Being a Part of the Employee Grapevine While Retaining a Family Business

Here's how a family business owner can manage the workforce efficiently and satisfy the employees at the same time


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"Two sides to every coin" goes a popular saying!

Just how a coin has 2 sides to it, the day to day functioning of any enterprise to put it in a nutshell also has two indispensable sides to it, the owner and the employee. One can't exist without the other and yet there is always a palpable difference between the owner of an enterprise and the employees working for it. No matter how professional or decentralized an organization may be, it is human tendency to create classes whenever and wherever possible. It is perhaps embedded in our way of existence to try and dominate each other, to compete and to create differentiation. In the early centuries, this differentiation was between a monarch and his subjects, in today's world of economic and commercial dominance, this differentiation is most commonly seen between an owner and the employees of an enterprise.

Family Businesses Today

Especially when we talk about family businesses, the differentiation between the family members "managing' the business and the employees working in it is rather stark and far more concentrated than in organizations which are managed by professionals. In family businesses, especially in those family-owned organizations where the family members are actively managing the business, the sense of proprietary over the organization and its activities are extremely powerful amongst these family business owners. It is very likely that in such an organization, these same family members have either been founder members of the organization themselves or have inherited the organization from their parents or close relatives. Hence the emotional attachment of family members towards their business is significantly higher in organizations which is not only owned but also managed by the family members themselves, rather than by professionals. In such cases, it can sometimes become difficult for employees to be able to freely associate with the owners and this leads to the creation of employee grapevines which are highly secretive, denser and an exclusively employee-only network, making it difficult for owners of family managed companies to be part of such a network or even relate to it in many instances.

Streamlining The Process

Human beings are not machines. We are social entities and the sense to associate with one other is a fundamental "human need" encoded in our DNA. Most people spend the majority portion of their lives at their workplace, away from the family. Hence it becomes essential to have a "work family" at one's place of work, which helps to create an informal networking structure and also fulfils the need of being part of a social fabric for the members of the organization. An employee grapevine, in any organization, creates and sustains this highly sought after "social fabric" and it is this same grapevine which eventually morphs into a "work family" for the employees. Such is the importance of an employee grapevine in any organization.

Now, If any organization has to be sustainable, first of all, there must be harmony and trust between the owners and the employees. Hence it becomes imperative that a conducive environment be created which makes it possible and feasible for the owners to be able to be part of the employee grapevine, at least in some form, and in a manner which positively inspires the employees to not only welcome the owner(s) into their grapevine, but to also enjoy the owner's inclusion into their grapevine. A healthy employee grapevine, of which the owners are also a part of, is far more conducive in creating a positive sentiment for the company amongst the employees, rather than a grapevine which tries hard to avoid involving the promoters of that company and strives hard to maintain an employee-only grapevine. Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that employee grapevines would include the business owners at all times and in all its multifarious activities. That is undoubtedly a utopian scenario and does not exist in the real world. However, at least there should be an effort to create an environment where the business owners are not completely cut off from the employee grapevine. Such a situation can be damaging in the long run and should be avoided. Specifically, for family business owners, it is imperative that they maintain a sense of proprietary about the organization amongst the employees. There are several highly successful family businesses in the world where the owners have been able to create a remarkable environment within the organization which genuinely inspires the employees to be loyal and grateful beyond what would one ideally expect or see in today's world. If the employees see that they are well respected by the owner and if they see that an environment of trust and respect prevails within the organization then the employees themselves will willingly include the owner into their grapevine in some or the other way and this would be a major success achieved by any entrepreneur.

The Time Management

For any entrepreneur, the greatest asset is 'Time'. An entrepreneur is one who fills the role of the creator. There is a difference between a Creator and a Maintainer. That is a mindset difference. An entrepreneur can continue to create only when he has a trustworthy and efficient team which is able to maintain his creation. If the entrepreneur has a dependable team which is able to maintain his venture then the entrepreneur has earned "time" to continue what he does best –and that is "to create more enterprises"! Hence harmony between the entrepreneur and his management team and by extension the employee force of the organization is vital and an employee grapevine is really a smart conduit which can be effectively used by an entrepreneur to achieve this harmony. However, at the same time, just as every coin has 2 sides to it, here also, excessive mingling by the owner in an employee grapevine can prove quite dangerous. It can lead to dilution of authority which can eventually lead to systemic failure of the organization.


As the saying goes, every ship must have "One Captain". This is true. Even in an organization, though there is a board, there is always a Chairman of the board. Though decisions may be taken by consensus, there is always one member or owner who holds veto power. Just like in a country, though there is a cabinet ministry, the final veto rests with the Prime Minister or President, who is the leader of the nation. This position of the leader should never be allowed to be diluted in any organization and business owners, especially the younger generation of family business owners should be acutely aware of this.


While an employee grapevine which is owner-isolated is not a good thing, at the same time, an employee grapevine where the position of the leader is diluted is far worse! The solution here, therefore for a family business owner, is to try and be dispassionate towards his or her duties, to accept and enjoy gracefully the company of his employees, to create an inclusive work culture where transparency is promoted and rewarded, but at the same time, the owner must ensure that he does not become overly emotional about his involvement within the employee grapevine.


Entrepreneurship is all about passion, and it is actually about "highly focused passion". Entrepreneurship is certainly not about emotions. People often fail to understand the difference between passion and emotions …. but there is indeed a sea of difference between highly focused passion and emotional involvement …. The same way how there is a difference between a highly trained sniper and a maniac operating a machine gun. Hence, while dealing with employee grapevines, a family business owner must realize that involving himself in the grapevine is simply a need and demand for his creation, his organization. It is a means to an end and not the end itself. The owner must always ensure that he creates an environment which inspires his team to involve him in their grapevine, but even while he becomes a part of the grapevine, the owner must never lose the identity of his position and he must never forget about the chair that he sits on and what it symbolizes.


In essence, the family business owner should not become emotional and neither should he become impassionate. These are two extremes. The correct way to go here is to try and become "dispassionate", or in other words, be balanced, not to be swayed easily by emotions and by participating in the employee grapevine but with the sole intent of keeping the interest of the organization (as a whole) as the single most important priority.

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