Onboarding New Family Members: Don’t Wait Until It Is Too Late
In a recent article written by Joline Godfrey and Alexandre Monnier on the topic of Onboarding new family members, we found some interesting content that we would like to develop for our audience in a series with the same title. In this series, we will begin with an introduction and dive right into the “what not to do” subject matter.
When it comes to the precarious tight-rope act that CEOs must perform when balancing the loyalty they have for current family members and the addition of new members to the family and the family business, there are several things to consider. In part one of our series, we would like to focus on what not to do. Specifically, we want to focus on not procrastinating when designing and implementing a family onboarding program.
Let’s face it; family dynamics are anything less than straightforward. For starters, there are many personalities and moving parts of the family unit. To this, qualifications will vary immensely, and a negative view of nepotism will always be present. These nuances that make families unique compound when introducing new family members to the equation. One only needs to look to the Royal Family to see how complex it can be to add new family members to the family business. Godfrey and Monnier nailed it on the head when they wrote, “
“If you don’t think onboarding new family members is important, you may want to ask Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for a second opinion. In January 2020, a year and a half after their wedding, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they were stepping back from their roles as senior members of the British royal family. The move was unprecedented, put a controversial spotlight on the expenses and income of royal family members, and shook the foundations of the 1,500-year-old monarchy. The event was dubbed “Megxit” (a play on the word “Brexit”), reflecting a widely held assumption that Meghan was the driver of the couple’s announcement. The royal family clearly had failed in their integration of the married-in. This failure led to the extraction of Prince Harry from the position and responsibilities for which he had been diligently prepared over 35 years.”
The fact is that companies will expedite onboarding and spend significant money doing so with the goal of getting the new-hire acclimated and productive in the shortest amount of time possible. The inherent difficulty in rapid onboarding is more psychological than anything else. New hires who are allowed to ease into a company culture tend to feel less isolated and alienated. When intentionally onboarded, productivity increases, and tenure lasts much longer, making the decision to hire a good investment instead of a necessary evil. Still, the individual’s emotional and psychological well-being and perception of the company culture should be weighed in the balance. The public sector has, for the most part, figured this out quite well. Now it is incumbent upon family businesses to follow suit.
Much like the public counterparts, privately held firms or family-owned businesses have to deal with perceptions. Even your more established companies will have complex rules, policies, values, and expectations. When considering family businesses,’ these varied nuances may include things like unspoken agreements and traditions, which those coming from the outside might perceive to be antiquated or unfounded. Such is the plight of family businesses. Failure to comply with these “unspoken” rules and expectations, whether intentionally disregarded or not, can lead to lingering malicious behavior and become somewhat of a corporate neurosis within the family business unit. With this in mind, here are some things to consider not doing when onboarding new family members into your enterprise.
Often leaders will undermine their efforts, even when they have the information they need to make the right decisions. Being the leader of a family business does not make you immune to these challenges. In some family businesses, planning occurs, there is an exchange of ideas, and even action items to execute. Still, somewhere along the line, all of these efforts can fall off the radar in favor of focusing on “more pressing” issues. Procrastination in building an onboarding program can and likely will come back to bite you. And so, if you are looking to begin an onboarding program here are some cautions to consider.
If you lead a family-owned business, do not delay beginning an onboarding program within your organization, even if there are no immediate candidates in the works. The adage “If you don’t know where you are going, that is exactly where you will end up,” is certainly applicable here. The goal is to have a plan in place before you need to execute it. Taking this approach has its benefits as well. Instead of reacting to a new individual’s hiring, where onboarding policies may tend to center around a specific individual and limited to a particular role, make your onboarding policies fairly general rather than explicit. You will find that these policies will set fair expectations and leave the new hire with a sense of equality. It is harder to cry “nepotism” when the criteria and expectations lean towards general practice and protocol and not an individual.
“Developing an onboarding plan before it’s needed tells every family member, ‘We need to be intentional about the process of welcoming new family members.’ This is the moment when surprising attitudes and concerns are best addressed.”
Having a broad set of rules and policies ahead of time with up-front expectations set, you can curtail any future issues where a family member might claim that they did not fully understand a policy or rule that is inherently unique to your family business. For example, suppose your policy is that you do not discuss wages amongst family members, for obvious reasons, when someone within the family business comes back feeling slighted because they don’t make as much as so-and-so. In that case, you can point back to your agreed-upon policy and take corrective actions to discipline the offenders.
It is a great idea to brainstorm some of the possible questions that a new family/business member might have concerning the business’s operations. If your business is comprised of members whose input is necessary for policy, such as the case where family members also serve on your board, bringing up the discussion of onboarding policies and brainstorming ideas can help set the stage for incorporating future employees, but can presently act to reinforce current standards, and thus revitalize long-held policies amongst existing members of the family business. These discussions will also help you to inform new hires of the principles by which your organization adheres. In the onboarding interview with the candidate, providing clarity to what they might later perceive as an “unspoken rule” ahead of time can short-circuit any hard feelings and deflate any feelings of ill will. Most people, when armed with facts, will not feel slighted with expectations that are set upfront.
Ideally, disclosure of essential facets of your culture, your family business’s DNA, expectations, and policies should already be a part of your handbook. Still, when it comes to onboarding family members, your expectations, good, bad, or ugly, should be presented to the new hire to acclimate to the team as productive members without feeling as if there are too many uncertainties. This proactive measure will inevitably lead to fruitful results in the ensuing months and years that the family member is also serving as a team member.