The old adage “separation of church and state” might at first sound like solid advice when it comes to family and work life, but the benefits of a clan working together toward a united goal might surprise you. YouInc investigates what advantages exist when running a family business and how those who do make it work.
Although it might not be obvious, approximately 80% of all businesses in Canada are family-owned and are responsible for about 60% of Canada’s GDP per year.
Lorne Duncan is the President and CEO of Petroglyph Project Analytics & Consulting Inc. The firm specializes in civil engineering and project controls solutions, and is likely not known for being a family-run business. The Calgary-based firm employs nine across many locations in BC, Alberta, and Mexico. Petroglyph Project Analytics was formed in 1995 when Duncan became disillusioned with the public sector and wanted to form an agile, responsive consulting company.
“My experience in the public sector was to receive decisions by committee, and the decision process tended to be drawn out because of this,” said Duncan. “I wanted to be involved in a very dynamic environment working on a variety of projects.”
That dynamic work environment has a lot to do with his coworkers. Wife and VP, Professional Services, Jody MacLeod, daughter and office manager, Jessica Soder-Duncan, and daughter and data analyst, Emily Soder-Duncan round out the office staff. Duncan feels that a family-business workplace is the way to go.
“I have been in a couple of partnerships before and it is very often difficult to be aligned in goals and objectives,” explained Duncan. “While you get an opportunity to work with non-family members, it can be difficult in a small business to have partners that have different goals.”
Within a family organization, everyone is aligned to the goals and growth of the business. As a team with a strong bond, families can discuss issues at a very detailed level and manage difficult situations strategically. However, because of the strong ties involved, extra care must be taken when it comes to stepping on toes and hitting on personal notes.
“The challenge with a family-owned business is that personal issues can interject themselves into the daily operations at a different level than a non-family owned business,” advised Duncan. “The advantage is that these issues can be resolved much easier than otherwise.”
If you are in business with relatives, Forbes has a few good tips on how to make sure your family-run company thrives.
Use each family member's strengths
Establish boundaries early on and clearly define roles, responsibilities, and authority. This can often be the determining factor of whether a family business succeeds or fails.
Keep personal matters out of it
Because family members know more about you than your average coworker, it’s easy to feel tempted to lash out when situations get difficult. Leave your emotions at the door and be cognizant that your family members are your co-workers when you're at work.
Understand the generational divide
If generational differences between employees cause hiccups, make an effort to find compromise. While there are myriads of reasons why the newest technology may simplify some tasks, have an open mind to the wholesomeness of traditional methods of conducting business. Although the annual handwriting of thank-you notes to each client at Christmastime may take longer, it is valuable in retaining and building a unique rapport with repeat customers, too. Patience is a virtue and you may learn something by looking at things from a different point of view.
Divide personal and professional time
Run the family business differently than how the household is run. Set limitations for business discussions outside of the office to ensure everyone gets needed downtime.
Running a business with family requires discipline and planning, but can be worthwhile in the long run because of the strength of family commitment. For more on family-run businesses, check out the YouInc video series Start Fresh.