A Big Question, Well Worth Considering
Given the number of family businesses out there, you’d think that the question in the title of this post is pretty common.
Unfortunately, it is not asked nearly as often as it should be, at least not out loud.
This is not to point fingers at those who never took the time to properly consider the question, because if I were doing that, the first person I’d need to point at is me!
I write about all sorts of topics relating to family enterprise here, and yet this one, which seems to involve a very important “go / no go” decision, isn’t one I’ve written a lot about.
Forced into the Family Business
I did write Forced into the Family Business back in 2018, and if this post interests you, you’ll likely want to read that one as well.
When I re-read it just now, this line jumped out at me:
“This assumes that both sides are getting what they need out of it.”
That’s worth thinking about in this context, because if it isn’t going to turn into a win-win situation over the short-, medium-, and long-term, then the answer should probably be a firm NO.
You don’t want to end up in a situation where you somehow get stuck in a place that you cannot get out of, and believe me, it happens, probably more often than you realize.
Some people in these positions even have difficulty admitting it to themselves when it occurs.
(If this resonates, check out the book, Trapped in the Family Business, by my friend Michael A. Klein, PsyD).
Things to Clarify Before You Enter
Because you don’t want to end up stuck, you need to make sure that you clarify a lot of matters up front, before you commit.
I’m going to assume here that we’re talking about someone who is at least in their mid-20’s and who has already begun their work career with a job elsewhere.
Otherwise, please go and re-read Forced into the Family Business, which clearly lays out my thoughts on going to work in your family business as your first job, right out of school.
None of this is rocket science of course, and if you think about this choice just like you would consider and ask questions about any other job you might want to pursue, with any other company or organization, you’re already off to a good start.
The biggest problems arise when people “leap before they look”.
Employees and Ownership
A key consideration that cannot be overlooked is whether the family company has already decided on whether being an owner of the business, now or in the future, is contingent upon working in the business full time.
Some companies are very firm on this and are well run because of it, and others sometimes end up in a situation where they wish they had imposed this rule. But it certainly isn’t pervasive, and is usually worth considering at some point for many families.
Responsibilities and Reporting
Among the key matters to clarify before joining the family business are what you will be responsible for (the “what”) as well as to whom you will be reporting (the “who”).
Make sure you discuss this in advance, and don’t just talk about your first job there, because presumably you will be there for a long time and handling different roles over time is almost surely part of the plan.
It’s also usually better for you to report to someone who is not related to you, inasmuch as that’s possible.
Is There Enough Room for Everyone?
Another question to consider is how many other family members are (or will be) also working there.
A situation that can arise is one where there are just too many family members involved and they start stepping on each others’ toes a lot.
Maybe it’s not a good idea to have “everyone” working together, even if you all get along well. Working together may change that, and not in a good way.
The Frog in the Boiling Water
Most people have heard the story about the frog who entered the pot when the water was cool and then couldn’t jump out when the water started boiling.
Most such frogs would probably look back and wish they’d asked a few more questions about the water temperature that they could expect going forward.
The time for asking questions and having deep discussions is before agreeing to work in your family business.