As an in-law coming into a family business, you’re stepping into one of the hardest working environments imaginable. A family member is held to a higher standard than regular employees, but an in-law has to work even harder than a family member.
“It really takes someone with vision and purpose because there will be a lot of extra challenges,” says Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, managing partner at the Mosaic Family Business Center.
If you lay the right groundwork, establish clear expectations, and work with an adviser familiar with the challenges that will occur, she says it can be a productive and joyous experience.
Smart Business spoke with Victorio about how in-laws can successfully enter the family business and thrive.
What challenges do in-laws face when coming into the family business?
The hardest thing to overcome is perception. It doesn’t matter if you have an MBA from Cambridge or a Ph.D. from Harvard. When it comes to in-laws, the fact that you married into the business downgrades any credentials in the eyes of non-family managers or employees. People will tend to judge you harshly, so be patient and don’t take it personally.
How can an in-law successfully enter into the business?
The position, pay scale and responsibility must match the in-law’s experience and education. Thrusting an unqualified in-law upon people, no matter how great he or she is, makes it a much harder road. For example, an in-law was a sales manager making six-figures who was downsized. Now, he’s in trouble financially, and the family is worried. The family can bring the in-law into the business, which might be in another industry, but he shouldn’t start as the head of the sales division. He needs to learn the business and earn his way up the corporate ladder. If parents are still concerned about the financial gap, they can consider gifting additional monies from outside of the business — to help until he earns his way up.
It can be helpful to have the in-law candidate interview with the executive management team to gain support.
How can in-laws overcome the assumption that they have the boss’s ear?
You can’t expect the employees to be your friends, because they are going to assume that anything they reveal will get back to the boss. It can feel isolating and you have to be above reproach. Stay professional and never assume to be the heir apparent.
Also, if you have a problem, resolve things through the proper chain of command. If you’re not reporting to your father-in-law, don’t go to him when you have an issue.
Remember when you come home and complain to your spouse about work that you’re talking about a family member. Your spouse may get defensive, run to whomever you’re complaining about or start disliking that person. Try to share more than just the bad days.
What documentation is needed to protect the business, and the in-law?
Families with a high net worth business typically will require a prenuptial agreement that protects the stock from leaving the family in the case of divorce or death of the blood relative. However, there are incentives such as restricted or phantom stock for high-performing managers, which can provide financial incentives that feel like ownership for growing the company.
It’s also critical to create family member employment and stock qualification policies. These policies define the benchmarks and requirements for all family members, whether an in-law or not, as to how they can become stockowners or hold key executive positions, clarifying the pathway and making family employees more accountable.
Why is having a succession coach valuable?
Engaging a coach who specializes in succession transitions to help employed family members can smooth the predictable challenges along the way. Family employees, including in-laws, need a safe place to talk, and guidance to strategize through the maze of issues that will occur. The coach also can facilitate a family business council, which provides a venue for family members to talk about business related topics, questions and issues that would normally feel inappropriate to bring up in a productive environment.
Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, is a managing partner at the Mosaic Family Business Center. Reach her at (415) 788-1952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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