Mothers & Daughters, Fathers & Sons

We've talked about not hiring (or being hired by) friends and family, yet one of the most common small business types in the U.S. is the family business. Obviously, for many reasons, if you can pass a business on to your children, it can prove to be a good move - provided that it's done right. By now, you've probably seen it done wrong at least once. (And there's no such things as doing it a little bit wrong, is there? Every example that I can think of from my own experience has been spectacularly bad. )

Here are some tips on doing it right. Write these down and chant them for the next month or so:
  • First, make sure that your son or daughter wants to take over the business. If they don't, don't push it. Remember: They are not you. Starting this business was your dream. They have dreams of their own.
  • Start them early and start them low. I have made it a practice to sit with the Customer Service team for at least a couple of weeks when taking on a new position. Everything, good or bad, eventually flows through Customer Service, and they often know more about what's really happening in an organization than anyone else.
  • If you can, rotate them through every department and job function. You learned the business by doing all of these jobs yourself, before you could afford someone else to do them. There is no better way for your son or daughter to learn them than hands on. Not only that: By actually getting their hands dirty, they will earn street cred with employees and open up communication pathways that have long been closed to you.
  • Just because you would perform a task a particular way doesn't make their way of doing it the wrong way. From what I've seen, this is the hardest skill for entrepreneurs to master: Shutting up.
  • Your child is going to make mistakes. Let them. If they do everything correctly, how will they ever know what to do when things go wrong? You made mistakes. Let them make their own mistakes, too, and profit by the lessons they learn from them.
  • Don't call them by demeaning names in front of employees. You know what? Scratch that. Don't call them by demeaning names at all. They are adults, they are employees, they will be the boss one day. Treat them with the same respect that you expect. I've never been "Davy". Would you like for them to call you "Old Fart" or "Evil Stepmother" all the time?
  • Let go. Don't hang on forever. Agree on a firm date that you will either retire or expect them to knife you, then stick to it. As long as you are around, employees will still go to you, no matter what title you have or what title you give your son or daughter.
  • Never, ever, ever countermand anything that your son or daughter says, ever. Even if it is wrong. Employees cannot for one moment think that they can go to you to get a reversal on a decision, or they will do it all the time - and vice versa. How would you like it if your spouse did that with every rule you set for your children? If you want your children to run the business, you have to be able to let go. If you can't, your son or daughter has to find something else to do for a living.
  • Make certain that your son or daughter takes (and passes) classes that are relevant to running a business, including as many management classes as possible. Leading people is a science; it can be learned. Working for you will only expose them to what you know, much of which may be out of date. Let them be exposed to other ideas, and your company will only benefit from the result. 
  • The first time your son or daughter has to manage a team, after they have had management classes, make certain that they have a mentor. Most first-time management positions do not include this. As a result, many employees who had excellent management potential floundered in their first management role. The mentor doesn't have to be at another company (although that helps), but they absolutely can't be you. The temptation to tell them what to do is simply too strong. LinkedIn and other networking groups are an excellent place to find mentors. I know that you want to impart all that you have learned, but the time to do that is before they became a manager.
  • Be supportive. You'd think this one would be obvious, but it's not. I have been in management positions where the original owner asked me to lie to their child about what they were doing because they knew that their child - who was the CEO (at least in name) - would disagree with it. Holy King Lear!

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