Surface Area

The Family.Inc Newsletter

Newsletter No. 4 – February 2nd, 2024
Written by a human. 

All areas of life have surface area – areas that need to be maintained, managed, and require care and effort. Shane Parish of uses this example to describe surface area:

"If you have one house, you have a relatively small surface area to maintain (depending on the age and size of the house, of course). If you buy another one, your surface area expands. But it doesn't expand linearly - it expands slightly above that. It's all the same work plus more."

Your family business has surface area as well.

If you’re a first-generation creator, your surface area is small – it includes you, maybe your partner, and kids. If you’re a second-generation leader with multiple family branches, your surface area has expanded.

Once you get to generation-three or -four…huge surface area.

And, like adding additional houses, this expansion is not linear as you now must concern yourself with siblings and perhaps even nephews and nieces.

The only way to manage more surface area is to professionalize its management.

By way of analogy, when you have a small yard (small surface area), it’s easy to mow the lawn regularly and keep the grass watered and fertilized. However, if you have several acres, gardens, and shrubs, you can either work twice as hard to maintain it, or hire professionals more well-suited to keeping up with the yard work. Same with a family business.

If you have a growing family business, you need to professionalize how you, as a family, operate.

You need process, governance, alignment, and you need to operate with more intentionality.

With more surface area comes more perspectives, opinions, nuances, and divergent interests. Here are a few things you can do to professionalize your business family:

  1. Sit down and discuss your family’s values, what you, as a family, see for the future of your family company, and talk about the why behind your work as a family-in-business.
  2. Create a family participation/employment plan that details how the family will operate within the context of the business.
  3. Build a board of directors that includes independent members who can hold your family accountable to the agreements you put in place.

While some may advocate for trimming the family tree to eliminate surface area, others should look to professionalize your family’s engagement with your business and begin to work more deliberately as a family.

A growing family and a successful family business will add to the surface area of your life, but there are many ways to manage that surface area to ensure it becomes a blessing, not a burden.

– Josh Gentine

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