George was a self-made man. He built his business from the ground up by working hard and sacrificing anything necessary to succeed. He dreamed of his son one day taking over the business and carrying on his legacy.
Jack, his middle son, was smart and hard-working, but did not present with his father’s typical tailored-suit style. Jack was a polished millennial hipster with tussled brown hair that fell just above his thick-framed glasses. Through his years working around the family business, he had learned how to carefully navigate the minefields of bureaucracy that come with working for his father.
Jack made his way past the front desk. “Good morning Carol.”
“Morning, Jack. Your father asked you to drop by his office as soon as you got here.”
Oh God, what now? It was going to be one of those days. He could sense it. Jack wanted to avoid postponing the inevitable so he immediately made his way to his father’s office.
George motioned for Jack to sit down. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be late again Jack?”
Jack turned his head toward the window. “I was here late last night finishing up the marketing plan. Besides, I called Sean. He’s my supervisor.”
“Yes, but I still run this company,” George scanned Jack’s face anticipating the chance to pounce on his rebuttal.
“What did you need to talk about dad?” Jack deflected. He wasn’t going to give his dad the chance. This was one of those minefields.
“I reviewed your marketing plan this morning that you spent so much time on. I need you to explain why you developed a campaign that has nothing to do with what we discussed.”
Jack fidgeted with his glasses. It’s what he did when he got defensive. He took a breath.
“What you want is outdated and won’t increase the awareness of our company. Sales will continue to be stagnant and our competitors will take our market share,” he blurted.
“So you’re saying I don’t know what is best for this company anymore! Is that what you’re telling me? I built this company!” George shot back.
George sat down, squeezed his eyes shut and crossed his hands over his chest. “I’m not having this argument with you again Jack.” He tried to make his tone lighter than his words. He failed. “I want an updated campaign on my desk today. The board meets at four. Can I trust you to get this done or do I need to get Sean involved?”
“Message delivered dad.” He avoided eye contact as she picked up his things and left the office.
Just like that of George and Jack, one of the greatest challenges facing family businesses is finding the right balance between management and control in a parent/child family business relationship.
It can be challenging for a father, like George, to disconnect from his role as a parent when managing a child in a family business environment. That’s due, in part, to the greater degree of control and oversight that is necessary as a parent. It’s also difficult for a son, like Jack, to feel respected in a family business when he continues to be parented in an office environment. Despite his efforts to be a contributing, effective employee, he’s still seen as just his father’s son.
Due to the nature of a parent/child relationship, underscored by the fact that the parent is often the company founder, it’s most often the parent who has the “upper hand” in a business setting. This kind of control is manifested in many forms. For example, some Gen 1s refuse to give their adult children access to vital reports and information of the family business. Or, like in George’s case, a parent refuses to accept new ideas proposed by their son or daughter.
In order to create a more stable relationship among Gen 1 and Gen 2 family members, it’s important to remember and implement the following three standards:
- Mutual Respect
The key word is mutual. Respect has to go both ways. That means a parent must value the business relationship with their child more than wielding power as a parent. A parent, as an employer, cannot do for their child what the child can do for themselves. And if a child wants to be treated fairly within his role as an employee, he must think of his parent as an employer and colleague, rather than a parent. The mental separation can be challenging, but doing so can strengthen your relationships in and out of a business setting.
A parent must recognize their adult child has the right to his opinion and influence within his given responsibilities. Likewise, a child should respect that the parent has more experience and knowledge of the family business. By recognizing the business role of each person, it becomes easier to work toward the end goal, which is to build up the family business.
Most often the breakdown in communication happens when feelings are hurt or pride has been bruised. This is especially true in a parent/child relationship, where it’s far easier to know what to say that will be most hurtful. The tongue has no bones, but it is strong enough to destroy both business and family relationships.
ReGENERATION Partners has successfully strengthened parent/child relationships in family businesses for more than 20 years. If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy business relationship with your child or parent in a family business setting, please give us a call. We can help you work through it and get your family business – and relationships–back on a firm foundation.
– Authored by Elle Hansen