Trust is such a natural part of being in a family that we often take it for granted. In a family business where everyone is working toward a common goal, trust becomes the keystone of the arch- without it, the whole thing comes crumbling down. This is what separates a corporate culture, which centres around profit targets and individual success; from an independent family business culture, which promotes success of the collective- and it shows in every decision. For small businesses in particular, trust in each other is what allows them to thrive, whilst ensuring that those all-important family values that are tied to a family’s identity remain present.
However, trust goes both ways- and in a family business, it comes with its own unique problems. Say that a family member has been given a job through entitlement- what happens when they aren’t pulling their weight, despite the trust you have put in them? A corporate business always has the option of dismissal if it turns out that trust has been misplaced in an employee; and life can continue for both parties. However, because trust is so deeply ingrained in a family business, the same situation can prove to be very precarious. Without a formal governance structure, a dismissal can result in a toxic environment- and a decision made for the good of the business has betrayed the trust of someone in the family, infecting both work and home relationships in the process.
There are three aspects of trust that need to be assessed when employing a family member- loyalty, competence, and assurance.
There is a difference between loyalty to family, and loyalty to a family business. Would the family member take their role seriously enough ? Could they maintain a professional manner, especially in front of non-family co-workers? Would they act in the interest of the family over themselves?
You must be sure that the family member is suitably competent in the role before appointing them. Is the role in an area that interests them? Have you seen any examples of their experience with similar roles? Do they care passionately and take pride and attention in their work? Assurance requires active communication with the family member. Can they work to a specific task or job role? Are their words backed up with their actions? Would they be honest to you about their own ability and progress, even if they required help?
Welcoming a family member into your business always feels like the natural thing to do- but these questions bear some thinking about, and not just by you. Most times, some honest communication between family members can mean all the difference between an amicable healthy working environment and a toxic one. As they say, the toothpaste can never be put back into the tube.