By Kristine van der Pas-Norenius
Business success and family harmony can seem difficult to achieve, especially when the next generation family members are vying for control. Here are some excellent tips for managing family conflict from an expert family enterprise advisor and a very successful family in business.
1. Acknowledge the Emotions
Emotions are natural to any family and when added to a “common asset” such as the family business, conflict can be perpetual, states Harry Martin, founder of Family Business Advisors LLC. In the video, “Sibling Rivalry – An Advisor’s Perspective”, posted by Business Families Foundation (BFF), a partner to CAFE Canada, Mr. Martin recognizes that a child’s perspective of how he or she was treated likely won’t change.
“Siblings have trouble separating the past from the current working relationship.”
According to Martin, “it’s difficult to change the character and personality of a grown person… particularly men in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s.” What do you do if you can’t change them?
2. Create Structures to Alleviate Conflict
Having structures, where outsiders are brought in with relevant, worldly experience and expertise can “help improve communications among siblings and develop a common vision for the family business”. Martin suggests structures such as:
- A Family Council facilitated by a Family Business Advisor
- Board of Directors composed of outside independent experts
- Ownership Group comprised of family members
The outside wisdom can help guide decision-making and cool emotionally driven tensions within a family.
3. Cultivate Family Values
What are those key tenets that are important to your family?
“You need to have the same mentality and the same approximate parameters” explains Phillipe de Gaspe Beaubien III in BFF’s video “Sibling Partnership: making it work”. de Gaspe Beaubien III’s family founded Business Families Foundation and owned Telemedia Corporation.
While it is natural that siblings will have different perspectives, nurturing your family values everyday can provide a common understanding for family members working in the business. At the end of the day, you are still family and you still need to talk to each other.
4. Organize (Leadership) Roles to Protect Family Harmony
de Gaspe Beaubien III recommends separating sibling roles so that you are in different functions, departments, operating companies or family enterprise organizations. Ensure the family member’s interests and talents meet the role’s competency requirements. For example, one sibling may be in charge of the operating company, while another is in charge of the family foundation.
“Having to fire your brother or your sister is the one of the worst things you can do.”
Having a clear structure, reporting and communication mechanisms and performance indicators will help create trust in each other’s role. “We don’t second guess each other or try to steer their ship”, shares de Gaspe Beaubien III.
It takes time and commitment to build family harmony and grow the family enterprise but you can do it. When you acknowledge that emotions will be present and cultivate your family values, you can apply structures to provide clarity and understanding and thus alleviate unnecessary conflict. In the words of de Gaspe Beaubien III…
“Invest in your sibling relationships both on a family level and on a business level.”