Another Family Business Paradox

Jennifer Pendergast

Where is your family’s focus?  In the early stages of a family business, the family must focus its efforts on the success of the business.  Second generation members often share that the business was the child in their family, absorbing all the time and attention of their parents.  While it can breed resentment, this unwavering dedication may be required for the business to survive.  And, for most families, the success of the business is imperative because it pays for their basic needs. 

As the business becomes established and thrives, the success of the business will actually depend upon shifting focus away from the business.  By no means do I suggest that the business should be ignored. Rather, the needs, expectations and aspirations of the family must be considered simultaneously with those of the business.  Clarifying these needs, expectations and aspirations will actually contribute to the survival of the business. 

How so?  Once the business proves to be viable (e.g., it can attract customers, it can compete effectively, it makes money), family owners have the opportunity, or perhaps more strongly stated the responsibility, to set a long-term vision.  This vision defines what they are in business to achieve, what parameters or constraints they will place on the business and what values they want it to represent, among other things.  Articulation of a commonly held vision by the ownership group ensures that the family owners are aligned with the business.  Without the owners’ commitment, the business is unlikely to succeed.

Think about where you are in your family business evolution and where you are focusing your attention?  If you’ve gotten beyond the stage where the business requires 100% of your focus, maybe it’s time to start focusing on the family.  Continue reading this week for more thoughts on creating a family vision.

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