Should you Hire Family and Friends?

Everyone tells you to avoid hiring family and friends.  Yet as I think about the many privately held companies that I have worked with over the past eight years, most of them have included friends and/or family members.  Castle Contracting, a site excavation firm in St. Louis, is built around people who have strong personal and family relationships with one another.  The company was started by Julie Ledbetter, is run by her husband Rich, and has two senior project managers who are related to one another.  While they have had to work through some relational dynamics, today the company is strong in large part because of the relationships and trust among the leadership team. 

If so many companies ignore the prevailing advice, what are some lessons that you can learn from them to avoid making a bad hire and ruining a relationship?  When it comes to recruiting new employees, don’t hire someone because they are family.  But don’t overlook an A-player because they happen to have the same name as you.  Here are some steps to help reduce the risk of hiring a friend or family member:

Start with a Trial Period
If there is any way, have the person work part-time for you before they quit their job to work for your organization.  Conversations in the back yard over barbecue about how great it would be to work together are one thing.  Actually dealing with the challenges of the construction business together is something different altogether.  Get the person in your office or on the job site with you. Even volunteer to pay them for part-time work so you can both get a feel for how their employment would work out.  If you pay them for a few weeks work and then they decide it’s not the right fit, you may have saved yourself a lifetime of family conflict.

Treat Them Like Any Other Employee 
You can’t play favorites at work.  Whatever their personal connection to you, the best thing you can do is treat a family member the same way you would treat anyone else.  Make sure to define their job clearly.  Talk with the person to whom he or she reports and make it clear you don’t want them to be treated differently from other employees. 

If you don’t take these steps, there will be a mixture of resentment and fear in other employees who assume that this person has special influence because of their family ties.  I once worked in a company where a peer of mine was the nephew of the CEO.  Even though his job was clearly defined, all the employees of the organization assumed that he had more clout than they did because of his family relation.  While you may not be able to eliminate this kind of rumor, don’t feed it by providing any kind of special treatment.

Don’t Bring Family Baggage into the Workplace  
One challenge with hiring family members can be that you bring all the family baggage into your office.  Conflicts between extended families are common:  but make sure that any family member you hire can separate those issues from his or her job.  The same thing goes for hiring friends.  Make sure that they can keep their professional responsibilities clear and stay focused on them in the midst of their personal relationship with you.

You can find some great people in your own family or among your close friends, but you have to be careful and selective in the hiring process.  Only hire a family member or friend who is not only skilled but is more mature than your average person.  He or she is going to need that emotional maturity to successfully navigate combining their professional and personal lives.

Eric Herrenkohl is Founder and President of Herrenkohl Consulting (www.herrenkohlconsulting.com), a management consulting firm focused on creating organizations that drive growth and profits. His work has been published or cited in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Inc.com, Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com, and MSNBC.com.  Eric is also the author of Performance Principles, a monthly e-letter that reaches thousands of subscribers across North America and is re-printed in a number of industry and company newsletters.

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