By Alicia Puritt
I’ve had the pleasure of working for a number of small businesses and my favourite to date – working at Askari – is one where you might notice I share the same last name as one of the partners. Edan Puritt happens to be my father. Working in a family business has a variety of pros and cons and when I became an employee not only did I have great expectations, but so did others. Today I want to share five key lessons I’ve discovered and discuss some of the perceptions of working independently and successfully in a company where work doesn’t stay at the door of the proverbial office. 1. Learning happens all the time: Dinner is no longer just dinner – work gets a front row seat at all family functions and experiences. Just as with any other job, your learning can follow you home – it just so happens that other people at home know exactly what I’m talking about. Work is 24/7 when it’s in the family which means walks, weekends, holidays, etc. There is no done at the office because conversations continue. I have done a number of different tasks at Askari and while some I knew how to do as I came in, there was a learning curve that I needed to race up in order to be up to speed with everyone around me. 2. Expectations are set much higher: You think working with your family is easy? Think again! Not only am I scrutinizing my work, but so is everyone else. I know I am held accountable for my actions regardless of what my last name is. Making sure that I don’t let anyone down or fail to meet certain expectations is very important to me. 3. Overcoming preconceived notions: Yes I am related to one of the partners, but no, I don’t have a silver spoon in my mouth. Working at Askari is not my first job. I have worked at a number of other small businesses building my experience, so that when I did join Askari, I was the best possible candidate for the job. I knew that my work was and is going to be assessed, judged, and critiqued. Something that I have learned over the last year and a half is to learn how to ask for help when I need it even though I’m in a business with family. Working for other companies made asking for help somehow easier – it was okay if I didn’t know something right away. Oh, and I always make sure that what I am working on has clear goals and deliverables. (See back to 1., because I really do like to have some time off.) 4. Trust is very important: Knowing when to come forward if there is a problem, knowing that I will be taking responsibility for my own actions and kowning up to any mistakes without trading on a family name means that there is the trust that I might screw up but I will take ownership and make it right. That’s a very significant thing. Working with my father was a big decision: I really enjoy his company. However, I did not get to start with the benefit of the doubt from the rest of the Askari partners or staff. That has taken extra work and effort. I really do not like the feeling of disappointing Edan or Bruce (another one of the founding partners and someone I look up to) and so I check and recheck my work and truly give tasks my best effort. Figuring out when to let them know that I have reached a maxed-out point or need help is both a hard lesson as well as a rewarding experience. Why? Because each time I trust that they know what they’re doing and they trust that I am on the right track and will ask if I need help means that trust is building while we’re working together. 5. Applying and building on previous learning: As I mentioned above, I have worked for different small businesses building my teamwork and independent starter skills. Prior to joining Askari, I worked as the Office Manager at Hay Design and as the Office Coordinator at Auspice Safety and what I learned in both those environments helped me prepare for my role at Askari. Figuring out how to coordinate team members, share information in an office space where everyone is working independently off site or on site in different places has been eased because I had experienced that in varying ways at both Hay Design and Auspice Safety. What I got out of both those companies was invaluable exposure to working for demanding managers who expected me to complete specific tasks and were appreciative when I came up with new efficiencies. It also meant that when I did move to Askari, I was ready for taking my new learning curve slope at full speed. Working in a company where you are related to an employer or employee can become a tricky business. I know I have overcome some people’s doubts that my silver spoon is what got me here and that I shouldn’t be here whereas I am still not there with others. I am not patient by nature, but I am realizing that this process happens one day at a time as well as one successfully accomplished task at a time. I continue to apply what I have learned to what I am learning. I check in to make sure I am on the right track and I constantly set out to learn from everyone and my surrounding resources. You can’t go wrong with so many different sources of information – just make sure that you are demonstrating your energy, your efforts and your excellence to yourself and the people around you. When you provide evidence of your work, you aren’t just connected to your work because of your name – you are connected because you exceed expectations. And if the opportunity to work with family arises, remember it’s a full on package deal: it is tremendously rewarding and enjoyable working with those you love and respect, but if it looks very easy, you really haven’t considered all the aspects.