“I’m sure you’ve never seen this before” or “Is this normal? No one else can be going through this as well – can they?” These are sentiments I hear far too often from my family business clients.
Family businesses often think they are different and that no one else can be going through the same challenges as they are. However, based on my experience working with family businesses, no matter the size, industry, or generation (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) family businesses tend to have similar issues or concerns that stem from combining both family and business.
Recently, the Canadian Association for Family Enterprise in Ottawa (CAFE) held a panel discussion about their Personal Advisory Groups or PAGs. These PAGs consist of 8 – 12 people (all working in family businesses) that get together on a monthly basis to discuss both personal and business in a confidential setting. CAFE ensures that there is no conflict of interest among PAG group members and that there are no family members in the same PAG so they feel like they can share without having to censor themselves.
After moderating the panel discussion, I realized the main benefit of these PAGs are the fact that you have a group of people you can speak to about the challenges you are facing on a day to day basis in your family business. They will listen without judgement because many of the members have been through the very same thing in their family business. The ability to share with other individuals that are also trying to combine family and business can open your eyes to realize YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Trying to combine family and business, which inherently have 2 very different goals creates certain challenges such as:
- Letting go
- Differing expectations (Opportunity vs. Entitlement)
- Management succession (Who makes decisions? How is that decided? What happens if the current leader dies?)
- Ownership succession (How will the shares be transferred from one generation to the next while maintaining family harmony?)
- Fair vs. Equal (Whether it be related to compensation or shareholdings)
- Communication (At work and at home)
- Grooming (Is the next generation ready? If not, what am I going to do about it?)
- Governing the family and the business
When family members work together for many years without a comprehensive family business succession plan and clear expectations there are often a lot of feelings and issues that go unresolved. Being able to discuss these issues with a PAG in an environment of trust and mutual support, while knowing all discussions are 100% confidential can really help a family business member to feel better and less burdened. Speaking to others that have been there can also lend new perspective and ultimately help family businesses realize they are not alone and that in fact, there are many others facing the exact same issues they are.
Finding an organization or network like CAFE that allows you to share your experiences with individuals in a similar situation can help you feel supported and will provide you with a group of people you can rely on for honest help or feedback.