At the beginning of the year, I came across an article listing the 50 biggest mistakes that companies make. One that stood out was “hiring family.” My father started Southtown Audio Video (SAV) in 1984, and I purchased it from him in 2014. Maybe because he built the company with his blood, sweat, and tears, business was extremely personal to him. So intimate, in fact, that at times, it was hard to run it as a proper business. But the man succeeded as a business owner for more than 30 years, so who are we to judge? He was a Vietnam vet with no college education, running a successful company—pretty impressive!
Taking over SAV was not an easy feat (a story best reserved for drinks), but piece-by-piece, and day-by-day, we got there. Soon after, I hired my sister as an installer (yes, I said installer), and two years later I hired my sister-in-law as our AV consultant (a.k.a. Front of House Goddess). My father is still around, too. Sure, there were some tough times during the change of leadership, but today my relationship with my father is better. Having family members as part of the company has been amazing, and I am thankful every day for them. Hiring them has not been a mistake; it has been one of the best business decisions I have ever made. Here is how I’ve made it work:
Treat Everyone Fairly. Not everyone who works here is family. Showing preferential treatment would be unprofessional, unfair, and would degrade my standing as the boss. You must treat everyone the same, and your rules and regulations should be spelled out (preferably in an employees’ manual), so everyone’s expectations are on par. Do not dare give paid days off to your brother-in-law and not your other installers if you want to keep your place of business happy and healthy. Equal treatment of all staff is a must.
Keep Business at Work. Our family gets together for dinner, and it used to be all about work. Not anymore. Sure there are times when we have a conversation about a job or client, but for the most part, work stays at work. If we need to talk about an upcoming project, I ask permission. This is the same respect I would give to a non-family member. Just because we share blood or family does not give the right to assume that you “own” them and their time. If there is tension or a disagreement, this also stays at work; leave it there and let it go. Everyone will be happier!
Stay Human. What you do get when hiring family is “buy-in” to the company. I know my family members are both trustworthy and honest. I know they have the company’s best interests at heart. If they need off for a doctor's appointment or to grab the kids after school and it doesn’t affect the company, then why in the world would I not give them the time? The other side of that coin is that they are willing to work extra when needed.
These rules apply to all of your employees and not just family, yet it is often forgotten to treat the family members who work for you with respect and with integrity. If you treat them well, they will treat your business well. These employees (family) have filled a void in my company and with them by my side, there is no telling what we can accomplish. We are in a growth phase and with the team I have now, I believe we will come out on top.