Family Biz: 5 Tips on Working With Family

How to create a comfortable and fair environment for all employees

Hiring family can be good for your business if you manage them well.

Today BlackEnterprise.com will give birth to the newest member in our family of franchises: The Family Biz blog. Every Monday afternoon, check in here for tips and advice on issues related to working with family. We will cover everything from succession planning and divorce, to hiring and firing family. If you already own a business with family and employ several relatives you probably know the challenges that surface from time to time–as well as the victories. Augustus McMillan, managing director at McMillan Consulting, took a moment out of running his seven-year-old family business to talk about the etiquette of working with family. Here are his five tips to making working relationships comfortable for family employees, non-family employees, and clients:

Be honest about family. Do not keep it a secret when your relatives are also your employees. “I’ve had a few clients that hid the fact that they have family members working for them,” says McMillan, who hired an aunt, a sister, and a cousin.  “When it eventually comes out–and it will–the raise or promotion will make the [non-family] co-workers feel like they didn’t have a chance and that you were being deceitful.”

It’s OK to talk to your family like they’re family. Don’t act differently toward your family just because you are at work.  “My mom isn’t an employee but our businesses share many clients and projects. I call her mom when we’re working. I will never be comfortable calling my mother anything other than mom,” says McMillan, who encourages employees and clients to address each other informally so that everyone feels like family.

Don’t give family members special treatment. Don’t reward or punish someone because of their familial relationship with you. If others get disciplined for bad behavior, your family member must be disciplined also. But do treat any employee, including family, special if they deserve it.

Don’t disclose company secrets to family outside of the office. Baltimore, MD-based McMillan Consulting is a business and tax consultant company that deals with confidential information. Employees, whether family or not, should not tell others in the family client info or proprietary secrets. “In today’s connected world you never know who knows who,” says McMillan. “If a client finds out that their info was discussed … it can cause you to lose projects and reputation.”

Don’t work your family members when they should be off the clock. “It’s OK to ask a question about a project or client when you’re at a cookout that will take a minute to answer,” says McMillan. “If it turns into a five minute conversation, then that’s OK. But it shouldn’t go beyond that unless your family member is the one who wants to talk about it.”

For more information about running a family-owned businesses check these sites:

Family Business Experts

The Greater Washington D.C. Family Business Alliance

The Bryant University Institute for Family Enterprise

The Family Firm Institute


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