Business owners often think of their companies as "families," whether or not relatives work with them. Good mothers and fathers keep families running smoothly, and business owners can learn a few things from the parenting playbook, said Marion McCollom Hampton, a senior partner at Banyan Family Business Advisors, a family business consultancy based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Successful family business owners often blend good parenting with good business practices. Here are five parenting skills that can help make you a better business owner.
1. Enforce rules.
Any parent will tell you that having rules is essential to a well-run household. The same is true for companies. Clearly outline behavioral expectations both in conversation and in writing and make sure employees understand them.
Create an environment where it is acceptable to remind each other of the rules—just as family members might remind each other about not using phones at the dinner table, Hampton said. Make sure everyone understands the consequences for breaking the rules.
2. Emphasize values.
Creating a positive company culture is not unlike creating a positive family environment. Just as parents model behavior for their children, company owners should model behavior for their employees.
This includes how people are expected to speak to each other, as well as discouraging morale-drainers like backstabbing, assigning scapegoats, and shirking responsibilities, Hampton said. When you see this type of thing happening in your business, correct the offending employee. Talk openly about how employees are expected to treat each other.
3. Call out bad behavior.
Parents are not afraid to identify and correct poor behavior in their children. Of course, your employees are not children—they are adults hired for their contributions to your firm. But it's still up to you to direct company culture and address problems when you find them.
"Sit people down and talk with them about what they really want and how they want to work together," Hampton said. "You need to encourage them to give up behaviors and patterns that are not constructive like sniping and talking behind each other's backs."
4. Use your words wisely.
"Among the very high-functioning family businesses I work with, the parents teach children that what they do and say matters and that the impact of what you do has an impact on other people," Hampton said.
Eliminate impulsive communication—do not blurt out the first response that comes to mind, especially when emotions are running high. Instead, stop and think about what needs to happen to fix the situation and address it when you are sure you can do so calmly and effectively.
5. Play fair.
Changing the family rules without notice can create a chaotic environment. Similarly, employees perform best when they understand what is expected of them and feel they are being treated fairly, Hampton said. Everyone in the company should face the same ground rules and consequences and not feel like some are getting preferential treatment.
Employees should not feel as if a high-performing salesperson or a relative of the business owner does not have to abide by company policies. Be sure to apply consequences even-handedly when employees break the rules—no matter who they are.
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