How To Create A Healthy Work Culture In A Family Business


This article was based on episode 131 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the guide to working with friends and family when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase full episode guides at themodernmanager.com/shop.


Is hiring a friend or going into business with a family member an automatic recipe for disaster? Despite all the horror stories of relationships falling apart after work-related blowups, my own experience growing up in a family business was a powerful and positive one. Chris Prefontaine, the best-selling author of 2017’s Real Estate on Your Terms and 2020’s The New Rules of Real Estate Investing, wholeheartedly agrees. Chris has worked in family businesses almost his entire life, from growing up in his grandfather’s welding business to operating a real estate business with his children since 2014. Chris shares with us lessons he learned on the ground for how to build a successful, healthy team when you’re working with family.


MAKE SURE EVERYONE FEELS LIKE FAMILY


Adding relatives into the mix with unrelated employees can easily stir up feelings of resentment and inequality amongst your team. In addition to having his son, daughter, and son-in-law on staff, Chris has eleven employees who are not related to him. To help everyone feel like they are on the same playing field, Chris makes a point to consider and refer to his entire team as family. He consciously aims to treat each person like family as well. For example, on his company podcast, Smart Real Estate Coach Podcast, he runs “FamilyCast” with his non-related team members so that his listeners can meet them as well.


BASE ALL DECISIONS ON YOUR MISSION AND VALUES


One of the challenges with hiring family or close friends is the risk of differential (or preferential) treatment. To counteract this, set and uphold a clear mission statement and core values for your company. When all decisions connect back to mission and core values instead of personality or gut reactions, there is less room for bias to sneak in. When considering hiring a friend or relative, base your decision on whether they fit with your company’s mission and values instead of personal reasons.


Chris notes that it’s easy to make a list of core values, but it's a whole other thing to really keep them front and center in your team’s mind. In addition to selecting values such as respect or integrity, decide on related behaviors that demonstrate those values. Then, encourage those behaviors by making them front and center. For example, Chris’s team picks one value each week and publicly recognizes team members that exemplify those behaviors.


SET YOUR BOUNDARIES


If you are about to pursue a family business, Chris insists on making a clear separation between the challenges of work life and the sanctity of home. If a family member brings up anything stressful about work while at home, Chris’ family quickly redirects and shuts that conversation down, acknowledging that work topics need to stay at the office. To illustrate this point of keeping work and home separate, Chris and his son - who live across the street from each other - would regularly pull into their driveways after leaving work and jokingly yell across the driveways, “How was your day?!”


TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BENEFITS


Why go to all this effort to bring family and friends into a business? One of the core benefits Chris sees is the trust factor. Many times, we are more comfortable handing over critical responsibilities or private information to someone we’ve known for a long time, such as a close friend or family member. The long-term nature of our relationship and aligned goals also breeds a sense of security that we’re both working toward future success of the business.


For entrepreneurs, hiring family also provides an opportunity to set up a system of generational wealth. Furthermore, you can invest in your children and other relatives by giving them opportunities to try new things while supporting their development. Being a manager of a family business also gives you an added incentive to be bold. As Chris puts it, when you realize that your growth is limited by how far its leader will go, it pushes you to constantly be looking forward in order to get your family ahead.


MAKE FAMILY BUSINESS WORK


Working with family, just like any kind of relationship, isn’t automatically easy. It starts by ensuring both people are aligned and dedicated to making both the business and personal relationship successful. Most people who are hired by a family member or close friend want to succeed. I know I didn’t want to be treated differently for being the owner’s daughter. If I wasn’t cutting it, I’d rather move on than continue to struggle or receive special accommodations.


Overall, working with family or close friends can be very rewarding. If you are able to put the right measures into place, you can avoid some of the messy downside while strengthening your personal relationships and achieving professional success.


KEEP UP WITH CHRIS


Get the guide to working with friends and family when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.


This article was based on episode 131 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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