Women in Family Business: Setting Limits

By Patricia Annino, J.D., Thomas Davidow, Ed.D. & Cynthia Adams Harrison, Ed.D., LICSW

My husband does not accurately assess the talents and weaknesses of the children who are working in the business. How do I voice my opinion?

Whenever you and your husband talk about your children who are about to, or already have, entered the family business, your respective genders, priorities and positions relative to the business will likely affect your differing views. Most likely you want your children to be loved and treated equally, while your husband’s focus is on the performance and how that should be responded to fairly.

As natural as it is for you to protect your family’s harmony, when you express that intention vis a vis the family business, it can create a significant problem. Children working in the family business are held accountable at a much higher level of performance that they ever have before. When they are students, they may have been forgiven for less than excellent grades-“I know you got  a C, sweet heart, but next time go for an A.” Once they enter the business, however, they arein a performance arena which doesn’t allow for repeated C’s and D’s and F’s. the focus of relationship management is how to get the job done. If it were otherwise, the business would suffer, as would your children, who cannot grow without being held accountable.

Delicate Balance

In order to talk productively about your children’s talents and weaknesses, it would be useful for you both to figure out how to assess their performance clearly, fairly and objectively.

What are the criteria?

What are the standards?

What are the performance expectations?

How can you know when they are being fulfilled?

Are their job descriptions and functions clear?

How do their positions compare to “industry standards” in terms of title and compensation?

Putting a traditional business matrix on job descriptions is not the only way to evaluate the appropriate compensation for your children. Family businesses have an unwritten rule: “We take care of family,” which manifests in different ways. Your husband, as a family business owner and member, has a certain amount of privilege and leeway. Once you and he have made performance criteria objective by creating job descriptions and functions that make sense for what your children are doing in the business, you can be creative in how you meet your family needs, and how you attain family harmony, adding compensation where you want. In other words, you can find the delicate balance between holding your children accountable through objective criteria and maintain family harmony.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently announced the release of an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  Annino’s book is an exhortation, resource and trusted companion for women in all facets of life.  To purchase the book visit:  http://amzn.to/hOHuEV or for more about Annino, visit: www.patriciaannino.com



  1. I agree and I would add that it’s extremely important for children in the family business to get honest, objective feedback on their work. This can be done through a good 360 Feedback tool and working with a outside coach to debrief the feedback. What remains to be seen is whether a child can actually get honest feedback on their work (positive & developmental)inside the family business. I always suggest in my coaching that children work outside the family business at some point in their career (earlier the better) so that mom & dad can see they are successful on their own, as well as giving them the confidence in their own abilities and leadership skills. Great blog!

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