The Business of Family

This week, many of us are spending a lot of time with our families. For some of us, that’s an unusual thing. It can be easy to let work get out of control and take away from time with our families.

Sometimes, however, more time at work can mean more time with our families. A lot of our business are handed down from father to son (or daughter); or we’re in partnerships with our siblings, cousins, or spouses; or we’re bringing in our children during the summer or even grooming them to take over.

One contractor I know brought his son into the business in a mid-level role. The son had worked summers in school, gone through a rigorous technical program after high school, and even worked for several years in the industry in another province, and the father believed the son was as qualified for his role as anyone could be.

Still, people will talk and he wanted to know how to minimize the chatter and help his employees see the positives. “After all, family businesses do it all the time.”

It’s true, business owners do hire family members all the time. Unfortunately, often they respond to any criticism by saying “I’m the boss and that’s the way it is,” which doesn’t do much to help things. So what can you do?

First, if possible, don’t put relatives (or friends) in roles that report to each other. That’s the best way to avoid accusations of favourable treatment. Second, if a position has skill or experience requirements, make certain those criteria are met before filling the role. Third, look to fill an open position and don’t create a new position for a relative without a legitimate business purpose. And lastly, establish and enforce clear performance expectations and evaluations that apply to everyone equally.

Family businesses can be a bit tricky to operate, but fewer things are more rewarding than passing down a successful and profitable business.

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