4 tips to manage an under-performer in a family business
When it comes to family businesses, managing family members in the office can be tricky, especially the young ones who do not share your passion and perseverance. However, getting them involved and learning about the business is one of the key priorities and concerns of many family offices and business in the region.
1. Start with an open discussion about accountability: It’s fine to show deference for family membership, but it’s still essential to be candid about business needs. In an initial conversation with the family member, probe and listen deeply to understand how they see themselves, and what they believe they can contribute.
Respond with a kind, unambiguous description of the expectations you and the rest of the leadership have for them, and restate those expectations in a follow-up email thanking them for the conversation. After you’ve gone on record, it’s a little easier to refer to those expectations in subsequent conversations about performance.
2. Shift their role or responsibilities. Can they work as an independent contributor or as a subject matter expert? You have to be realistic about status and image. They may get to keep their VP title, for instance. But you can shift them to be VP of an area that has no employees, or that doesn’t interact directly with customers if that’s not their strength.
3. Reassign the family member to a non-family leader. Internal rivalries are common between family members and can arise from painful feelings about ownership and hierarchy just as easily as from performance and accountability issues. You may be able to reassign a family member who had been reporting to another family member to a strong executive who doesn’t have to be concerned about keeping the peace.
4. Construct off-ramps when necessary. At some point you may need to consider alternatives that preserve dignity while clearing the way for more productive staffers. A family member may recognize that they’re no longer in the running for a top job but aren’t ready to retire, or feel stuck because they know they can’t get a comparable job in the open market.
Consider designing a sabbatical process for long-standing employees, or experiment with part-time, flex-time or remote assignments. One of my clients created an “on call” mentor role for a family member who serves as the “keeper of the flame” and historian to tell the stories and describe the company’s background and mission in a way that is inspiring without a day-to-day role.