The in-laws usually don’t own any of the legal stock in the business but many times they own the even more important– emotional stock!
When I was young and climbing my way up the ladder at Walsh Bros. you can be sure Karen (my wife) was asking lots of questions about how the business worked, how career advancement happened and how conflict would be dealt with if it came up. Oh yeah, did I mention Karen worked there at the time? That’s a story for another day!
I believe one of the best places a family business can aspire to go is to talk about and practice the best practices of successful family businesses. I was fortunate in our family business that RJ (my grandfather) had set the tone and the precedent that we were going to be a “business first” family.
What that meant was that there were clear guidelines and expectations about how the business operated and how people were compensated and promoted. By having consistent and clear expectations it made it less open to debate and discussion.
So when Karen and I would talk about our family business challenges I could point to the published values of the company and talk about what those values looked like in everyday action.
I encourage families to get out in front of the family conflict by creating venues to talk about the family businesses values. We work with clients to have those conversations in family meetings or family business retreats.
So many families are afraid to “open Pandora’s box” with a family meeting but if planned and executed well the family meeting can be a great strategy to get the dialogue out in the room. So much family conflict can be averted when the business leaders can calmly outline family business best practices.
Most turmoil and disappointment for in-laws stems from lack of knowledge or unrealistic expectations about the family business. Most spouses who have not grown up in a family business might have more grandiose or lofty visions for family business family members. Most of us who grew up in the business have had more time to get real expectations about life in the family business.
Unhappy in-laws can be an ingredient that makes for unnecessary stress in the family in all areas; the business, the family holidays and the board room. Smart families get out in front of this landmine with proactive and powerful communication.
Many families appreciate letting someone from the outside be the calm and courageous voice of reason. When they hear it from me (or another advisor) they can take the information without the personal baggage.
Also, walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. It’s not easy being an in-law in a family business! Most people weren’t raised in and around a business so don’t be too quick to brush the in-law aside as being unreasonable or combative. Take the high road and help educate and manage expectations.
Do your family and your business a favor and create venues to talk about your family’s values and what it means to be in the family business. Don’t leave your family member home alone to work on that with the in-law all by themselves!
Strong family business leaders lead the way and diffuse the landmines before they cause harm!