The unique challenge in family businesses is that oftentimes the business functions much more like the family than a business. Policy and procedures are undermined by family process, which can be more dysfunctional than functional. Management hierarchy and employee relations tend to reflect spousal conflict, ineffective parenting, sibling rivalry, malalignment of members, and/or alienation of non-family members. If these considerations are not quite obvious, they are subtle and subconscious influences, but pernicious all the same.
Parenthetically, it should be noted that there are five fields in mental health and human behavior: psychiatry, psychology, social work, counseling, and family therapy. Except family therapy, all are based in the study of the individual. In contrast, marriage and family therapy is based in systems theory, which is operational in such diverse fields as biology, communication, electrical engineering, urban planning and economic development. Oftentimes, the typical business consultant can be ineffective because their focus is the business rather than the family; quite possibly, these consultants, due to a lack of knowledge and understanding, exacerbate family relationships thereby causing the business more difficulties over time.
Furthermore, it should be noted that there are two levels of change. First order change is most often that change effected by management consultants. While it is appropriate and logical and makes an immediate impact, it can be superficial. In time, the older habitual behavior overrides the new behavior, leaving little, if any, genuine change. Second order change involves a change in the underlying values and principles of behavior. While this is less immediately obvious and takes more time, it is nonetheless a permanent change. It is this second order change that is the focus, goal, and outcome of a systems-based, family-oriented approach.
To be successful in consulting with family businesses, I think one must assess the degree of dysfunction or pathology within the family, address the effect of such upon the family, and renegotiate family process. Then, a healthier family can become a healthier, more efficient and productive business. Growth in the family begets growth of the business.
Whether it is a small father & son operation or a large corporation controlled by a family members, if you are a principal in a family business that is experiencing difficulties, give us a call to schedule a free confidential consultation with Dr. Rich. It may be the first of many excellent decisions for you, the family, and the business.