How Can Defining Roles Save Your Family Business?

The origin of the word ‘role, can be traced back to the 17th-century French word “role”, which referred to the roll of paper on which the actor’s part was written. Today, we know this as a ‘script’, and its purpose is profoundly important, and yet so simple: to clearly spell out the part that a person was to play in a specific situation. By David Harland – Managing Director of FINH

This was underscored by British director, Alfred Hitchcock, who said, “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.”.

Whether in a family business (or in a production), in order to be a success; defining the roles and responsibilities for each member is crucial in creating a culture of professionalism, personal responsibility and accountability.

While the principle is clear, the practice is sometimes harder to implement. Here are five steps for creating clear roles in your family business.

Define it and Write it 

A role in the context of business, is a specific description of what a person has been appointed to do. To expect great results from a person appointed to a role, you first must be clear about what is required of them. Defining a role requires a two-way discussion. Only through dialogue can misperceptions be ironed out so that each family member understands clearly how they fit into the business as a whole and what they are accountable for. A written document serves the purpose of capturing this discussion for future reference and performance measurement.

Be Professional 

Given the dynamics of family and work roles, it is easy for conflict to arise. These can stem from overlaps in areas of responsibilities, expectations, and even different approaches to authority. However, a prime source of conflict in family businesses is when one person crosses over the personal boundaries of another.

To avoid this, it is important to engender a culture of professionalism and respect between family members in the workplace. Avoid making comments about the personal life of a family member in the context of the business. Business discussions should be about business and family discussions should be about family. Keep things professional by maintaining a separation between the two.

Look Out for Warning Signs

In any family business, there are always warning signs that indicate problems before the negative trend becomes too disruptive to the business. It is always better to act sooner rather than later when these warning signs become visible:

  • Conflict over business, outside of business
  • Approval frameworks and company policies being ignored
  • Turf wars developing between competing members
  • Members absent at key meetings
  • Important decisions being repeatedly deferred

Get Expert Advice

Navigating the establishment of roles and responsibilities can create tension between family members especially when these roles have been poorly defined before. Impartial and skilled consultants can help a family business to navigate these tensions by keeping focus on the business requirements in spite of family dynamics. Experts can also help define accountability and performance metrics so that these are seen to be business imperatives rather than family expectations.

Empower People in their Roles

In addition to establishing roles and responsibilities, it is also important to empower team members to deliver. Provide training whenever someone is entering a new role so that they have all the tools they need at their disposal to succeed. This also creates a positive atmosphere and demonstrates a commitment to seeing people thrive in the roles they are called to play.

When roles in a family business are not clearly defined and people are left to work them out in an informal way, conflict is bound to follow. But, when the time is taken for a thorough approach to defining roles in terms of business needs, the whole business benefits from an effective and cohesive leadership team.

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