Firing anyone is like launching a torpedo at a military target. Firing a family member is like shooting at a ship full of widows and orphans. That means it’s critical to bear a few strategies in mind to make the split as smooth as possible.
Know what you’re getting into
The first rule of thumb is to recognize that it’s likely not going to be fun. Letting any employee
go can be difficult; handing your sister a pink slip can be downright ugly!
My advice is to take the approach that the decision was made purely within a business framework. Emphasize performance and suitability to a position. If someone simply isn’t up to the job, it’s important that change occur, no matter if the employee is a relative or not.
Owners need to give themselves permission to operate the business like a business. When faced with a decision, they should ask themselves what good business practice dictates. Then they should do it. The business can’t allow the fact that someone happens to be a family member to interfere with what the situation demands.
You don’t have to say you’re sorry
Track how a family member has performed and outline every reason why things simply aren’t panning out. Be as detailed as possible in your thinking that led to the decision to terminate the relationship. A business owner faced with firing a relative should not be shy about telling other family members to backoff. If you’re getting it from all sides, consider who’s doing the talking. Put bluntly, some people have more right to whine than others. If someone doesn’t have a role in the business, they don’t get a say in how it is run.
If you have compiled an adequate array of reasons for the change, any backpedaling on your part only lets the dynamics of family life dictate what has to be a practical business decision.
If you as the business owner are applying good business practices to the situation, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for.
Set family members’ expectations upfront
Know, too, that the issue of poor family/employee performance isn’t purely retroactive. If you’ve yet to drive off the bridge of having to fire a relative, consider these steps to solve a problem before it even crops up:
- If in doubt, keep the family out. Hiring a family member isn’t one of the Ten Commandments. Granted, we all like to help our loved ones, but don’t assume that a relative — by virtue of blood alone — is the best choice for a particular job. When looking for employees, go outside the family. Owners need to identify the roles needed by the business, define them clearly and define qualifications. If and only if a family member meets them should he or she be hired. This forces a family business to operate a business.
- Define a philosophy and stick to it. Hiring anyone should mandate a set of performance parameters. If they don’t measure up, show them the door. Make sure that you establish clearly what you expect of any employee, family members and otherwise. That works on several levels. For one thing, a relative who’s an ideal fit for a job knows full well what her job entails and that can bolster performance. By the same token, relatives brought on for less appealing reasons — either Cousin Zeke gets the vice president job or he’s living out of a refrigerator box — won’t be caught off-guard if and when the hammer comes down. Be sure to clearly articulate your company’s philosophy and practices. That can head off inappropriate or unrealistic expectations.
Finally let me suggest the book, Keep the Family Baggage out of the Family Business by Quentin Fleming.