Getting your employees on board after taking over a family business.

Getting your employees onboard after a transition of leadership in the family business.

Your family business has successfully transitioned to your leadership and you’re officially in charge of a team of employees. Now what?

Employee uncertainty and questions like “Can they really do the job or is this just nepotism?” make it imperative to be intentional about fostering your new relationship with your staff.

Transitioning into a new leadership role can be both exciting and daunting, whether you’re a seasoned executive or new to your field. When that leadership position happens to be taking over and leading your already established family business, getting employees to believe in your leadership can be a challenge. Like mergers and acquisitions, family business succession transitions can be a disruption to employees’ sense of stability and confidence in the workplace. Employee uncertainty and questions like “Can they really do the job or is this just nepotism?” make it imperative to be intentional about fostering your new relationship with your staff. How you handle the transition of leadership will have a huge impact on you, your career, and your family business’s future.

Best case scenario, you’ve spent years working in the business before taking over; worst case, you’re coming in cold turkey. Either way, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Here are four areas you should focus on to optimize and groom your employees to cultivate an environment reflective of where you’re leading them: You, Communication, Culture, Connection.

1. You

Okay, so I know you’re probably thinking, “Me? I need to focus on myself?”

Yes! Before calling a meeting with your employees, there is some internal work that must be done. The worst thing you can do is not be clear about who you are, what you bring to the table, and where you are headed.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my vision for the company?
  • Where are we going?
  • How am I going to get them there?
  • What is going to be different now that I am in charge?
  • What things are staying the same?
  • What is my style of leadership?
  • Why am I taking on the leadership role?
  • What is my commitment to my growth and professional development?
  • What is my communication style?
  • Why am I qualified for the job?

You may have answered some these questions during the succession planning process, but it’s important to revisit them through the lens of human resources. This will equip you with the clarity and confidence you need to lead your employees.

2. Communication

“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.”

—Robert Baden-Powell

Some say active listening is the most crucial skill in communicating and building your business. I’d say it’s the most important skill to foster trust and respect with your employees, especially after a transition of leadership. If you want employees to support you and your vision, employees must know that their expertise and opinions are valid. Not only will listening help you build stronger relationships with your staff, it will also help you groom and guide these employees to success in their roles, which will ultimately decrease turnover.

I’d also recommend conducting an employee survey to triage their thoughts about the company, the transition, and what they believe needs to be addressed and improved. The more valued and heard employees feel, the easier it will be for you to cultivate the environment necessary to execute your vision for the business. Consistent and prompt communication is key!

3. Company culture

“In an effort to define or redefine your company culture, you must triage what’s currently in place. What works? What doesn’t? Get rid of bad policies and keep the good ones.”

When you take over the family business, there’s a chance that the current culture will feel stale and outdated. And I’d even bet money that the current culture formed naturally without any real intention of defining it. Now, before you go throw everything out, you must acknowledge and respect the culture that got the business this far. In an effort to define or redefine your company culture, you must triage what’s currently in place. What works? What doesn’t? Get rid of bad policies and keep the good ones. I’d also recommend opening up the culture defining process to your employees, so that you can co-create a new culture together. This will help to further build trust and retention. It also creates an environment reflective of where you are headed.

4. Connection

“The more employees feel connected to you, their colleagues, and their work, the more likely they are to trust your vision and your ability to groom them for the future.”

A puzzle doesn’t become a masterpiece until all the pieces are connected together. The same applies in the workplace.

Connection in the workplace fosters productive team collaborations, healthy work relationships, knowledge sharing, and business success. It’s imperative that employees feel connected to their work and the people they work with to ensure optimal levels of productivity.

Here are a few ways you can foster connection:

  • Team Building Exercises
  • Professional Development Training
  • An Employee Recognition Program
  • Prompt and Consistent Communication

The more employees feel connected to you, their colleagues, and their work, the more likely they are to trust your vision and your ability to groom them for the future.

Make no mistake—getting your employees onboard with your vision is no easy feat. However, if you focus on yourself, communication, culture, and connection, you will unlock the true potential of your employees.

About the author.

Lauren Miller is the Director of Business Development at Miller3 consulting, a second-generation consulting firm founded by her father. A daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and family business is woven into the fabric of Lauren's DNA. But not until Lauren's father became terminally ill did this reveal itself in a way that ultimately changed her forever.

Taking on the role as her father's caregiver came with the task of securing his legacy and preparing her and her siblings for his departure. She became a student of her father, learning his business, his life, but most importantly understanding her lineage—a 150-year legacy of entrepreneurship rooted in agriculture. Lauren learned the true meaning of legacy and how each generation has a responsibility to foster opportunity for the next. Today she works in tandem with her brother to build out the new era of her family business while using her experience to teach, advocate and inspire others to do the same.
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