By Ron Kustek, Business Instructor Cabrillo College
There are many reasons why hire family — they are usually more committed with a vested interest in the success of the company, plus they’re often more trustworthy, not to mention that family will often work for a lower cost than non-family labor. All of these positive attributes can contribute to a more cohesive and stronger bond between family working in the business. When this formula works well it has a tremendously positive impact on your customers who see and especially feel — that you have a truly family-owned and operated local business worth supporting.
When it’s going good, it can be great…
For those of you who work in family-owned and operated businesses, you know when it’s great. You’re all in sync with each other, you know each other’s strong points and not-so strong areas, but cover for each other, the way all great employees do. When it’s good, there’s no negativity, no ‘you owe me’ and no harboring feelings that the other family member isn’t pulling their weight.
Your conversations are light yet meaningful, as well as open and honest, both at work and at home, because with a family business there is no real ‘leaving it at the office’. You start each day with excitement and anticipation of how good things can be today, even if it’s gloomy outside, it’s always sunny inside the business (because you’re making money, and that often makes people happy). You end each day talking about the day’s challenges, often with some laughs and some head shaking in disbelief over something that happened. In happy family businesses, even in difficult times, each family member pulls together, instead of pulling each other — and the company, apart.
When it’s going bad, it can be awful…
Have you ever hired a friend to work for you, or to partner with you and your business? Hopefully, you’re both still friends, but most often there is the tendency for friends to somehow not care as much or work as hard as you do in your business. Similar to when the business relationship with friends starts to affect your personal relationship, so too can your business relationship with a family member affect your personal relationship — often not for the better.
There is nothing worse than not being able to escape. When you work in a family business where family members are not getting along, there are no secrets, no hiding how each person feels, no family bond that forgives when we as individuals just start to not like the other person — family or not.
What To Do
Hiring people is the most important decision you will make (and keep making) and should always be for the person with the best skill set, regardless of whether they are related to you or not. Whenever we compromise our principles, it often festers and creates difficulties somewhere down the road.
So, what to do? First and foremost is the realization that there is a responsibility to ‘the business’ regardless of who owns it, or who works for it. It is recommended to always try to take the approach that ‘it’s not personal’. Whether you’re a manager for a Silicon Valley firm or for your own company, the guiding principle is being impartial, non-emotional but factual. Identify what is going well, and especially why — so that you can reinforce and draw on those skills for the person to apply to what isn’t going well. It’s always easier to offer solutions instead of just criticizing, so the added constructive input on the skills that are making them successful in other areas, can be applied to helping them be successful for improving their shortcomings.
However, sometimes people just change, and they may not share the same goals they once did, or the same interest or passion for the company and its customers. You may find yourself with the decision that it’s easier to replace a worker than it is to replace a family member, who may just need to leave the business, in order to save the business.
Ron Kustek is a business instructor at Cabrillo College teaching Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Advertising, Small Business and General Business Management.