How to Manage an Under-Performer in a Family Business?



In a family business, you sometimes make recruiting & delegating decisions based on relationship and obligation and not on competence and experience. But we do know that all family members do not perform effectively. At times, they may even be disruptive to the smooth running of the business.

As a manager, whether you’re part of the family or not, what do you do about these under-performers?

These are the Options that you might like to execute.

Start with an open discussion about accountability. A discussion about what the company needs and in which arena of these businesses are they ready to contribute. Do Email them about the conversation stating how grateful you are to have this conversation with them and once you have this on record it becomes easier for them & you.

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. For instance, at one of my clients, after assessing the technical competence of a senior agency executive, it turned out he was more successful with external audiences and customers than collaborating with teams internally, and he was reassigned as a sales leader. At another client company, based on personal interest and style, a family member was shifted to a compliance role where she didn’t really have to coordinate with others and could be referred to as a technical expert.

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.

This tip is adapted from Managing an Underperformer in a Family Business,” by Liz Kislik


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