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Questions to Ask Before Hiring an In-Law

Over the summer I wrote about some of the big-picture things to consider when it comes to the role of in-laws. Following from my post on the key questions to ask before going into business with a parent, I wanted to distill the in-law consideration into a similar targeted list of the crucial considerations before hiring an in-law.

If this is you, or could be you in the future, consider each of the following points below, paying particular attention to those you find difficult to answer.

  1. Why are you considering hiring an in-law? Why do they want to work for you? Are you considering hiring your in-law because they are the most qualified person for the job, or because they need a job? And why does your in-law want to work for you? Are they joining the family firm because they are deeply committed to the company and want to have a positive impact on the organization? Or do they simply need a job, and this is the best/easiest place to get hired? Are you looking for a temporary fix, or a long-term career option? What about them? Whatever either of your answers are, honesty about expectations – on both sides – is important.

  2. What are the rules for holding “family members” accountable? Do you have a “Family Involvement Policy” that defines a clear set of guidelines for how family members are hired, evaluated, developed, compensated, and, if necessary, fired? Does everyone in the family understand these rules – especially the next generation and their spouses (your in-laws)?

  3. Are you, as the family leader, willing to enforce these rules? In other words, if your in-law is under-performing, are you willing to provide them with honest feedback? Ultimately, if the in-law does not work out as an employee, are you willing to fire them? For those of us who have had to fire an in-law (I once fired my wife’s aunt) it is an especially painful process.

  4. If it does not work out, what then? If you are not willing to fire an in-law (many of our clients are not) then are you okay with keeping someone on the payroll, even if they are not performing as you would wish? Unless their pay is dramatically impacting EBITDA, this may not be the end of the world. Just don’t let it create resentment.

  5. Does your son or daughter in-law understand the hierarchy? We all have a place in the hierarchy and it is important that we respect that hierarchy. In other words, an in-law should never “play the ownership card.” It is the quickest way for them to dis-empower themselves and destroy morale within the team. “Playing the Ownership card” can be as overt as stating “I am a member of the ownership family” or simply showing up late for work with the knowledge that there will be no ramifications.

My experience is that most in-laws are hired for the right reason and that they perform extremely well. They understand that they live in a fish bowl – and this can create pressure. They will need a good mentor to talk about normal business issues and the unique challenges of being an in-law in a family firm. Most importantly, have the discussion with them in advance so that everyone understands the rules.

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