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Family dynamics in business: Handling employee issues

In the last column, discussion focused on how lack of communication during a major expansion and failing to ask the tough questions during the business planning process can result in slightly elevated blood pressure and discord in family business. Let’s explore another case in point.

Participants in the Ag Biz Planner online course sponsored by Farm Credit University complete 10 online learning modules followed by a face-to-face session during which they discuss their business plans. Frequently, farm families are enrolled, particularly members of the younger generation. During the series of modules pertaining to business planning, participants must often ask some tough questions of farm business owners and managers as they complete their exercises.

In one case, the participants were developing written job descriptions and attendance policies for the family business’ employees. One participant asked advisors for sample templates and then developed policies to fit his family business. The individual sent his draft job descriptions and policies by email to the managing partners for discussion.

Wow! This successful multi-generational family business now ignited with Fourth of July fireworks! A member of the older generation responded, “Why do we need job descriptions? We are not a big corporation, and we have been successful without them until now!” Another family member indicated the participant was out to get his child, who worked in the business; the point being his child was notorious for showing up late for work or being a no-show, requiring other family members to cover for him, and not following thru on his responsibilities.

What was the counsel in this case? First, discussion of the new job descriptions and policies may have been better received if presented during a group meeting of the family rather than by email. Emails can often be misinterpreted if not properly worded or presented.

Second, concerning the older generation’s response that job descriptions were unnecessary, the younger generation could have approached him and explained that if he wants his business’ legacy to carry on, more formality in management and employee perceptions will be critical, particularly with multiple family members involved. Also, my experience has been that a new idea will initially be shocking, but then after some time, possibly a year later, the idea often resurfaces as the older generation’s idea, particularly if they are a dominant personality, which many successful patriarchs tend to be.

Concerning the family employee with an issue of failing to show up and do their job, they would certainly be penalized or dismissed in another non-family job situation. This needs to be “nipped in the in the bud” as Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show would say. If not, it will spread, affecting the work culture and hindering business performance.

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