Tips for Handling the Coddled Family Member on the Job

You hired your cousin Peter as the sales manager for your family business. He has not been meeting his quotas, and even worse, doesn’t seem to think it’s important, and the company is suffering. Or you hired your daughter right out of college as Director of Merchandising because you were desperate to fill that position and she needed a job. But she’s far more interested in how the packaging looks than in working with manufacturers and customers.

In my last post, “The Peter Principle at Work in Family Businesses,” I wrote about how the principle that employees tend to rise to the level of their incompetence is often true in family businesses. This often happens because a family member has been coddled at the business. The column included a quiz so you could tell if you are in this situation.

So you took the quiz and may have determined that you do have a family member who has been enabled, and you now understand that situation is damaging to your business. So what do you do about it?

You have three options:

1. Provide training or education

If the family member truly does care about the business and its success and wants to continue in his position, providing additional training so he can perform better could be your solution. Your brother may have been promoted to a management position but has never had to manage people before. Let him know you are interested in helping him grow professionally and part of that involves getting more training.

Ask him to find some classes or seminars he can take to sharpen his skills as a manager. If he truly does want to succeed, he will be happy to take advantage of your investment in his future.

2. Reassign the family member to another more suitable position

Sometimes a family member is just not suited to handle her job responsibilities. In the case of the daughter in the merchandising area, her major was in graphic design and she really has no interest in setting budgets and developing the skills she would need to be successful in merchandising. She is unhappy in her position because she doesn’t have the skills and really has no interest in acquiring them. To keep someone in a position that they have no interest in and can’t handle is a disservice to both the employee and the company.

If you have a design department and could use her help there, then discuss the situation and reassign her. If there is not a position available, you can suggest she go to work for another company to gain valuable experience, then return to yours when you do have a space for her. Make sure to let her know you do have her interests at heart and want her to be happy.

3. Terminate the family member

Sometimes it becomes clear that the family member is just not going to work out, for whatever reason. He isn’t motivated, she doesn’t want to be there in the first place, he is unable to acquire the skills necessary to work in the family business. It’s a tough call, but often it’s the only course to take if the first two options aren’t a possibility.

Firing a family member is a delicate process. You’ll want to consider giving the family member a generous severance, allowing him to save face by “resigning” and possibly funding out placement services so he can find a new position.

For more tips on how to do this, please read my post, “How to Fire Grandma and Still Get Invited to Sunday Dinner.”

It is possible work with family members that have been coddled or enabled and turn them into an asset, rather than a liability for your company. But if that doesn’t work, the best thing for everyone is to terminate them.

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