Where the holidays may be a hot spot for family issues, spouses working together in business create opportunities for conflict throughout the entire year.
Marriage vows speak to commitment during “richer or poorer and sickness and in health.” Managing personal finances, sacrificing and nurturing individual needs for the sake of the union, and disagreements about replacing the toilet paper makes building a rewarding marriage – work. Throw in the demands of a competitive high-risk working environment, if not managed right, it can put a strain on marriage like nothing else. The bonds of love, commitment, and understanding are challenged by business demands of leadership, market changes, differing styles of management, employee, vendor and customer expectations, performance, and profit. Just as in marriage, because of the work involved to create a successful multi-unit franchisee business, many find partnerships too difficult, which can be observed in the rates of sales and buyout because it’s not worth the brain damage.
Because of the complex challenges of both marriage and business partnerships, dynamics between a typical married couple working to maintain harmony and drive business performance can easily create excitement, distractions, and often organizational dysfunction. In the initial stages of building the business, leadership issues are simple. Both parties understand if there are serious marital differences of opinion, the business could fail, and everyone loses. However, after the business grows and supports the desired lifestyle, the independent ambitions of marital personalities can begin to create business chaos.
Regardless of the role each individual fills in the organization, due to the dynamic of marriage, their managers, employees, and vendors often distorts the relationship between the operating spouses. Employees and vendors, just like children, can easily identify a marital side of greatest opportunity an attempt to manipulate circumstances through patronizing differences in personality and perspective. The probability of business issues polluting marital harmony or creating mixed messages; means even on a good day business productivity is a toss-up.
If a married couple is committed to maintaining equal/or unequal roles in an organization, for the sake of the managers, employees, and future of the business, the owners should shift from the informalities common of a family business and implement formal governance structures such as:
Developing and integrating a formal organizational structure of business officers such as CEO, president, treasurer, etc.
Establishing “Operating Covenants” between the spouses that are similar to the promises of marital covenants. Operating Covenants can provide a framework for how a married couple respects one another and the chain of command in the workplace, avoids triangulations, empowers managers, and works out differences in private.
Often, at The Rawls Group, we are asked to solve discoloration after the paint is dry. The best way we have found for an owner/business partner(s) to deal with conflict between operating spouses, is to first look in the mirror and ask, “what have I done wrong; what inappropriate marital accommodation have I made that is causing business problems?” Invariably both spouses are part of any marital problem, either as the perpetrator or as the peacekeeper, who did not want to create more family or business issues through confrontation. You must understand your complicit role in the development of this problem before you can initiate any program to change your spouse’s (partner’s) behavior. Otherwise your emotional bravado may be equivalent to volunteering to serve on the bomb squad without training.
Fundamentally you cannot change the dysfunctional behavior of an operating spouse unless you are willing to do what you have previously been avoiding. Your self-assessment may give you the clear pathway to resolving the issues being presented by your spouse. And unfortunately, if you are not willing to make these changes it is unrealistic to anticipate that an outside advisor or family therapist can do it for you.
If you determine that your spouse is acting logical as a spouse but illogically as a business operator, discuss the specific behavior. Conversely, if they are acting logical as a business owner but illogical as a spouse, discuss that behavior as well. Then point out that it is very easy to get wires crossed and point out The Family Business Conundrum: you cannot run a business like a family and you cannot run a family like a business. Express to them that the only way to successfully operate a business is continual rebalancing between family and business priorities. Then endeavor to discuss balancing and make this a frequent topic of your marital and business discussions.