If you want your family business to succeed and win in the long run, at some point it needs to embrace professionalism.
A business has a life cycle like a person. It’s a toddler (learning to walk), a teenager (a bit rebellious), and a young adult (more stable).
We all know people that never grew up or never got out of the rebellious teenager stage. The same thing can happen in a business. Many of those people get stuck and end up not progressing intellectually, financially and emotionally.
Strong and sustainable family businesses learn how to move past some of those early stages and move into more professionalism.
A few family businesses I work with have resisted the idea of becoming professional or a bit more formal. I understand that. There is some reluctance or fear about growing up.
Family business owners think formality and professionalism will make them become a stodgy, impersonal corporation. They are afraid professionalism and formality will take away some of the personality and freedom of a family business. That isn’t always the case.
Our family business was very professional and we kept alive much of the best characteristics of our early years. Humble, young in spirit, informal and friendly. Even though we became more professional, we still had a strong, small family business feel with 300 employees! Our family was still able to make decisions the way we wanted to make decisions, not the way a big corporation or public company has to make decisions.
Great family leaders realize the importance of developing professionalism to help the business grow and evolve, yet keep some of the characteristics and charm of a younger family business.
So take a few moments and look over the following list. Take an honest view of where your business is and where you’d like to see it in the next several years.
Here are a few examples of professional and non-professional:
- Job descriptions
- Organizational chart with a path for staff upward mobility
- Performance reviews
- Mission statement
- Well defined culture
- Mix of both family and non-family professionals in leadership positions
- Defined processes with accountability for results
- Thoughtful compensation and reward programs
- Consistent ability to implement change and new processes
- Willing and excited to bring in new ideas and personalities
- Embracing diversity
- Shoot from the hip approach
- Inconsistent focus on improvement
- Tolerating disruptive personalities and non performers
- Lack of planning and execution
- Erratic and unpredictable in implementing new ideas
- Over-reliance on a small group of people and family members
- Static and unchanging in an unhealthy way
- Reluctant to embrace and bring in new ideas and people
So what can a family do if it is struggling with professionalism and wants to make improvement?
- Take an objective and realistic assessment of the situation
- Identify and prioritize areas to begin to improve upon
- Bring in new talent in key positions with people from more professional organizations
- Engage in training and educational programs to expand knowledge
- Discuss and decide what professional looks like in your business
- Be committed to the change and consistent in your approach
Don’t be afraid to grow and evolve. You don’t have to become something you don’t want to be. At the same time most of the family business owners I know deeply desire a long-term sustainable business.
Long-term success comes with good structural foundations that are rooted in professionalism. You can still keep your quirky, playful teenage personality and at the same time develop some consistent, more evolved processes that will lead to your professionalism and profitability.
Developing professionalism is an important part of our Family Business Playbook.
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.