Friday, October 19, 2007

Working in a family business

From big companies to start-ups, a number of businesses in India are still family owned. Having family members work with you can be a huge advantage; on the flip side, you have to handle the dual nature of the relationship with greater care. The key to success in running a family business smoothly is to maintain objectivity, professionalism and adhere to the system as far as possible.

If you are about to become part of a family business – whether existing or new, pay careful attention to the following:

It is likely that division of responsibility is not always according to experience or capability in a business that is strongly family-owned. Patriarchs and senior family members will hold key portfolios or wield power informally, especially in the area of finance.

Given the Indian way of life, in which deference to age plays an integral part, you might find it difficult to express disagreement with those older than you. Confrontation will certainly not work, try consensus and consultation instead.

Expecting higher performance levels from family members can be tricky too. You might not be able to influence the older generation, but at least with the youngsters, implement a formal performance measurement system, the same as for other employees.

Choose partners carefully. If you are the one starting a new business, select your partners carefully. Are they professionally qualified, in tune with the company’s philosophy and as committed as you need them to be? Also, be sure to assign responsibility purely on the basis of ability.

Be objective in your decision making. In a bid to maintain relations, you might be tempted to go with the flow, maintain status quo or defer to elders’ wishes. It may be okay to do this for routine matters, but when it comes to taking a decision of importance, be objective, pragmatic and unafraid.

Don’t show any favours. The business will have other important employees, many of whom will have been around for years. It is important not to openly favour a family member, even if he or she is the brightest spark around, at the cost of hurting the sensibilities of other employees.

Separate the turf – that’s easier said than done. Be prepared for the relationship to come under strain at times. The trick is to ensure that it impacts the personal relationship as less as possible – assigning your spouse a set of responsibilities that don’t overlap with yours, is one way. If things look like they are going out of control, it is best for one person to opt out sooner rather than later.

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