So, Why Aren’t You Hiring Your Family?

Me with my three brothers and my oldest son.

Originally published on the TowerHill Realty Blog.

Would you hire your brother to work for you? What about your dad?

I’ve worked with family my entire life. My dad’s construction company was my professional training ground in my youth. In college, I hired my younger brother to help me paint houses to make tuition money. Two other brothers have worked for me right out of college. I’ve even had a younger sister intern for my company.

Oh yeah, and now some 30 years later, my dad is working for me!

Each of these opportunities to work with family has been a phenomenal experience. Maybe we’re in the minority, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I was curious to understand why the idea that “it’s better to keep family and business separate” is thought of as conventional wisdom. So I did some quick research.

I found that proponents of separating work from family believe three things:

  1. People are different at work and at home
  2. How you get along personally and professionally may be different
  3. The risk of losing the relationship is too great

What you’ll notice is that these all have to do with trust and vision alignment. Now, it would be nuts to work with anyone, family or otherwise, whose vision of work, growth and success are not in alignment with yours. If your vision doesn’t align with theirs, you wouldn’t hire them, it’s that simple. But given a vision alignment and authentic trust, I can’t see why hiring family is a bad idea.

On a side note, I did not find any opinionators who said they simply didn’t like their family — and that’s why they wouldn’t work with them. Let’s face it, there are certain family members who you are not going to get along with. You might think they’re crazy, or vice-versa. Maybe their prison record is too long. This is not a manifesto on why hiring all of your family members is a good idea.

If you haven’t caught on by now, you should know that I’m really not sold on the conventional wisdom surrounding the separation of work and family. So here are my top five reasons in favor of working with family:

1) Fighting like family is good for company culture: In an Irish-Italian family like mine, you learn to fight and hug all in the same conversation. This requires trust, forgiveness, mercy and love all at once. (Something tells me this is not just an Irish-Italian thing… it’s inherent to high functioning families and organizations.) For me, disagreeing for the good of the organization is fundamental to building company culture. But if you don’t have this type of fundamental trust that you are loved and cared for unconditionally by those in your world, fighting like family becomes very dysfunctional. The fighting becomes personal and damaging. The trust to fight like family has to be nurtured in all of the relationships in the organization if you want real accountability and real results.

2) For your kids, your workplace can be a great training ground for life: My dad’s business was an unrivaled school of perseverance and personal excellence. It allowed me to spend an enormous amount of time by his side, picking up how he approached conflict, balanced family obligations with my mom and developed friendships. I also learned how he thought about everything from politics to faith to the Redskins. In large part, I am the product of being a companion to my dad for many years even when all I was qualified to do was pick up trash on a job site.

3) Family will force you to be a better leader: If you believe that humility is the cornerstone to a great leader, then hiring family can be a phenomenal conduit towards growth as a leader. They tell you like it is, know you are not made of stone, and can be your toughest critic. They will give you unbiased feedback and that feedback is the fuel that can drive a business or organization forward.

4) Blood is thick — family has your back: Another theme around trust is the fact that your family members are very likely — I can confidently say that mine and many of yours are more likely than non-family — to remain faithful through hard times. Their dedication is inherent to the relationship. They’ve seen you at your worst, through your teenage years, in your pajamas on the weekend… and they decided to stick with you. My brother runs our books for all three businesses. I trust him to always do the right thing, seek me out for advice when needed and to stay on mission with all of his decisions. He would take a bullet for me and come back for more and I would do the same for him.

5) When hiring, you know their track record: I have a pretty detailed hiring process that I follow. No matter how detailed your system, how good your questions, we can all be fooled by a slick candidate. I don’t know anyone who has been in business who has not made a bad hire. I’m constantly looking to peel back the layers of someone’s track record in the hiring process. With family, you know their track record. You’ve seen their pace of work, their determination when tough things happen in life, their attention to details, their follow-up skills, whether they take responsibility for actions, their habits and attitude. You can teach other skills, but who a person is in their personal life is always more important than what they do or how they do it. It is the foundation on which to build everything else.

Life is short folks, spend it with people you love, not just the people who make you feel good. The people you love are the people you would sacrifice for. When you foster a habitual disposition of sacrifice towards family in your business, you create a dynamic that spills over into other relationships in your business. The majority of the folks who you encounter in the building every day aren’t blood related, but your disposition of sacrifice and service for family should spill over into those relationships. A servant’s heart is a fundamental requirement of a good leader.

Of course, the dynamics of distinct families add infinite complications to this conversation. Frankly, that’s what makes this such a fascinating topic. As a follow-up to this article, there should be some discussion on what to be careful of when you do have family in the business with you. I’m on it. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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