Mixing Family with Work

I often get asked: How in the world do you work with your family and still get along?  The answer comes down to one word:  RESPECT

My wife, Michelle, and I started this journey in 1984.  Both of our kids were in school and Michelle wanted to get back into the work force.  I was a sergeant in the Tempe Police Department at the time.  Neither Michelle nor I wanted to tie her to a fixed schedule so we went down the “let’s start our own business” path.  Michelle was a trained cake designer so we began with that.  One day I headed off to the credit union and borrowed IMG_2178three hundred dollars.  I will never forget coming home with three one hundred dollar bills and announcing to Michelle “start your business!” “Go get some business cards and cake pans and let’s start.”  Thus the journey began.

We have come a long way since then and it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.  As the business grew it also became a great place to employ our kids as they went through high school and college.  (Go Sun Devils)

When I retired from the police department, I settled in to working full time at Special Moments.  It had definitely grown and needed someone less in operations and more in management to oversee daily growth and activities.  Now keep in mind I was trained in management in a para military environment.  How is this training going to transfer to the family business?   I think you can see the perfect storm brewing!

Fortunately for us, that didn’t happen.  The storm passed us by for several reasons.  The first was my interest in modern management styles and my passion for being my own boss.  For years I read books on management and I became very proficient in marketing and sales.  I knew that if I was going to fit into our business I would need to have a different skill set than Michelle.

As time goes by, Dawn graduates from ASU with a marketing degree and Brad graduates from there a few years later with a finance degree.  They both decide to stay on and help grow the family business.  Why not, some day they will be the owners! (Not in the near future I hope.)  In my mind we now have a perfect storm in a different way.  A marketing person, a finance guy, a Martha Steward type (with a better attitude) and me the guy that spent most of his other career in supervision and management.

What a super combination you are probably thinking.  Not so fast… add the family dimension to the formula.  Young adults set out to make their mark on their chosen careers.  Bosses help them along the way.  What if the boss is also dad or husband?  In my old career at times we just had to let people go when we couldn’t see eye to eye on performance.  You can’t fire your wife and business partner or your kids for that matter.  (Well you could…but that probably won’t go over well when you get home.) It takes a great deal of thinking to succeed at this.

The first rule is to do what you are good at and stay out of the way.  Sure there are times you have to be the boss but that is only sometimes.  You have to let people on your staff (family members) fail and not take it personally.  Learn the one minute manager approach.  Try to handle problems quickly without being a pain in the butt.  I can’t say I’ve always done that but I try.  AND DON’T BRING IT HOME!!!!  If you do, get it out of the way fast and move on.  The difficult part of the process is working as a family is a great blessing and curse at the same time.  When you have problems at a nonattached workplace you speak your mind, take action, move on and then go home.  Not as easy when the problem is involving your spouse or kid.  They don’t always take direction in a positive way and you don’t always give it in a positive manner.  But as time goes by the blessing part begins to show.  All parties get better at what they do and then the benefits of having dedicated and trustworthy people on your team shows.  The other blessing is you always have each other’s back.  Helping with babysitting issues or sick days, vacation time, you get the picture.

There is a tradeoff here as the business develops.  Your kids are going to take over at some point so they have a great deal to say about how the company gets built.  More so than a regular employee does.  However the tradeoff is buy in.   Here is where the word “Respect” is so important.  As a family, we respect each other strengths and allow for opinions that shapes our futures together.  We enjoy watching our successes and equally feel the pain of our failures.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

In summary:  Let your family members have their own identity, try not to always be right, get out of the way, don’t bring it home and don’t make it personal.  Enjoy the ride, watch your kids, yourself and spouse get better at working together.  Bask in the benefits and brush off the difficult times.  Respect what you all bring to the table and enjoy the ride.  By the way, I was just talking to my daughter Dawn.  I believe you may get her take on this topic real soon.  Stay Tuned.

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