The Spotlight is On You — Managing expectations within the Family Business

Over the 25 years that we have worked with families and businesses, one of the truths constantly coming up is just how much family members are watched in the business. The spotlight on them. It does not matter if you are the boss’ daughter leading the business or the second cousin’s third aunt once removed. If you are family, people in the business are watching you and what you do, what you say and how you say it. They are learning what is OK and what is not OK and their antenna for a double standard is on ‘high’!

Frankly, there is no getting away from this — you are family working in a family business and they are taking their lead from you.

This is both a blessing and a curse!

The opportunity is that you and all family members working in the business are an ongoing source of reinforcement of what the culture is in the business — be this work ethic, way people are treated, respect levels, etc. Whether they are driving the forklift of running the board, all family members are simultaneously and continuously cultural ambassadors for the business.

The curse — well, it’s exactly the same. If family members are not behaving, not following the rules, then cynicism levels rise and the culture plummets. Again, do not underestimate how much people are watching.

On top of this, there may well be assumptions that you got the job not because you are smart and wonderfully qualified, but because you are family (just think, for example, of all the media discourse around Hollywood’s nepotism babies). This is why we stress merit for family members so strongly as a key to business success. Not only do you have to follow the rules and be a role model, you really have to perform.

Finally, there is the risk that people may not be as honest or as up front with you, “cause you’re the boss’ daughter” or some such thing. You may be treated as some sort of protected species. When it comes time for robust conversations, frank discussions, brain storming, they may hold back thinking they need to “say what the boss’ daughter wants to hear.”

Faced with this challenge, what do you do?

Initially, there’s little you can do about these perceptions except be aware and on the lookout for them. However, over time there is a lot you can do. It can be broadly summarised as “family members working in the business need to work harder than any other employee and uphold the rules and standards to the letter”.

So, how do you, as a family member working in the family business manage the expectations and perceptions placed on you by your colleagues? And how do you manage the expectations and responsibilities your family have of you?

1. Be Aware People are Watching You

As mentioned above, having the awareness that your co-workers and colleagues are closely watching your behaviour and actions at work is critical. So as an informal ‘cultural ambassador’ by dint of being a family member — use this to demonstrate what is expected. As retired Australian Army General Mick Ryan said, “the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept”.

2. Behave Appropriately at Work – you Represent the Family

Below are some things to consider regarding appropriate behaviour when working in the business:

  • Watch your timeliness in terms of getting to work and leaving. People watch this closely.
  • Maintain respectful interactions.
  • Do you job to the best of your abilities.
  • Admit your mistakes and sort them out—this is a fantastic role model.
  • Be conscious of what you post on social media and how that will reflect on the business and your family.
  • Treat your colleagues how you wish to be treated.

3. Work Harder than Every Other Employee

Working harder than every other employee in the business is a great way to help prove you deserve to work in the business. This could include:

  • Meeting every deadline.
  • Gaining extra knowledge to improve your work standards.
  • Continuously improving — e.g. Find ways to improve how things are done.

4. Clear Expectations for Family Members Working in the Business

There are expectations for family members working in the family business coming from multiple areas. These include employees, the family, clients, suppliers, banks etc. It’s extremely useful for the family to have clear expectations of family members behaviour and work ethic who work in the business. This is usually one of the sections in the family charter.

5. Culture in the Family Business

Culture is one of those overused and often ill-defined aspects of any business or family. However, we all know how important it is. It’s utterly intangible and can be a difficult to change. We know when it’s great and when it’s awful. Knowing how to change it is another story. However, it is clear one of the levers for both maintaining culture and changing it is the behaviour demonstrated by family members working in the business. By being aware of this and being clear around expectations you can make a significant impact.

To discuss this or anything else family business, please contact Philip Pryor on

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