Family business management – five ways to improve family engagement

Diligent recently sponsored the second annual Family Business Transitions Mexico Conference, held in early June in Mexico City. Meghan Day, Field Marketing Director for the Americas, hosted a panel discussion on how to keep family members that are not employees of the family business involved and engaged with both the family legacy and the business. Featured on the panel were Carlos Álvarez, Board President of Grupo Paisano, John Neretlis, President of the Family Council for Rowntree Enterprises, and Larry Putterman, a board member for several companies and CEO of Larry Putterman Consulting.

The panellists shared five approaches a family business should employ to create a more unified family, which in turn can strengthen the long-term success of the business and provide great insurance for future generations of the family.

Facilitate understanding of the business

Age and family generation are often two factors that are used to keep family members away from the business; however, the panellists concluded that it is never too early (or too late) to foster involvement and educate all members of the family on the business operations. This could be as simple as regular telling of the family business story, visits to offices or facilities, or scheduling visits with all family members amongst key employees of the business.

Build relationships across generations

While blood may be thicker than water, meaningful bonds amongst family members do not form instantly. Not only are regularly scheduled family gatherings important, but also family leadership must do its part to have personal interactions with other family members of different generations. Even a simple cup of coffee together can go a long way in building trust.

For families with strong bonds, the next natural step is to host formal family meetings or form a family council. Similar to a company board meeting, this structure allows for family concerns and decisions to be addressed in a formal and regularly scheduled manner.

Give everyone a voice

While formalising family communication is important, it will not be successful if that communication is dictated by one or two people at the helm of the family. It is important for family leaders to create opportunities to listen to other family members and a forum for them to ask questions. At first, this may take a lot of prompting of leadership to ask opinions and questions but according to the panellists, it is often the quietest family members who have the most new ideas to contribute.

Identify and vocalise the family’s values

Much like a company creates a mission and vision, the same exercise can be incredibly powerful for families with a business. Done correctly, it can impact the family’s personal decision-making but it can also translate directly into the operations and culture of the business. Sharing these values with family members and acknowledging the times they demonstrate these values can create a powerful tie to the business, even without being an employee.

Create a supportive family community

Through financial upheaval, economic downturns, or management changes, family is still family. For a family to better manage through inevitable tough times with the business, creating a sense of family legacy and strength outside of company activities is important. This could be activities associated with the family brand and values or through a family philanthropy, which highlight non-monetary accomplishments of the family.

While every family business is unique, the panellists agree that open communication is the most critical piece of sustaining success.

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