5 Things You Should Know Before Joining Your Family Business

Photo by Thomas BRAULT on Unsplash

The family business is the most frequently encountered and most sustainable ownership model in the world. Therefore, the odds are high that if you are reading this article you have at some point either worked for a family owned business or have been in business with one or more of your family members. However, working for your family puts you in a very particular situation: it can potentially be very tricky but also very fulfilling. The fact that you work with people you trust and have shared values with for instance is a factor that heavily weighs in favour of working with your family. On the other hand, it is advisable that if you are contemplating joining your family’s business, you be informed about some of the challenges you are likely to experience.

Here are some of my insights after working with my family for nearly a decade:

1. You don’t know your family

You might think that choosing the family business as a workplace means choosing familiarity. I have found this to be an assumption that is refuted: What many underestimate is to what extent family members can surprise us even after years and years of spending all our time with them. This is true when you transition from having a purely private relationship with your family to a professional one. In order to successfully integrate into the family business, be ready to be surprised. Do not expect to know your family members in the workplace. They might have very different reactions to matters of a professional nature than they would in private situations. Maybe they are more serious or more easy-going. Joining the family business means letting go of what you think you know and accepting that people you have known for years might surprise you.

2. Your family doesn’t know you

In line with the first point, the contrary applies as well: Before joining the family business, it is likely that none of your family members have ever seen what you are like at work. The shock might be mutual, and you have to grant them the opportunity to get used to you in a professional capacity. It is important to listen, really listen and not assume you already know what the other person thinks about you. What is key here is to review your body language and not slip into expressions that are too familiar in the workplace. You might make your family members or non-family colleagues uncomfortable without intending to.

3. You don’t know the business

If you are anything like me, then you grew up in a house where everyone always talked about the business, planned for the business, and worried about the business. For years, I felt like I had a pretty firm grasp of what it was my family company consisted of. When I joined, however, I had to go pretty much back and redefine that understanding fundamentally. Helping out part time or during the summers was helpful in creating a firm grasp of what my family’s business values were, but it did not prepare me for the daily workplace routine of our company. I had to accept that like any non-family member I would have to learn everything from scratch and earn my family’s and co-worker’s respect. If you recognize this early on, no one will call you entitled or accuse your family of nepotism because your attitude will display the right amount of respect for a new workplace whether it is run and owned by your family or not.

4. You will change your definition of success… many times over!

Family businesses are known to be long-term thinkers. In fact, they are usually characterised as putting in efforts towards sustainability because they always have the next generation in mind. If you come from a different, maybe a corporate environment, you will have to get used to how a family business defines success. This does not apply across the board, but many decisions might seem strange because they take into account not the next year or two but rather the next decade or two. Success for a business that should stay in the family is defined by different parameters, which are not always only in the now as they are to benefit the future generations.

5. You won’t be able to separate work from emotions, so don’t even try

Many experts will tell you that a successful family business manages to separate business from family and emotions from the workplace. Personally, I think this is an illusion. Such a separation is barely possible in a work environment that isn’t owned by your family, let alone one that is. Going in with the expectation that you will be facing a lot of emotions is realistic and will prepare you for those times when family and business concerns overlap and things get irrational. And, trust me, they do!

Overall, I highly recommend the family business experience to anyone who has the courage to face the disillusionment as well as the overwhelming joy it can bring.

This article was originally published in Apex.