“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, “ is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.
Often when giving a presentation about the challenges of running a family business, I use this quote to highlight the differences between the economic system we use in our family and the one we use at work. If you are the main bread-winner for your family, it’s not reasonable for you to use all of the income you produce for your own wants or needs. Resources you bring in are allocated to family members based upon their needs. Parents typically determine what is a “need” versus a “want” and set up a priority system. Once the basics of food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation and communication are covered, the question of where to allocate resources is answered by finding the greatest need. As an example of this, consider the family with a member who becomes ill and needs urgent medical care. A family will sacrifice almost everything to ensure the well-being of the one member. Once the member is brought back to health, however, the priority system and allocation of resources will change to fit the needs of the family as judged by parents. It’s a system that we are all used to and that feels natural and right. And it is socialistic by nature.
I’ll state the obvious: it’s important to make a hard break between our family and our family business. If a member of the next generation of a family business arrives at the workplace with an attitude akin to “Congratulations all who are here employed, I have arrived! Me of Royal Blood! Bow down and worship the future heir and bring gifts and resources to lay at my feet” we create problems for employees, family members and ourselves. At the family business, we must operate as capitalists, allocating resources based on forecasted return on investment and fit with strategic goals and culture. Employees who don’t perform according to expectations lose jobs or get demoted, regardless of relationship to the owners or managers. Those who do perform get promotions, accolades, corner offices, bonuses, perks, more responsibility and prestige.
So how can we successfully make the transition between home and office in a family business? How can we make sure that the Next Generation understands how important it is that the business can succeed only if it is managed by principles of merit and competition and performance? Much of the answer is found in creating a set of shared expectations and understandings with family members, employees and owners to define which behaviors and attitudes are acceptable and which are not in the scheme of the family business system. What does this mean on a workable, practical level? Tune in later this week for a specific example or two of family rules and policies that can provide immediate help in keeping family socialism at home and capitalism at work.
“I’m not sure I can trust my brother to handle that; he just hasn’t proven that he has what it takes,” a client said. Too often family members place responsibility for trust on the shoulders of the other person, instead of their own. Trust has come to mean focusing on what we expect, need or want from another. When we lose confidence in someone, don’t see eye to eye, or our expectations are not met, we tend to react. We don’t feel that we can trust.
If you don’t feel that you can trust a family member, consider stepping back and asking yourself some questions:
To what extent might there be a disconnect between your perception of that person’s actions and their intentions?
Might there be another way to interpret past events?
How do you differ in the way you respond to conflict and stress or solve problems?
How might you adapt your style to motivate the family member to be their best self?
Trust is a two way street – we each play a part. And we can only change ourselves.
So much distress in family centers on the notion of expectations. We have expectations of ourselves, our significant others, our family and our friends. We even have expectations of how events should go, such as birthdays, holidays, family gatherings. How many times do we set ourselves up with outlooks that we have and get disappointed when things don’t turn out like we had seen in our mind’s eye? How much discord in families is centered on unmet hopes?
In each area of our intra and interpersonal life, the ability to manage expectations will serve well. That is not to say that expectations are always dangerous; shared expectations around behavior, responsibilities, and outcomes can be quite beneficial, as long as they are agreed upon with a solid plan of achieving them. But so often our expectations are silent wishes, a testament to our own ego of how things should be.
Parents have expectations of how children should behave, perform, be seen as, etc. We think a child should be more outgoing, a better student, more of a leader, a better athlete and get disenchanted when they fall short. Siblings are disappointed in each other when they start the phrase with “He should” or “I wish she”. Relationships break down because they are built on what we wish for instead of what is. We hold plans in our heads that bring us satisfaction but include others who are incapable of (or don’t want to) meeting those expectations. We set others up to disappoint us, and then we get angry at them.
What is it about expectations that get us in trouble? Can you look back honestly at the disappointments in your life? How many of them are wrapped up not meeting the expectations you had for yourself or you had of others? How many family business issues are entangled in expectations in ourselves or others? How many times do we have to fight our dreams of what we thought would be, against what truly is?
Let go of and mourn the dream of what should be, and accept the reality of what is. Relationships will be based on acceptance and understanding, so important in families. What will happen is a better version of the dream than what was kept in the head.