Hey, it’s Laura stepping in for Brent this week…

The Outsiders
I’m the “outsider” of Perpetual Development. What I mean is, I’m not related to Brent in any way, shape, or form. I am the only non-family member working for the business. When Brent and I talked about this blog, he challenged me on using this term, concerned that it may have a negative connotation. But the truth is, no matter how long I work for Brent and no matter how close I become to his family, we will never truly be “family” and that is a boundary that is important for me to respect and understand. And, I’m okay with being the “outsider”.

Last year, I wrote The Outsiders: How Non-Family Members Feel Interviewing for Your Business. This year, I’m taking a fresh approach and discussing what it’s like to be an “outsider” WORKING in your family business…

Just like Brent, Trudy and Alyssa talked last week about the unique dynamics of working together as a family, there are unique dynamics that come when working FOR a family.

Two Words
If I could only use two words to describe working in a family business as a non-family member,  I would choose “with” and “balance”.

Working in a family business is really about working with a family. It’s about getting aligned or getting out. Yes, it’s true, if you can’t align yourself with the goals, mission, and vision of the family business, it’s probably best you leave. It’s only when these elements align that you can be mutually successful and satisfied.

Brent did a great job of facilitating “The With” when I was hired. He created opportunities for me to get to know Alyssa and Trudy directly so that I could work with them successfully. He also spent a good deal of time with me, explaining what he saw for the company over the next 10 years. Any time something happens or changes within the business Brent takes the time to communicate with me directly regarding it. I always feel as though we are on the same page and that I’m aligned not only with the company but also with the family that makes up the company.

Working with a family business requires balance.

Some days you are part of the family and some days you need to separate yourself and recognize that you’re only an employee, and that needs to be okay. In fact, I like to embrace the fact that I’m an outsider. I appreciate the fact that Brent, Trudy, and Alyssa only know what I share with them and that there aspects of my personal life that I don’t have to bring to work. I like that my unique experiences help bring different perspectives to the table.

Outsiders have the distinct opportunity to play the role of the scale, or balance, in the office. We’re the ones who can step in and say, “Are you looking at that person as your family member or your colleague, and how should you be looking at them in regard to the situation?” As the “outsider” it is easy to identify when someone is thinking about someone as simply their family member rather than as a skilled professional, and you must help to bring that awareness. You can be the individual who points out when someone is looking at their family members as their mom/dad/sister/brother/son/daughter/etcetera, rather than as someone they respect in their role.

With Balance
When you walk with the family in balance you will find that the family, the business, and you are successful. This takes time. When I started working at Perpetual Development the “with” part happened quickly; I was easily aligned with their vision for the company, but the “balance” part took longer. I had to learn to be comfortable being the “outsider” while still voicing my suggestions. However, I eventually realized that the way individuals make themselves successful within a family business is no different than in any other business… you simply set a goal and work to achieve it. Once I realized what I wanted my role to look like within Perpetual Development, and aligned that with what Brent wanted for the role, I found it easier to have a voice and make significant contributions.

One of the things that make family businesses so effective is that the family members feel comfortable putting forth their unique ideas and perspectives… why wouldn’t you help contribute in this way and start figuring out where you fit in?

The Successful Outsider
A successful outsider is developed through communication and coaching from the leader of the family business, in my case, Brent. He continuously updates me on the business and communicates how my role contributes to the success of the business differently and with crossover from the family members. I never feel threatened by the fact that I am not family.

If you are a family business owner or leader and have “outsiders” working for you, the most important thing I can encourage you to do from the outsider perspective is to communicate. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s Brent’s level of communication and openness to my questions that has helped me feel confident in my role, my value, and my voice within the company.

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