Family Business Constitution
Rules that govern and guide the family members on the ownership, privileges, business management, business performance, rewards and the management of family wealth; need to be agreed upon, documented, and adopted. This is captured in the Family Business Constitution.
A Family Constitution provides guidance and defines the manner to all family members on their different roles and the rules that they need to abide by as a member of the family business. The process and escalations are available for decision making, the code of conduct applicable to the members of family and professionals. It is important to develop a Family Business Constitution before you need one.
A clearly defined set of ground rules creates the foundation of any successful family business. These rules, provides guidance and define how your family business functions. A Family Constitution is an invaluable formal agreement that creates a binding contract by which all family members must abide. It’s a gentleman’s promise. It outlines the processes to be adhered to by the family for managing critical decisions concerning the family and the business.
Make a Family Business Constitution Before You Need One
If you do not have a written Family Business Constitution, now is the time to create one, when there is harmony and relations are cordial among family members. Waiting until there is a dispute or an unresolvable challenge or when the business suffers from a challenging situation due to divergent thinking of family members can destroy the existence of the business itself. All such situations are too late for discussing such an important document. The key is to formulate and adopt a Family Business Constitution before it’s needed… not after.
“A family constitution is like a nation’s constitution and serves the same function. It contains the ground rules for interaction, setting goals, and define the conditions for how things will be done. It specifies the methodology for the resolution of differences and conflicts. In the family business, it defines the conditions of the interface between the family and the business.”
Factors to Include in Your Family Business Constitution:
· History of the business (the roots which has given the wings)
· The mission of the business
· The short-term and long-term goals of the business
· Oral traditions followed which needs to be captured and put in writing
· A written agreement on how to differentiate between the tasks of the family and the tasks of the business
· A written commitment to operate the business in the most professional manner possible
· A process on how the business ownership will be transmitted or transferred to the next generation?
· Procedures for sale of business shares and valuation of the business
· Principles for compensation for working family members and rewards for owning family members
· Criteria for joining the family business
· Induction of family members wishing to join the family business
· Performance management and mentoring of family members working in the business
· A commitment to handle disputes in a particular manner
· Job descriptions for each family employee
· Management of Family Wealth and rules for the utilization of the income from family wealth
A Family Constitution must be Formalized
A Family Business Constitution is a formal document
that should be in writing, considering the future success of the family
business in mind. Therefore, it is essential that all family members involved
in the business as owners or managers have access to the constitution. The
Family Business Constitution should be signed by each family member associated
with the business in various capacities to verify that he/she has read and
understood the contains of the same in the same spirit.
Commitment of family members to abide by
the Family Business Constitution is important. It is essentially a document
that clearly states that every member of the family has agreed and committed to
adhering to the constitution, which is designed to help the family business
succeed. Having a written Family Business Constitution ensures that family
members are obligated to follow the guidelines outlined in the document.
Creating a Family Business Constitution
is a process
Creating a family constitution is a process.
It is a unique document developed exclusively for each family based on its
past, present, and especially considering the future challenges that the family
business may face.
The process starts with having one to one
discussion with all major family members, to understand the individual
perspective of the individual member on the current operations and the future
of the family business. Post which there is an orientation workshop to orient
the family members with the sections and topics of the family constitution; and
prioritize the topics for the family will be decided. The family also narrows
down on the decision-making criteria on how they will be deciding the
finalization of each topic – will it be by consensus or majority voting?
In the subsequent sessions, the discussion
is evoked on each topic; the practices in force are recorded, various scenarios
are placed, and options are discussed and shortlisted. Post the meeting the
draft is circulated for confirmation; once confirmed the final draft is prepared
and signed off in the subsequent meeting. On completion of all the points, the
document is prepared and signed off by all family members affirming their
commitment to abide by the constitution.
The above process is tricky and there is a
struggle to take up the same by the family on their own. It is advised for
intervention from an external consultant, for creating a draft of a
constitution. A consultant can also serve as an effective mediator when
disagreements arise while developing business ground rules, goals, and other
conditions that will be included in the document as well as placing different
scenarios and options that may happen in the future.
Adopting a Family Constitution is an
Effective Family Business Conflict Management Tool
A family constitution is a mechanism that
sets up the playing field. It helps resolve conflicts before they get out of
hand. It helps the family operate better in an agreed framework. Some of the
issues that can be addressed through a Family constitution are:
What kind of control the family
will have on the business in terms of ownership and management of the business?
How ownership will be
transferred? The agreements for the transfer of ownership.
Rules for separating the family
business from regular family life.
The rules for compensation of
family members working in the business and How non-working family members will
Employment policy for family
members desirous of joining the family business
Who in the family is
responsible for what specific job responsibilities?
As business owners, what is the
family’s expectation from the business in terms of return on capital?
Guidelines for managing and
distribution of family wealth
Ultimately, a Family Constitution is meant
to be a binding agreement that holds power. When a conflict arises, family
members can refer to the Family Constitution for guidance on how the conflict
should be resolved.
Keys to Success for a Successful Family
To survive over generations, family firms
need to adopt formal policies about whom to employ, whom to promote, and how to
balance family and business interests. If you desire your family business to
succeed and create wealth and provide financial benefits to your family members
for years to come, it’s important to know, that as owners of a successful
family business, you must accept that there will be challenges along the way,
and you will need to skill yourself for to handle conflict and able to devise
options and create solutions that will help move the business forward.
Develop a Common Vision so that
there is a clear understanding among all the members of what the Family
business is trying to achieve. This can be best accomplished by creating a
written vision statement.
Create an Alignment to prevent
conflict and create agreement among the family members involved on important
Prepare a Shareholder Agreement
which will legally bind the business owners on various terms on ownership that
will avoid conflict within a family business.
Several other key factors help eliminate
the possibility that family business conflict will arise. By adopting a Family Constitution,
you can mitigate many of the conflict risks.
Does Your Family Business Need Help?
With extensive hands-on experience in
assisting family businesses, we understand the challenges families face as they
work together to build a thriving family business generation after generation.
Through orientation programs, one to one and group meetings, workshops, public
talks, mentoring, coaching, family retreats, and private family business
consulting services, we help family business owners chart their way through
family business issues of all shapes and sizes.
Get In Touch
Sandesh Vasant Mestry
Family Business Consultant and Mentor
101, New Chandralok CHS, Ground Floor, Near, Veer Savarkar Marg, Tembhi Naka,
Thane West, Maharashtra 400601