Working with a sibling can be an exciting or nerve-racking experience depending on the pairing. Unlike other working relationships where the boundaries often start and end at the office itself, working with sibling is an omnipotent journey. One has to cherish and sustain the relationships not just at office, but at home and even on holidays and social events. From my limited personal experience and observation of businesses where siblings work together, I have gleaned six principles that are keys to sustaining a sibling led business.
- Define shared purpose:
Commit to a shared purpose and actively seeking common ground is keys to sibling business. Singling must have clarity of the purpose of their coming together and what business ownership means to each of them. Sibling businesses success requires siblings to focus on something larger than their individual focus. A superordinate focus makes it easier for siblings to accommodate loss of autonomy and collaboration rent each of them pays to drive the priorities and concerns of the business.
- Choose to play strength
Sibling businesses thrive when siblings complement each other and each plays to their strength. Someone could be strong with numbers and other with people or sales. Recognizing that perspective may be different from different functional view improves acceptance and tolerance of each other’s differences and avoid being judgemental. Zones of work for each allows room for specialization and space for “law of minimum distance” that is key to each sibling enjoying their value addition. Check your ego, and realize what is best for the business.
- Set expectations ahead of time
Clarity of who does what and how would decision happen is important to eliminate ambiguity and blame game. Successful business relationships have explicit business rules regarding who will fill what areas, how responsibilities are delegated and who is accountable to whom?. It is also important to define what kind of performance review will happen and who owns the outcomes?.
- Communicate frequently and openly
Communication is key to all relationships and sibling relations more so. Some siblings may prefer informal 10 minutes stand-up meetings each day, while others may hold weekly lunch meetings. Contrary to expectations, do not expect your siblings to read your mind. For partnerships to work let go of these assumptions and communicate clearly and openly, just as you would with a non-family business associate. Express feelings, ideas, disagreement openly in a respectful and consistent method. Frequent, open communications and good listening skills cement the fissures and keep the sibling relationships strong.
- Make participative decisions
For sibling business relationships to stay together, all strategic decisions including investments, on boarding relatives in business, diversification or partnerships must be thoroughly thrashed out collectively. Sibling businesses can also use extended platforms such as family court to keep away undue influence, improve transparency and collaboration. For large sibling business, a good approach is to have sibling code of conduct. This is a formal document that clearly details how exceptions will be handled, what financial information and decisions will be shared, relatives in business and succession.
- Clear compensation policies
An area that derails most sibling partnership is compensation. While as kids the siblings may have got same allowances, their compensation in business must be based on job performance. It helps to have a clear compensation policy to avoid unpleasant situations in future. It is possible to equal profit bonuses while salaries may differ across siblings, so that people do not feel exploited and underpaid.
Dr TR Madan Mohan