You’ve Decided Whether to Join the Family Business: Now what?
Once you have made your decision to either join, or not join, your family business for your full-time career, you are at a critical juncture. You need to take your first steps forward with care and think carefully about how you communicate your decision to others.
If you decide to join
Deciding to join the family business is the start of a new journey. To prepare for a successful career in your family company, you need to be thoughtful about your approach from the very beginning. Take the following steps to communicate your interest:
1) Involve your supporters. Consider who you need and want to support you on your path into the business. Tell them why you want to join. Describe your career interests and qualifications and how you think you could contribute to the family business. Ask them for their thoughts on your professional goals and plans. Request their support and thank them for it. This will spread the news that you are interested in working in the family company and show that you are being respectful and careful in your approach.
2) Learn how the hiring process works in your family company. Seek out family members working in your family business to learn about their entry process and career progression. Make sure you understand which individual or group needs to formally invite you to join the family business. Strictly follow the formal process that the inviters set for you. This will demonstrate that you respect the protocols of the family, the business, and governance bodies.
3) Keep others informed. You don’t want to surprise anyone with your plans or actions. The list of people to inform might include: your siblings, cousins, other key members of your generation, members of the senior generation, key non-family members such as executives or trusted advisors, the family council, the owners council, and the family office. As you are interviewed and tested, keep the important people and groups updated about your process more frequently than you think is needed.
As you move forward in the entry process, you can—and should—approach it professionally and seek clarity. Negotiate your role, your compensation, and other aspects of your job. Make sure to do so respectfully and in a way that continues to build trust and strengthens your relationships. Advocate for the use of clear and objective standards when it comes to determining the appropriate starting role for your qualifications and experience level.
If you decide not to enter
Deciding not to enter the family business might be the right conclusion for you. If you did a thorough and balanced assessment of your interests and situation, you are making a responsible choice for yourself and for your family and business. If it’s not the right fit for you to join and you do it anyway, it can lead to pain and conflict in the future.
At the same time, it may still feel hard to accept or difficult to communicate this decision to others. You might have some challenging conversations ahead of you. But you can do this!
As you discuss your decision with others, keep these tips in mind:
- Identify and share your emotions with others. You might be feeling some combination of sad, disappointed, guilty, anxious, or relieved. It’s healthy to recognize your various emotions to yourself and admit them to others affected by your decision.
- Summarize your analysis process and your reasons for your decision. If a conversation could be emotional, it’s always a good idea to have your thoughts and arguments written down.
- Acknowledge their emotions while maintaining appropriate perspective. Even if others are disappointed or angry, listen to their feelings. Show them you are sorry to disappoint them, but don’t exaggerate the impact of your decision. You are not abandoning your family. You have simply realized that pursuing your professional life elsewhere is going to be what is best for you. People will recover from the initial disappointment in time.
- Always share appreciation. Thank people for the chance to consider the choice of entering the family business and for their support along the way.
- Recognize and explore other ways to contribute and stay connected to your family’s activities. Just because you are pursuing your professional life elsewhere, does not mean that you cannot contribute to your family’s endeavors in other ways. Depending on your professional path and training, you could be an engaged owner, possibly serve on the company’s board, help the family with its philanthropic efforts, or be a member of the family council. Remember, you are on a team of people in your generation, each of whom contributes in his or her own way.
When it makes sense to hold off on making a decision—for now
If you follow a thoughtful and thorough process but still don’t feel ready to declare one way or the other, don’t despair! Sometimes it makes sense to hold off on making a decision (for now) and keep the door open.
It’s possible that something in the situation needs to change. Perhaps you see the possibility of either a significant change in the company, or opportunities that will be available to you in the near future, and you want to see how things unfold.
Alternatively, it’s possible that something in you needs to change. Maybe, you want to pursue other life objectives first. Or, maybe you want to work on yourself a bit more by gaining more experience, pursing more education, working on a relationship, or thinking critically about what you want for your life. In either case, do not wait forever. Windows of opportunity do close. Craft a plan with clear action items and deadlines, including a specific point in time when you will check-in to reevaluate the situation.
Craft a thoughtful communication strategy when it is time to share your decision with others. Consider who and how you will tell.
When sharing your decision, be prepared to discuss your reasons and your feelings. Listen well, be appreciative, be firm, and be respectful.
Stand confidently in your decision.