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What are Agreements and why do we need to talk about them in Family Business?

Whether you realize it or not, each & every one of your relationships (personal, professional, or social) all operate based on a set of agreements. 

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait. How can I have agreed to anything if I didn’t even realize it existed?”  It’s a fair question.

When I’m talking about an agreement, what I’m specifically talking about is “an arrangement between two parties as to a course of action.” I’m speaking to the foundational blueprint for how we “do” & “be” in our relationships on a daily basis. Whether we’re talking about interpersonal agreements (like in families), institutional agreements (like in companies) or ideological agreements (like in society at large,) the daily ins & outs of so much of how we operate in our lives is guided by the agreements we hold. 

And, yet, sometimes those agreements aren’t ones that we’ve consciously “agreed” to at all. 

Agreements can be spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious. 

When we read a job description and are hired for that position, a clearly articulated agreement has been consciously agreed upon between yourself and the company. It’s spoken & conscious - and that’s pretty straight forward.

But what about our roles in our family structure? We don’t usually write out a job description for being “the Mom” or “the Son.” Those agreements are unspoken. Instead of being spelled out, they’re communicated through modeling and subtler forms of socialization.

If you take a minute to reflect, I’m sure you can think of a number of agreements that you’re currently aware of in your family and/or business. For example, in our company, I (the President) focus on new business opportunities & aligning our future business with the direction we want to take the company. While my husband (our EVP) focuses on daily operations & keeping our current programs running smoothly & efficiently. 

These are conscious agreements. We’re both aware of this division of responsibility and it works well for us.

But here’s the thing that we all need to remember. Not all of the agreements in our workplace (or at home) are conscious. And in places where we haven’t been intentional about our agreements, society will often provide the agreements for us by default.

For example, how often do we see the women in the workplace, regardless of title or role, organizing staff birthday celebrations, bringing in treats, and giving the counters “just a quick wipe down” in the break room before heading back to their office? Do their job descriptions include being “the Mom” of the office? Of course not. Social conditioning has inserted agreements into those undefined spaces. 

These are unconscious agreements. And if left unchecked, they can cause stickiness or even tension in places where there needn’t be. So just start to practice paying a little more attention.

As Family Business owners & leaders, it’s important that we bring our awareness to the agreements in our own families and businesses – paying attention to where roles are clearly defined and where old patterns or social conditioning are unconsciously defining them for us. And as our families and our businesses grow, expand, shift & evolve, our agreements will need to be continuously updated.

Like a lot of folks who take over a family business, I started working at our company during the summers as a teenager. And my job was to help wherever I could. Picking up lunch, cleaning out cabinets, reorganizing closets… you name it! But as I moved up in the company, I kept a lot of those roles & responsibilities, even as I added infinitely more complicated ones to my plate. At first, I thought this was just part of the deal – after all, we’ve all heard the old adage that “an entrepreneur wears many hats,” right? This was just part of the job… right?

And then one day, I found myself being interrupted during a marketing strategy meeting by an employee who wanted to make sure I knew we were almost out of toilet paper in the bathroom. True story.

Let me be clear. That employee did nothing wrong. He was just following the agreement that had been established in our company for years, namely: Tell Anne when you need something. 

But in that moment, I realized that I needed to update some agreements around my responsibilities now that my role in the company had grown. That, and I needed to hire an assistant. :) 


If you’d like to hear more about how & why to update agreements in your Family Business, I invite you to check out this week’s episode of The Legacy Podcast, “Ep 6: What are agreements and why do we need to talk about them?” (available on Apple, Spotify & Amazon.)



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