FIRING A FAMILY MEMBER

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Bernie Kliska

If you think firing a long time employee is difficult, try firing a family member. As daunting the task, sometimes it’s necessary. Any major firing threatens  to disrupt a business, creating fear and anxiety. But the ripples from firing a family member may spread throughout the family as well as the business. Handling this difficult matter the right way can limit emotional damage to the family and business and, with good communication and a few procedural tips, it can also ultimately strengthen them.

Prevention is always the best strategy. Because most terminations have long roots, it’s advisable to know as early as possible whether a family member is developing into a healthy plant or troublesome weed. Regular and honest performance reviews are essential. Although some people disagree about their automatic use, 360-degree reviews–reviews that solicit input from both subordinates and superiors–are an excellent tool for family business me mbers. Not only do 360-degree reviews help ensure the objectivity that is so difficult in reviewing family members, but if termination eventually becomes necessary, they provide important backup that can help defuse emotional reactions.

Keep the separation between business and family clear. It’s difficult to profess the family values of love, loyalty and all -for-one -and-one-for-all while delivering a termination notice. The person receiving the notice may understandably have difficulty hearing and believing that those family values still include him, but those values should still be clearly stated. Although for the ultimate good of all family members, including the terminated person, the business must come first; firing a family member from the business does not mean firing from the family. An uncomfortable fit for the business does not mean an uncomfortable fit for the family. Ask if there is  anything you or others can do to make him more comfortable.

Offer an honorable out. Consider offering the person a face saving resignation.

Use your board of directors wisely.  Make it clear that while the board has recommended termination, you have decided it. Remember, you want to enhance communication and the family relationship. This requires honesty.

Have an impartial third person present during termination. A third person is a valuable role for a family business consultant, who can navigate effective, clear, honest communication through the white-waters of anger, shame, denial and sadness swirling around the room. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, it takes more than good intent to make sure that the important things are said,heard and remembered. Firing a family member may feel like the ultimate paradox in a family business, but by handing it clearly, honestly and with consideration and compassion, it is possible for both family and business to emerge from the ordeal even stronger.

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