Are family members in your business driving you crazy? The Bates Motel might still be in business if Norman Bates had been willing to get rid of Mom!
The time to decide what to do about family members joining or leaving the business is before they arrive. Once they're involved in the business, everything gets more complicated. I gave some solid advice about this in my September 2002 PM column titled “10 Golden Rules of Family Business.”
The point is that family can be both a blessing and a curse to any business. During one of my free half-hour phone consultations, I asked the contractor I was speaking with if there were any special situations affecting the business, either good or bad, right now. He calmly said, “Well, I don't know if this counts but I'm going to fire my daughter after this phone call!” No, it wasn't because of anything I said!
Statistics clearly show that as each new generation arrives to run the family business, there is a dramatic rise in business failure. I believe it's because there's not enough planning. The planning I'm talking about ensures that each new family member won't skip any of the steps they need to be productive members of the company and knows what role he or she will be filling.
As a young boy, my dad had us do everything from sweeping floors to stuffing statements and more. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but I soon did. The message was clear: You haven't earned the right to be a boss until you've proven you can do everyone else's job at least as well, if not better. And, how else do you really know what can and can't be done by someone else?
Having been brought up through the business this way, I felt confident explaining to a potential new tech that this is a great place to work if you value education and are looking for support in the field. But if you're looking to hide and don't want to learn, please save us both some grief and leave now. I also made it clear that they wouldn't be doing any work that I hadn't done myself or going anywhere I hadn't gone. But if I had done it, I expected them to do the same.
I worked with my two brothers and we never wanted or received preferential treatment. We were driven to find our place and excel. That should be the standard you hold any employee to.
But, have you noticed at some companies family members get a free pass? What's that telling the rest of the staff who had to go through the process and prove themselves every step of the way? It says the rules and the system are only meant for those people whose last name is different than the owner.
No Preferential TreatmentI believe that any new family member needs to be trained at many different tasks and jobs. An organizational chart is essential for this process. I know that communicating with your staff about the impending arrival of family members and what, if any, impact it'll have on them is needed to preserve company morale.
The best companies plan ahead by creating a senior management team that works as a group to make sure the new family member is being methodically trained and developed. And, most importantly, that the family member is being held to the same standards of performance as any other new employee. We need this independent review. It's got to be based upon objective measurements and clear job definitions to avoid petty jealousy.
You're the boss, and it's important that you are treating everyone fairly. Are the dress standards the same for all? Does a family member miss days? Or show up late? Well, your employees might not tell you how they really feel, but you can bet they're taking note.
An operations manual with written standards as an objective measurement that all family members are judged by is also what you need. You want to be tracking statistics to measure how well they're doing the work they're assigned. Use proper delegation to hold them accountable for bringing in work and projects on time and within budget.
Does any of this sound unfair? No! So, it's only your fear that prevents you from enforcing your policies and procedures, right? The only unfair practice would be your unwillingness to hold family members accountable to the same standards of a nonfamily member. Maybe it's time you stepped back and took a look at why you went into business in the first place.
Family as employees may give you 110 percent and have loyalty beyond reproach. Or, they may just want to get by on their family ties, and the fact that they know Grandma would come down hard on you for being too tough on her little Tommy.
Can you fire a family member, and then re-hire them over and over? Sure, but are second chances only for family members? If so, it undermines the morale of the many others hard at work for you.
Remember, all you owe a family member is an opportunity, not a guaranteed job for life.