Feeling At HomeWritten By Phil Perry
Article Date: 03-01-2006
Copyright (C) 2006 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
How to help "outsiders" fit into your family business.
Do non-family employees feel like “outsiders” in your business? If so, it’s a sure bet their lower morale and simmering resentments are having a negative effect on your operations and sapping profits. You can, however, take action that will make outsiders feel right at home.
How? Workplace psychologists suggest fostering a business environment that communicates respect for all players and making a point of uncovering festering issues before they escalate.
Both require communication.
“Facilitating open communications can be even more important at family owned dealerships than at other kinds of businesses,” says Jerry I. Kleiman, co-founder of Optimal Resolutions, a firm that helps family businesses resolve relationship problems. “There are so many additional issues involved that you really need to be mindful about identifying and dealing with problems before they become critical.”
Here are some great ways to keep non-family employees happy:
Set Ground Rules
Right from day one, non-family employees need to know to what level of authority and decision-making they can aspire. “During the hiring process, applicants should be informed as to whether they will be essentially place holders, or whether there will be some potential for promotion,” says Susan Lazar, a family business consultant. “It is important that expectations be clear.”
Is your dealership one of the many in which there is no possibility that a non-family member will be able to gain ownership? That’s not necessarily a problem, says Lazar, as long as the non-family employees realize that
and are comfortable with it.
Treat People Fairly
“Non-family employees realize they will not be treated in a manner equal to family employees,” says Aron Pervin, present of Pervin & Co, a family business consultant. “But they do expect to be treated fairly.”
This means family members must not take advantage of their positions in ways that cause irritation or resentment. Avoid any appearance that family members are benefiting unfairly from the sacrifices of others. For example, if you pull up into your parking space with a new Mercedez, and then tell everyone you can’t absorb any more of their health insurance premium increases, that’s something that’s very hard for people to take.
Confront Family Issues
"Family discord directly affects morale and creates a culture that is not attractive to aspiring and ambitious talent," says Pervin.
When family members are arguing with one another, or simply giving one another the cold shoulder, profitability is threatened because business strategy necessarily becomes somewhat ad hoc and subject to the whims of the family member holding the most power. And the insecure nature of such power dynamics can spark
paranoia about outsiders.
"High performance by a non-family employee can actually be viewed poorly as it undermines owner-manager control," says Pervin. The solution is for family members to make a commitment to open communications.
"Disagreements and personality conflicts must be discussed, not swept under the rug."
Non-family employees will especially resent "gold-bricking." Any family member who receives a paycheck
has to work as hard as non-family employees.
Be especially careful when your children first enter the workplace, either as part-time or full-time employees. Don't assume they know what you expect in terms of a work ethic. State explicitly that you expect them to work harder than other employees and to keep longer hours.
"Young people should avoid any behavior that would lead people to the conclusion that they are demanding special treatment in terms of responsibilities," says Lazar.
The next generation should also be encouraged to socialize with others, says Lazar.
"Hang out with other employees at lunch time and avoid discussing personal things at work," he says.
Don't refer to parents as "Mom and Dad"- use the names other employees call them.
And learn to avoid discussions with other employees that question management decisions.
Finally, some experience in the outside world helps.
"I recommend children work elsewhere before they come into the family business," says Lazar. "This will give them something to offer the business beyond a name. And they will have less to prove to employees because they have a track record."
Working's one thing; evaluation's another. And problems often arise when it appears family employees are not being judged by the same standards as non-family ones. In the real world, it sometimes occurs that under-performing family members have to be retained in the business.
"There are cases when a family member may not be capable or competent, but the family feels a responsibility to provide the individual with a means of financial support," says Lazar.
What to do? Lazar suggests creating a position tailored to the skills of the family member.
"Your challenge here is to allow the person to feel they are achieving something," says Lazar. "In that case, they'll gain the respect of the other employees even if the person is not performing to the level of the other family members."
Open The Door
Family run businesses often have open-door policies that encourage non-family employees to approach management to express frustrations that might otherwise grow into real morale problems. When combined with clear definitions of company policies, such communications can help management avoid the performance hit so often caused by stress in family businesses.
"Problems arise with non-family employees when there is a weak intersection of expectations and reality," says Paul Karofsky, principal of Transition Consulting Group. "This can lead to frustration, hostility, terminations, and even lawsuits. This stuff can get nasty. Left unchecked it can kill morale and destroy profitability."
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