think of family business as a place where blood relatives and life partners enjoy each other’s company, out of the home, in an atmosphere of high trust and easy-going, shared prosperity, the reality is often very different.
Family Business can be a blessing, or a curse, or both. There’s no doubt that “the Good” are great – being fun, peaceful and prosperous. There’s also no denying that “the Bad” are lurching disasters that eat individuals alive while destroying everyone’s health, wealth and happiness.
In the final analysis, it’s not about who you are, or what you’ve got – it’s about what you actually do with your challenges and opportunities, as a family group – especially once the business has moved to a second, or subsequent generation.
The real question is not: “How much have you got?” It’s, “Can you make it all work, the way it needs to work, to support a happy family and a strong business – whatever that looks like for you and your family?”.
Making it work takes real focus and effort, the right sort of knowledge, and a fair dollop of luck. Talk to any long-term successful family – there won’t be many passengers on their Success Train – everybody knows what the coal is for, and where it’s kept, even if they aren’t all shovelling, most of the time.
And this is the essence of what makes a Family Business a blessing, or a curse. When family members enjoy working together to achieve individual and collective goals, their business becomes a medium for welding the family bonds stronger and tighter. But, when family members aren’t happily working together for both the common cause AND their own good, watch out … conflict won’t be far away.
People who own, work in, or inherit an interest in a Family Business can feel proudly energised. That’s great. But others can feel trapped, entitled or obliged to be there, for a huge variety of reasons. When such unhappy people are stuck in the pressure cooker that is their place of work, and it’s a place they really do not want to be in, and it’s made worse by their feeling trapped in with their siblings, cousins or parents, smouldering resentments will eventually become conflagrations. They just want for a catalyst to set them off.
The good news is that we think we now know enough about most of the common causes of family business conflict to be able to spot them in advance, or identify them as they happen. We can then take measured steps to prevent, avoid or manage them – reasonably effectively, most of the time.
We call them: “The 50 Common Causes of Family Business Conflict” although, perhaps surprisingly, there are actually many more than 50 common causes.
Because, as every healthy body carries an enormous number of latent, but potentially deadly microbes within, so every family business carries multiple seeds of its own success and failure, deep within its corpus. Care, skill, nurture and good management can make these seeds resilient, and help them grow tall and strong. Neglect, poor husbandry, and the failure to remove weeds and other noxious growths, inevitably leads to a bitter harvest.
This series of 50 articles identifies these 50 common causes of conflict, and explains how to deal with them.