Getting Unstuck

Chris Eckrich
Chris Eckrich

In a family business, it is not unusual for a junior generation family employee to become stuck in a job where he is under-performing. When this happens, it can be difficult for family management leaders to talk openly with the younger family employee about the situation. Although folks working with the family employee are well aware of the situation, no corrective feedback is given.

This can be even more difficult if it is a sibling or cousin that is observed to be in a rut. Commonly, the junior generation family employee feels strongly that there are artificial limits placed on what he or she is allowed to do in the organization, perhaps because of age, experience, or unhealthy family dynamics that are playing against them. Often, nothing is said as speaking up may create tension and nobody wants to hurt loved ones.

This is not a healthy situation. For the company, the business is robbed of a family employee who could either excel and add much more value to the company, or exit and make room for a nonfamily employee who would be more successful in the position. For the junior generation family employee, being in a stuck position creates frustration as valuable life time is being spent doing something that is perceived as either not meaningful or lacking direction.

When this happens, the status quo can continue for months or even years if neither side speaks up. Once the pattern is entrenched, senior generation leaders may form judgments about the junior generation employee’s motivations and assume that they are lacking. The junior generation may form judgments about the senior generation’s typecasting and form judgments as well. Both sides begin to see each other as the problem and a decline in mutual respect sets in.  A better model is needed.

If you see yourself in this situation, don’t settle for the status quo. You and your organization are much too valuable to settle for this no-win scenario.

Here are some actions you might consider:

 

What the “stuck” family employee can do:

 

What the senior leader can do:

Quit complaining about things not being the way you want them to be.  It does nothing to help you. Quit labeling the junior employee as ineffective and commit yourself to helping him or her develop into a better person and employee.
Identify a resource that can coach you to clarify and state your desired goals and roles. Work with ownership to develop a comprehensive family employment policy that addresses an expected family work ethic and identifies career resources available.
Communicate your hopes to your supervisor or HR Director, asking what specific training or behavior changes you could make that would increase your chances of reaching your desired goals or roles. Speak with the younger generation employee about his or her desired goals and roles, listen to what is shared and write it down.  (If he or she has no future goals, request HR assistance or outside coaching as a way to help the person gain clarity.)
Create an action plan to develop the specific skills or experiences needed to reach your goals, even if it will take time (like furthering your education). Once goals are clearly stated, work with HR or appropriate supervisors to identify behavioral, educational and experiential requirements that will be needed for the person to advance.  (Request coaching for this person through HR or outside resources, if it is needed.)
Talk to senior family leaders about your hopes and what you intend to do to reach your goals, asking them for further input on what you can be doing to become more valuable to the organization. Determine what corporate resources are available to help the junior generation employee achieve his or her stated goals, and what strings are attached (e.g. the company will pay for courses in which a B or better is earned).
Use your coach or another person to serve as a support resource to help you stay on track. Clarify what role senior family leaders and immediate supervisors will have in providing guidance and feedback to the junior generation employee.
If you realize that your needs cannot be met inside the company, don’t be afraid to pursue your career outside of the family business.  You may end up developing a stronger skill set that will allow you to reach your goals in the family business at a later time. Affirm progress towards goals and expect setbacks, but don’t fall into the trap of labeling.  Be honest in providing feedback that will help the junior generation family employee get back on track.