Question: Name your best tip for dealing with startup employee/partner problems when those employees or partners are ALSO family members.
Question by: Ashley
Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly
"As with other employees, business and personal issues have to be separated. Communication is important. Let the employee/partner know that the issue is not personal, and that the personal relationship does not have to be tainted by the professional issue. Don't let issues fester. Address them early and often."
Contracts Are Critical
"Don't ease up on legal documentation just because you're working with a family member. If there's push-back, explain that as s/he is a family member, it's even more important to you to have a contract in place so that everyone's on the same page about the venture. You don't want to split up a family over money. Get all the issues on paper before you get on the startup roller coaster together."
Do Your Best to Be Fair
"As simple as it sounds, it is sometimes difficult to be fair. Our relationship -- family, friend, long-time employee -- with the employee makes our decision biased. The best tip is to deal with them the same way you would to other employees (who are not your family or friend) in the same situation, without worrying about the rest."
Think Reasonably, Not Emotionally
"Everyone responds to reason, even if it's a family member. While they might react emotionally (and you might be tempted to act the same way), make it clear that you're all looking to approach the problem logically and constructively, rather than get angry and therefore, get nowhere."
Outline Those Roles
"Too often, people create a startup and jump in without defining everyone's roles, especially with family businesses. Defining the roles from the start keeps you from stepping on each other's toes when it's not necessary, and it keeps everyone focused on what they need to get done in order to make the business a success."
Word of Advice: Don't Do It!
"Everyone says it, but too few listen! It's a great feeling to get your company up and running and to finally be able to help out a sibling, a cousin, or even a parent by giving them a job. In today's economy everyone is struggling, so when you have the chance to help, you want to do it. However, it's better to leave them at home and give them money. They will only be a distraction!"
Put Everything in Writing
"I've worked with more than my fair share of family members -- my first job was working for my dad, and my sisters have worked for me. What I've learned is that you have to write down everything, from pay rates to responsibilities. You don't want to think of anyone as having a flexible memory when it comes to money, but family members seem to be particularly susceptible to that problem."
Define Your Goals
"This problem can be tricky, but can also be easily avoided early on. Be transparent about expectations and goals. A family member takes issues a lot less personally if he can clearly see that he did not perform well. Defined goals can help keep everyone in check and can help employees know where they stand, performance-wise."
It's Not Personal, It's Family
"Agree upon important items -- including exit strategy -- casually. Then, turn this casual agreement into a formal, signed agreement, executed by a third party. Your aunt doesn't count. If you don't have things in writing, there WILL be a problem. It's not an IF, it's a WHEN. Having a clear agreement makes business better. It also makes family dinners better."
Board to the Rescue!
"A strong board of directors helps the founders do what's best for the company. Whether your board enables you to tell your family member, "The board is requiring that I confront this issue" or "The board has decided your separation from the company and here are the terms ...," boards can reduce the relational damage associated with resolving team member or partner problems."
Separate, Separate, Separate!
"Separation is essential. I’ve worked with many family members, and separating work from the personal is key. Keep business confined to your workspace and handle the personal on your own time. Don’t let the two overlap in either direction, or neither one of you will ever get a break."
Rework the Office Space
"My father is a partner in my company (joined about two years after I started it). Initially, we spent almost every second of every day together, and we sometimes wanted to kill each other! Since you spend time together from a both business standpoint and a familial one, it's best to try and mix things up sometimes and work remotely, or in different areas, so that it does not become too much."
Be Transparent About Flaws
"My mom and I are business partners, and we have a diverse group of employees. When employees come up to one of us with an issue, we are transparent with each other. Being transparent with family members who are employees or partners is the key to success."
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