Kenyans are very enterprising and many are involved in some kind of business. The common practice is for different family members to run small, independent businesses (one deals in shoes, another one ladies dresses while yet another is in the green grocer business).
So, can family members work together to build a successful business?
According to Forbes magazine, Bidco Oil Refineries, the Kenyatta Family Business and Ramco Group in Kenya feature among the leading family businesses in Africa.
Leadership needs to be very strong for the business to survive through the generations. Putting leadership in place should therefore not be taken lightly and should preferably involve independent professionals to guide the family through the selection process.
Everyone in the team has different skills and expertise to bring on board but not everyone is a good leader. Selecting the right leader will make or break the business. The leader needs to have vision, to anticipate change that comes with growth and to plan for it.
Some family businesses fail because of selecting the leader based on the family relationships rather than competence. Being the eldest brother in the family or the father does not necessarily make one the obvious leader of a family business; skills and experience do.
Many family businesses fail because they are operated like relationships rather than as businesses. No official working hours, no properly designated working space, no official documentation of anything including operation procedures, job contracts, roles and responsibilities, disciplinary measures, salaries and benefits and other expenditures.
Allow as much discussion about the expectations as possible especially in the initial stages. Never ever work on assumptions. Clarify expectations as early as possible.
Everyone needs to be on the same page about the running of the business. Everyone can face disciplinary measures and can get fired. The fact that they are family members does not mean that they can break rules and get away with it.
Performance expectations and disciplinary measures must be understood from the beginning. With a clear leader, this should be easy to handle. It should also be clear that the family and the business are two completely different entities.
Keep Family and Business Apart
As you set up a family business, do not bring in just any family member simply because they are idle or available, or because they are facing financial challenges and need income.
Someone must be qualified for a job before they can be selected to fill a post. Suitability is about many things ranging from academic qualifications to personality. If someone has no track record of being productive, do not go into business with them.
Do your research well and come up with a workable organizational structure. Do not create positions to take care of available family members but rather identify the skills and expertise the business needs and identify if anyone in the family has them or you need to outsource.
Keep Track of What The Competitors are Doing
Have very frequent evaluation meetings especially in the initial stages. Don’t base your success on irrelevant facts such as being in agreement. Evaluate using real results such as income from sales.
Never stop working on your communication skills. Be especially alert to barriers to effective communication such as assumptions resulting from too much familiarity.
At the end of the day, a business can fail or be sold but family will still be family so do not destroy your family in the name of business. Agree right from the beginning that you will keep family and business separate. Do not drag each into the other. If you are family away from the business, do not drag business matters there.
Susan Catherine Keter is a life coach, mentor, motivational speaker, freelancer and blogger.