Working in a family-owned business

September 24, 2018 By    

Today, family-owned businesses are recognized as important and dynamic participants in the world economy.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 90 percent of American businesses are family owned or controlled. Numerous propane businesses in this country started out as small, family-run businesses. Based on my consulting experience, there are opportunities and challenges with this business model. Regardless, people are your biggest investment and should be treated as such.

What is a small, family-owned business?

It is exactly that – owned by a family. Many big companies, like Walmart, are family owned, but for this article I will focus on the small companies. I have interviewed several employees who work in small businesses to get some feedback, and you will see their quotes throughout the column.

Teamwork: Working together to ensure customer and employee success. Teamwork puts people in position to be successful together, creates synergy and is motivating. There may be disagreements on procedure or next steps, but that’s OK. Teams need to work through disagreements to become stronger. I have worked with a lot of teams through the years, and when there are positive attitudes and people see results together, the sky’s the limit. One person I interviewed stated, “Employees have to wear more than one hat and must be cross-trained so there is always a backup to ensure the business flow doesn’t stop.”

Commitment: Owners and employees must have a firm commitment to one another. It must be OK for the business owner and/or the employee to admit mistakes and take responsibility independently or together. Customers see the commitment through service standards and excellent customer service. One employee I interviewed stated, “The mutual commitment lessens the red tape and allows for quick decisions that keep the business moving ahead.”

Leadership change: In a family-owned business, leadership might change over time. A family patriarch might retire and a new family member might take the reins. Employees should be prepared for potential change in how things are done and be open to a new leadership style. Be open to the change, stay positive through the transition and if the rules are different, roll with it.

Chances are, the new leader is quickly going to lean on your expertise and advice to be as effective as possible.

Recognition and respect: Longevity for employees is not uncommon in small business. Recognition can come in many forms – monetary, public or closing the office early on a Friday afternoon, just to name a few. Small businesses have a deep investment in their people; you become family and are taken into consideration when important decisions that affect the business are made. In many small companies, the business manages itself with confident staff, even when the business owner is not present.

Those of you who are owners of family-run businesses should think about the following:

    • Are there areas of opportunity that could be tightened up in your company?
    • Are there different standards for owners versus employees?
    • Do you lead change initiatives with your employees?
    • Is communication frequent and thorough?
    • Do you manage conflict in a timely manner?
    • Does your business run the same if you are present or not?
    • Based on my experience, my guess is that you might have a little wood to chop at your office. Take the steps that will deliver results and don’t forget to recognize your team in the process.

Ask Cathy Wallace of San Isabel Services Propane in Pueblo West, Colorado, about employee-related issues.


*Featured Photo: Bliznetsov

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