Am I My Uncle’s Keeper?

Jeffrey: Okay, Dad, so he’s your brother. But does that mean we have to put up with his inferior work and his erratic schedule that we would never tolerate from anyone else? And, for what he’s making, we could replace him with two people, both more productive..


Dad: Look, Jeffrey, Harry is my brother and my partner. There’s really nothing more to discuss.


Jeffrey thinks to himself, I’m trying to help this organization grow and   Uncle Harry, one of the owners, is the biggest obstacle to progress. Dad accepts anything Harry does, no matter how poorly he does it. He’s becoming a drain on the business. So what do we do? Accept shoddy performance and carry him for life just because he’s my father’s brother? And what if something happens to Dad? Do I become Uncle Harry’s partner?


Dad reflects, I thought I raised my son with some values and respect for family. So Harry’s getting older and isn’t as sharp as he used to be. He tries hard. And he was there for me when I needed him. That’s what being a brother is all about. How can I get Jeffrey to understand this?


What’s going on?


Jeffrey has a set of standards for employee behavior and quality that he feels should be met by everyone, and which he’d apply even more stringently to family and owners. He’s also concerned about his financial future and ownership of the business. A partnership with Harry might well be intolerable.


Dad has a different idea of family responsibility. It is not dependent upon age, job performance, or attendance. It comes from a value which says “your partner is your partner, and when he’s your brother, there is an even greater level of acceptance and tolerance.” Dad thinks that if his son shares his family values, he should feel the same way about Harry as he does.


What to do…


1. Just as family businesses need rules of entry, they need rules of exit that spell out retirement age, compensation, and any continuing relationship to the business. These are ideally planned before anyone is near retirement age so that discussions are not taken personally, but are looked upon as guidelines for the company.


2. Family members, even owners, should participate in a performance appraisal process. This allows for early discussion of performance concerns and appropriate corrective action.


3. Jeffrey needs to better understand the way his father feels. Dad may be concerned that if Jeffrey thinks his uncle is disposable, then he, too, might be considered disposable at some point in the future.


4. Dad needs to understand Jeffrey’s concerns for the future of the partnership and setting the proper tone for morale with other employees.


Parents and children aren’t going to view all issues the same way. But when children join a family business with parents who have siblings as partners, the parents have an obligation to their partners and their children to address these issues openly and early on.


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