Mark R. Zitlin, Ph.D.
4901 Broadway, Ste 100
San Antonio, TX 78209
Consultation with Family-Owned and Operated Businesses
Why consult with a clinical psychologist for a family-owned business?
I can provide expertise in:
- Family Needs vs Business Priorities
- Negotiating Divergent Agendas
- Blocked Communication
- Conflict Resolution
- Establishing Boundaries & Role Definitions
- Generational Transitions
- Inter-Generational Communication
- Strategic Planning and Goal Setting
- Family Emotional Dynamics
Particular challenges arise when family members own and operate a business. Family dynamics frequently collide with the demands and pressures of the workplace, which can create problems that typically don’t occur in a business.
Take, for example, two siblings who still compete for parental attention and approval, no matter what the cost to the company’s success. Or, a mother working in the family business who is caught between keeping the business in the black, and keeping the peace in the family. Problems can arise when an adult child is unable to conform to the limits and demands of the workplace, who only sees their own needs, while blind to the needs of the business. Then there is the business founder who cannot bear to relinquish control of “his baby” to the next generation. Difficulties can also arise from outside of the business, when family members who have a stake in the business, and many opinions about the business, but don’t in fact work there.
There can be other problems. The “24/7 marriage” of the couple running both business and family can be especially exacting, and can be at risk for “togetherness overload”. Favoritism, real or imagined, can be a source of discontent for both family and non-family employees. Often, there are no clear criteria for hiring, and more importantly, firing, family members. Too often, family members may assume that “everyone gets it”, and so neglect to have scheduled business planning and problem solving meetings. The informal atmosphere of a family at home is usually very different from a business or workplace setting, where clear boundaries, defined roles, and more formal behaviors are the norm.
I grew up in a working family. Along with my brother and sister, I worked with my parents in our family business (printing and mail advertising) through my teens and early twenties. Later, as I developed my career as a clinical psychologist, I naturally found my professional attention drawn to the unique blend of challenges that go with the successful operation of a family owned and operated business. My personal experience of business “from the inside”, along with the tools I have acquired to help families solve problems in the clinic, and years spent listening to and analysing the business and workplace problems of my patients, now form the basis for my role as a consultant to business families.
Consulting with a psychologist can address these problems facing the business family and the family business. To insure profitability and sustainability, a consultant can help make distinctions among the differing priorities of ownership, management, and family. Once these distinctions are made, conflicts often emerge among these three perspectives, and have to be addressed. Ongoing consultation can also clarify boundaries and responsibilities, diffuse conflicts and rivalries, challenge long-held (but outdated or outgrown) perceptions within the family, address favoritism, or simply provide an objective perspective.
Below are some excepts from the Client Services Agreement that
I use when consulting with families in business:
“It is useful to distinguish my role as a consultant from my role as a psychotherapist. As a consultant to your family and its individual members, my focus will be on issues that affect the family’s functioning in the context of the family business. The often conflicting demands of family, management, and ownership are approached on a solution focused basis, one which is intended to be sensitive to the “psychology” of the situation while also paying attention to effective business practices. Thus the emphasis throughout the consultation process is on open communication, conflict resolution, role clarification, goal setting, family ethics, and the satisfaction of family members with the family, the business, and each other, while keeping a clear eye on the profitability and sustainability of the business.
The consultation process usually includes these steps. In the initial phase, I will meet with family members to determine the nature of the problem(s). This is followed by an evaluation phase, during which I collect data by interviewing individual family members (and spouses). This phase may take several meetings for each participant(s) in order to get a clear idea of everyone’s point of view and concerns about the business. Honesty and openness about ideas and feelings regarding the family and the business is vital for a successful outcome. However, a participant may on occasion want to discuss something “in confidence”. This can be agreed to; however, as the ultimate goal is to encourage open and honest communication among the family, those who seek such confidentiality will be encouraged to eventually find appropriate ways to discuss matters openly with the family.
Once the evaluation phase is completed, I will meet with the entire family (possibly at your place of business), present my analysis, and present my findings, and offer suggestions to address problems and issues that have been identified.
The findings of the evaluation phase are then acted upon. This may include efforts to improve boundaries between business and home; working through long-standing family conflicts (or outright feuds); easing the transfer of control of the company from one generation to the next; facilitating open and direct communication; problem resolution; clarification of lines of authority; clarification of individual roles (duties) in the business; accountability; fairness; and setting goals for the future, among others.”