Lessons I Learned Working For A Family Business

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It was not a conscious decision, but I went to work for a family business.  In fact, I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself into.  To be clear, it’s not all bad.  But different.  And complicated.  Sometimes messy.  Kind of like a family. 

Here are three things I learned.

  1. Peter Principle Is In Full Effect: 

“The Peter Principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.”

Examples of the Peter Principle were all over the place.  We would move people around.  And, they would fail miserably.  And, we would try them in some new role.  Repeat.

  1. Just When You Think You Were Out…

One of the primary reasons that the Peter Principle is really common is that leaving is not really an option.  You do not really resign from your family.  Or get fired from your family.

I have not held a lot of roles, especially compared to some of the resumes that I see with multiple one and two year stints.  However, I have never really considered being a “lifer” anywhere.  In a family business, a lot of folks are lifers.  Maybe it is not their only option, but it is the only one they will consider.

Second (and third, and fourth, etc) chances are common.  We had one guy, a family friend, who had been fired multiple times.  And rehired.

Also, you will find a lot of people, who will really only have one experience on their “resume”.  This is not to say they are not competent.  It is just to say, they will only have one perspective.  Which can make driving organizational change difficult.

  1. Work and Play Blurred

The lines between work and play were very, very blurry.  Or maybe the right way to say that is, the lines between professional and social were complicated.  For someone like me, who tries to separate work and life a bit, realize that you will be on the outside.  And viewed as a bit unusual for trying to separate the two.

Folks in the organization, who typically would not have the attention of the CEO, went on vacation with the CEO.  Or maybe lived with the CEO.  Or was married to someone related to the CEO.  And that worked outside the family of the CEO.  There were lots of relations – same last names, siblings, spouses, cousins, etc.  You get the point.  It is a very, very complicated organizational chart to navigate.