Copyright 2009 - 2021  Mark R. Zitlin, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist. All rights reserved.
4901 Broadway
Suite 100
San Antonio, TX 78209
ph: (210) 822-5795
fax: (210) 822-5939
Mark R. Zitlin, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
(210) 822-5795
Consultation with Family
Owned/Operated Businesses
I grew up in a working family.  Along with my brother and
sister, I worked with my parents in our family business
(printing and mail advertising) through my teens and early
twenties.  Later, as I developed my career as a clinical
psychologist, I naturally found my professional attention
drawn to the unique blend of challenges that go with the
successful operation of a family owned and operated
business.  My personal experience of business "from the
inside", along with the tools I have acquired to help families
solve problems in the clinic, and years spent listening to
and analysing the business and workplace problems of my
patients, now form the basis for my role as a consultant to  
business families.  
Consultation with Family-Owned and Operated Businesses
Why consult with a clinical psychologist for a family-owned business?

                  I can provide expertise in:   

  • Family Needs vs Business Priorities
  • Negotiating Divergent Agendas
  • Blocked Communication
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Establishing Boundaries & Role Definitions
  • Generational Transitions  
  • Inter-Generational Communication   
  • Strategic Planning and Goal Setting
  • Family Emotional Dynamics
"It is useful to distinguish my role as a consultant from my role as a psychotherapist.  As a
consultant to your family and its individual members, my focus will be on issues that affect the
family's functioning in the context of the family business.  The often conflicting demands of
family, management, and ownership are approached on a solution focused basis, one which is
intended to be sensitive to the "psychology" of the situation while also paying attention to
effective business practices.  Thus the emphasis throughout the consultation process is on open
communication, conflict resolution, role clarification, goal setting, family ethics, and the
satisfaction of family members with the family, the business, and each other, while keeping a
clear eye on the profitability and sustainability of the business.  

The consultation process usually includes these steps.  In the initial phase, I will meet with
family members to determine the nature of the problem(s).  This is followed by an evaluation
phase, during which I collect data by interviewing individual family members (and spouses).  
This phase may take several meetings for each participant(s) in order to get a clear idea of
everyone's point of view and concerns about the business.  Honesty and openness about ideas
and feelings regarding the family and the business is vital for a successful outcome.  However, a
participant may on occasion want to discuss something "in confidence".  This can be agreed to;
however, as the ultimate goal is to encourage open and honest communication among the
family, those who seek such confidentiality will be encouraged to eventually find appropriate
ways to discuss matters openly with the family.

Once the evaluation phase is completed, I will meet with the entire family (possibly at your
place of business), present my analysis, and present my findings, and offer suggestions to address
problems and issues that have been identified.  

The findings of the evaluation phase are then acted upon.  This may include efforts to improve
boundaries between business and home; working through long-standing family conflicts (or
outright feuds); easing the transfer of control of the company from one generation to the next;
facilitating open and direct communication; problem resolution; clarification of lines of
authority; clarification of individual roles (duties) in the business; accountability; fairness; and
setting goals for the future, among others."
Particular challenges arise when family members own and
operate a business. Family dynamics frequently collide with
the demands and pressures of the workplace, which can
create problems that typically don't occur in a business.

Take, for example, two siblings who still compete for
parental attention and approval, no matter what the cost to
the company's success.  Or, a mother working in the family
business who is caught between keeping the business in the
black, and keeping the peace in the family.  Problems can
arise when an adult child is unable to conform to the limits
and demands of the workplace, who only sees their own
needs, while blind to the needs of the business.   Then there
is the business founder who cannot bear to relinquish
control of "his baby" to the next generation. Difficulties can
also arise from outside of the business, when family
members who have a stake in the business, and many
opinions about the business, but don't in fact work there.

There can be other problems.
 The "24/7 marriage" of the
couple running both business and family can be especially
exacting, and can be at risk for "togetherness overload".  
Favoritism, real or imagined, can be a source of discontent
for both family and non-family employees.  Often, there are
no clear criteria for hiring, and more importantly, firing,
family members.  Too often, family members may assume
that "everyone gets it", and so neglect to have scheduled
business planning and problem solving meetings.  The
informal atmosphere of a family at home is usually very
different from a business or workplace setting, where clear
boundaries, defined roles, and more formal behaviors are
the norm.
Consulting with a psychologist can address these problems  
facing the business family and the family business. To insure
profitability and sustainability, a consultant can help make
distinctions among the differing priorities of ownership,
management, and family.  Once these distinctions are made,
conflicts often emerge among these three perspectives, and
have to be addressed.  Ongoing consultation can also clarify
boundaries and responsibilities, diffuse conflicts and rivalries,
challenge long-held (but outdated or outgrown) perceptions
within the family, address favoritism, or simply provide an
objective perspective.
Below are some excepts from the Client Services Agreement that
I use when consulting with families in business: