Families, by nature, are involved in each others’ business. But where do you draw the line when it comes to your actual family business?
According to #b#Jane Adams#/b#, a business coach and bestselling author, boundaries are the first thing you need when it comes to the family business. Adams will present “An Examination of Family Business Boundaries” on Thursday, September 16, at 8 a.m. at the Madison campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Cost: $50. Call 973-443-8880 or visit www.fdu.edu/rothman.
Adams’ talk will focus on her recent book “Boundary Intelligence,” which relates personal and professional boundaries to family businesses. It is here, Adams writes, that profits and sustainability are often sabotaged by conflict between the needs and requirements of family members and those of the business itself.
Adams holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Smith College and has studied at Seattle Institute of Psychoanalysis and the Washington, D.C., Psychoanalytic Foundation. She began writing professionally in 1978 and was a journalist and founding editor of the Seattle Weekly newspaper. She also was an adjunct professor at the University of Washington.
A prolific writer who has written 11 books of fiction and non-fiction, Adams frequently visits the subject of boundaries in her blog, at www.JaneAdams.com.
Boundary basics. According to Adams, boundaries are “mental structures that separate the parts of our minds from each other and also distinguish our minds from other people’s minds.” These boundaries allow us to feel connected to people and remain autonomous.
When it comes to families, Adams writes, our boundaries allow us to operate as individuals in a tight group, and each family has its own dynamic that spells out how much individualism we feel. Some families are more intrusive (and more emotionally co-dependent) than others.
In overbearing families, boundaries break down easily, or never form in the first place. “One person usually speaks for everyone,” Adams writes. “No one’s privacy is respected. Ambitions to grow or go beyond the family are discouraged and seen as disloyal.”
At the other end of the spectrum, some families are so loose and individualistic that there is little communication. “There’s little sense of belonging,” Adams writes. Emotions are denied and appearances to the outside world become more important than actual family ties.
In both extremes, she writes, family business suffers. Either no one is allowed to think, or no one wants to talk to anyone else.
The family/business dynamic. Outside the extremes, all families veer closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. Explicit and implicit rules of behavior will determine where on the continuum, but they also determine what is done in the business itself.
“Many family businesses have mission statements that clarify their values, goals, and principles,” Adams writes. “But few have a boundary statement, which is even more important.”
According to Adams, a boundary statement formally draws the lines between what is family and what is business. “It protects both from boundary violations — the family from unwarranted intrusions on the business and the business from unacceptable demands from family members,” she writes. “It’s not just about leaving family baggage outside the plant.”
A well-written boundary statement recognizes that the needs of the business and those of the family are not necessarily or always the same, Adams writes. “It sets out procedures to be followed when, for instance, the problems of a family member affect not only the individual but the business itself — alcoholism or drug abuse, for example.”
But we’re a happy family. “Healthy family systems don’t necessarily translate to healthy business systems,” Adams writes. “For one thing, businesses put the best interests of the enterprise ahead of those of its people, even if it disadvantages some individuals. But families exist to nurture and support their members and further their personal agendas.”
This paradox is a source of great friction for families in business together. And, because non-professional relationships automatically exist in family-run operations, emotions often come to rule in a sticky situation. “Business decisions should be based on facts, not feelings,” Adams writes.
When the family business ruins family life. Adams offers a quick test to see whether your family is ruining your business and vice versa.
In it she asks how disconnected you are when you leave work for the day, whether you have “work friends” and separate “personal friends,” how often family problems cloud your work judgment, and how much slack you cut a family member who is having problems compared to the slack you cut others.
Adams warns that too much agreement and too much disagreement are not necessarily good things. And the higher you score on her test, the thinner your lines of demarcation are and the more likely you will be to burn out.
Major family issues. Families are supposed to revel in each others’ successes and share each others’ setbacks. But what happens when a major event like divorce hits the family business?
“Many people besides you and your soon-to-be-ex have a stake in the business,” Adams writes. “Managers, employees, clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, investors — even other local businesses.”
Separating reason from emotion when deciding how the business will continue after the divorce is key to making a positive transition, she writes. And she offers a few tips toward making the transition as smooth as possible.
— Clarify whether you can or should continue as business partners.
— Devise an exit strategy if you can’t.
— Continue to participate actively in the business but in different spheres, divisions or territories.
— Keep professional relationships intact when your personal life’s falling apart.
— Split up clients, accounts, patients, and key people when you both go it alone.
— Live with pre-nups, non-competes, and other agreements you made when you never thought this would happen.
— Get over having to share the wealth you created yourself.
— Deal with grown kids and their present or future role in the business.
— Transform conflict into cooperation so the lawyers aren’t the only ones who win.
— Know when your personal life is the public’s business and when it’s not.
When all is said and done, the keys to a successful family and a successful business are balance and level-headedness, Adams writes. You don’t want either one to bleed into the other, but if it should happen, know how to handle it coolly and professionally.