The pitfalls of hiring friends or family

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There are a few essential lessons to be learnt before you consider bringing family and friends on board.

 When the boundaries are blurred

In some companies, corporate culture and family culture are the same thing; issues are handled in the same way as any other family issue. It’s a common scenario, but one that you should avoid – separate the family and the business; make it clear where the boundaries are.

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You certainly don’t want a situation where disciplining one family member produces a sympathetic response in the others. Instead of having the desired effect of correcting behaviour in that individual, the scenario is either projected or interpreted incorrectly and other family members react emotionally to the action taken.

Don’t make the mistake of allowing family members to set their own standards or requirements. You need to determine the requirements of the business, and work from there. Skills expected of other staff must be demanded of family or friends too, and vice versa. I’ve encountered the following scenario all too often: Jimmy is the family underachiever and has been given a form of sheltered employment. Or at the other end of the scale Jimmy is the eldest child and is expected to take over the company, and is placed under immense pressure by virtue of his position in the family.

 The “outer circle”

The idea that “we are all part of one big family” sounds great when you are actually part of the family, but it flies like a brick when you aren’t. So stop to consider the needs of this “outer circle”. For instance, if family members make up the majority in the company, who should non-family members confide in if they have problems with a family member? It may seem like a small matter, but if your company is mainly made up of family members, consider those who aren’t when it comes to everything from work issues through to functions and events (perhaps they would prefer not to go to Uncle Jo’s place for a braai again).

Families have certain unspoken rules, ways of thinking, lines that are never crossed. Non-family members can’t immediately appreciate how these rules work. This can certainly muddy the waters in business.

Performance management and promotions can be very subjective given family ties. Discussions that need objective input can lead to power plays where family members rally to provide a unified front, regardless of the possible consequence for the company. The emotional energy generated in these meetings is unproductive and can be projected into the marketplace.

 The family-recruitment approach

Unfortunately you can no longer take CVs and applicants at face value. Fraud is on the increase as people become more desperate for jobs. For this reason, many smaller companies probably consider it far safer to draw on family and friends when it comes to their recruitment needs. You should have some idea of their capacity, quirks and limitations.

I’ve come across businesses that reward existing staff members for sourcing prospects from their own network of family and friends. The assumption here is often that if the individual performs poorly or behaves improperly, the staff member who found them will likely address the matter with them. This approach can work quite well.

 The corporate-recruitment approach

The recruitment process will be less informal if you draw from a pool you aren’t acquainted with or related to. Emphasise the skills the business requires, source candidates through a wide net of options and reduce the pool to those best suited by testing skills, past experience, proven abilities, reference checks and other techniques. This is the objective process typical in most mature companies, but no recruitment process is flawless. There are no guarantees when it comes to human performance.

 Who manages who?

Many companies have had to introduce anti-nepotism clauses because of the complications of working with family and friends. Some businesses even ask employees to declare who they are related to when they join.

Declaring their relationships shouldn’t preclude individuals from being considered for a position, but steps should be taken to ensure objective assessment, performance measurement, as well as checks and balances when determining increases or promotions.

 HR_Hire family HIGH RES croppedHow do you fire family?

In my experience, the answer is: with difficulty. Firing a family member or friend can have a ripple effect throughout your extended family and friendship networks. You may believe your reasons for termination are valid, but you will undoubtedly be the one who is ostracised as a result, regardless of how objective the process was.

 Start as you mean to continue

When starting up always outline your philosophy, processes and culture with future growth in mind. Introduce objective, clear, reasonable and fair processes. Ask colleagues to hold you accountable in areas that you know could be difficult and where personal relationships are involved.

I’ve gone into businesses where there are no employment contracts in place – because staff members are all family. This is a recipe for disaster. You need to respect and safeguard your business, and those close to you, by developing well-considered processes to protect both.

This article was written by Rob Rankin, the founder and co-owner of HRadvice.co.za. Contact him on 0861 HRADVICE or 0861 472 384 or 083 453 9833.


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