I Can't Fire Her -- She's My Sister

By Zelda Greenberg

Family-owned businesses have unique challenges. One of the most enormous challenges is how to manage the individual family members. Conflicts in any organization are normal but in a family-owned business authority over other family members must be handled delicately to say the least. Recently I received these letters in my email that illustrates this point. I won't print their names just in case they didn't follow my advise and did bodily harm.

Dear Zelda, I work with four family members. Yes, this is no typo, f-o-u-r! My younger sister is always arguing with the other siblings about her job duties. Sometimes I just want to strangle her. What can we do? Frustrated Older Sister.

Dear Frustrated Older Sister, Don't strangle your sister. Jail time does not seem like a good solution to the problem. Excellent people skills are what will help you resolve the problem. When it's a family business one of the hardest things to do is to remain objective. That being said, it is exactly the prescription necessary. You have to take out the personal emotions and make decisions that are best for the entire health of the company. This means having frank discussions with family members. Sometimes you have to be strong enough to ignore the bickering and intelligent enough to know when it is appropriate to step in to make the tough decisions and make those decisions stick.

Here are the steps necessary to keep the squabbles down to a low roar

1.   Calmly listen to your young sisters' complaint. Listen carefully to what the real issue might be.

2.   Speak with the other siblings about the issue your sister is having.

3.   Let everyone discuss their viewpoint but don't point fingers and place blame. Everyone gets a turn to speak and while that person is speaking everyone else listens.

4.   Have everyone take a turn to offer suggestions on how to resolve the conflict.

5.   Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Dear Zelda, I can't stand the boss and I'm sick of him bossing me around. He is always telling me what to do. I know what to do! The worst thing is he is my brother. What is a guy to do? The Other Brother

Dear Other Brother, Thaddeus Golas said, "What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens."  In this situation there are a couple of things you can do. I recommend the first step to resolving the bossy boss syndrome is to have the company goal clearly posted. Make certain the goal is crystal clear to everyone. Next you must be certain there are clear and concise written job descriptions. Everyone must know what is expected of them. You can't have two sets of rules. There can't be one set of rules for family and a separate set for all the other employees. A clear understanding of responsibilities will minimize conflict.

A great way to tackle the issue of the boss telling the brother what to do or anyone else for that matter is to simply have everyone write their own job descriptions. I know you think I lost my mind but quite the opposite is true. Have all the employees write their job descriptions. This is not their ideal perfect world job description. This is the "OK, I know the company goal now let me roll up my sleeves and help get the job done" kind of written description. You will be surprised at how detailed people will get. They will zero in on all the tasks they complete. People will respond better if they have a voice. People want to be heard. You will see that your company goal is being met and with better results when everyone knows what is expected of them. They know what is expected because they wrote the job description. Now they can be held very accountable because they know exactly what is expected to get the job done.

Another solution is to hire a manager from outside the company to run the day to day activities of the business. When family members can't agree and are constantly arguing the other employees see and hear this conflict. Soon everyone will be in a toxic environment and that is not healthy for anyone.

Rather than fire the family members only place members of the family in management positions that have management and people skills. In other words, give the job to people capable of succeeding in that position. Family members must be capable of determining when to get involved in disputes and when to back off. The leader must be capable of making decisions that the other members of the family will respect and honor.

The job description with the individual responsibilities is important to family members and employees. This allows everyone to know exactly what is expected of them. When appropriate you just might need an outside manager that is capable of holding family members responsible for their actions. When family squabbles pop up the non family member manager can determine if the complaint is valid and act accordingly.

The key to the success in warding off family bickering is to communicate on a regular basis with all the family members. Ah, isn't peaceful coexistence great. As Helen Keller said, "The welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all."

Read other articles and learn more about Zelda Greenberg.

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