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LisBiz Strategies: Setting boundaries for family employees

April 11/18, 2016; Volume 30, Number 21

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 2.01.15 PMI have been providing custom sales and manager training for many years. During this time I’ve noticed a trend that is somewhat alarming: businesses treating employees like family.

Helping businesses grow and retain their customer base means spending considerable time with the company, training employees and learning their cultures. I spent time with two very large floor covering businesses watching them struggle with this issue until they eventually closed. I’m always leery when a manager says, “We’re all family.” It sounds like a nice thought, but before you get all warm and fuzzy there’s another side to this. Families have their own set of secrets and problems that can get in the way of business.

Many of you have had the misfortune of having to fire a family member. Or like many I’ve known, you didn’t fire them but should have. I remember talking with a business owner about one of his employees, a salesperson who had an unhealthy addiction. “That’s my brother,” he said. “What can I do with him?” I suggested he fire him but he said the family would be unhappy. Families come with members who have unmet needs and use the business to try to fulfill them.

Over the long term, employees who are family members become problems when they are determined not to change. In several cases the business needed to make drastic alterations to survive. Instead of dealing with the issues or firing people before it was too late, they let the employees get in the way of necessary changes. The “in” group was more interested in protecting their jobs than the company. They were 25-year employees who refused to make the transition necessary to keep the doors open. Their thought was the company couldn’t survive without them.

Here are five points to consider when employing family members:

  1. Hold everyone accountable for business policies starting with the managers. Insist that managers be involved in training; policy making starts from the top. If they’re not attending training, you have no idea what is really being said or how your employees respond to learning. If nothing else, going to training gives you an idea of the learning capabilities of your team.
  2. Don’t wait forever to fix problems. The longer problems continue, the harder it is to take action and fix them. Evaluating employees and giving feedback should be done on a monthly basis, not yearly. Remember: It takes a lot of money to train your employees, but keeping uncooperative workers around for years is even more expensive.
  3. The purpose of a business is to turn a profit. That’s not always the focus of a family. In many cases a family is likely to see its purpose as maintaining the status quo. “As long as we all band together, things will be fine,” is the general (misguided) principle.
  4. Team success is more important than personal glory. Your business is not the place to give out unconditional love. What all businesses seek is to develop a team that works for the good of the business and its values. Periodically discuss your business values and see that everyone is on the same page.
  5. Be careful who you terminate and who you retain. In many businesses tenure is valued more than productivity.

Bottom line: As a business owner you are personally responsible for the outcome of your decisions.