Managing a Family Venture

Many businesses in Nigeria fail. Some business experts attribute this failure to one particular aspect of Nigerian society – including family in everything we do, whether it’s business, politics or religion. Yet, some of the most successful businesses in Africa are family-owned, such as the Dantata Group and the Ibru Organization.

If you are a family business owner, or thinking of starting a business that involves family members, there are steps you can take to reduce the problems that often arise from employing family members.

1. No Preferential Treatment

The organizational structure of a business is similar in structure to that of a family. As the CEO, you are the head of the business family and should strive to send the message that everyone is equally valuable to the organization, regardless if there is a blood association or not. Failure to treat everyone equally inevitably creates conflict in an organization and the perception of nepotism. Employee performance and productivity are likely to suffer, and your ability to lead objectively is questioned. If you want your organization to function well, let your employees know that family relationships do not factor in to how an employee is treated or evaluated.

2. Clearly Defined Roles

Each member in an organization should be given a clearly defined role and set of responsibilities. Businesses flourish when employees understand how their role contributes to the strategic mission of an organization. They remain committed to its growth when expectations are clearly defined, written, and effectively communicated to them. Create legitimate positions, along with job titles and job descriptions, for all employees, including yourself.

3. Open Communication

The moment you hire family members they become employees of your company and therefore, while difficult, the roles and expectations you have of those family members must be clearly communicated to them. They must understand that you cannot “play favourites,” and that they will be held the same high standards as non-family employees. Establish open lines of communication between yourself and your employees. Communicate your expectations openly and often. If problems arise, do not shy away from addressing them head on with the individuals involved. Let all employees know their ideas and suggestions are welcomed, and that they will also be held accountable for their actions.

4. Separation of Home and Business

Conflict with family members is bound to arise at some point, particularly if family members hold key roles in an organization. Often, those positions come with a higher level of accountability. This can lead to conflict when the CEO must question, and on occasion, call out those key individuals for their decisions. Family members may easily take offense and fail to keep the idea that “this is business” in perspective. While challenging, work to ensure that family members understand that in order for the business to prosper and for them to be successful in their roles.  However, your first responsibility is to your business and doing what is best. Additionally, it may prove helpful early on to establish a policy of never talking business outside of work with family members.

5. Leave the Drama at Home

Family conflicts in our personal lives are often unavoidable, and disagreements at home can occasionally find their way into work with family members. Personal conflicts dragged into work can fester creating a hostile work environment for everyone.While in the office, maintain a professional atmosphere, and by example, demonstrate that professional behaviour is the expectation that you have of all of your employees.