Time and again I have the same conversations with business owners who are sharing their experience of how a person they recruited into a key role and who looked so perfect through the hiring process, had left after only a year or even sooner.
They lament how disruptive an event like this has been to their business or how the outcomes needed to be delivered by that key person had not been achieved.
It always ends up being a big setback, for the business and the family and it generally leaves the owners dreading to have to go through the process again, hoping that this time things will work out.
When I sit down to discuss with them why it didn’t work out, the comment almost invariably is “they just weren’t the right fit”.
When pressed further what this means, some of the following points stand out.
It wasn’t that they didn’t have the right qualifications.
It wasn’t that they weren’t good technically or turned out not to have the right ‘hard skills’.
The candidates often interviewed well, were professional, articulate and said all the right things. They seemed to understand what the business needs were and were able to address these.
They had great experience and even though it didn’t exactly align to the business needs or the circumstances, the owners generally thought it was experience that could be valuable anyway.
The owners also knew that there might be some risk, because the candidates had worked in corporate environments up until they interviewed, but hoped that the family business would benefit from those lessons.
Invariably, they do bring these candidates on board and pay top dollar, because the skill and experience seem too good to miss out on.
But soon after the appointment, the fairy-tale ends or even turns into a nightmare.
The new key staff member starts to complain that they don’t get the resources they were used to. Not enough support staff, not a big enough marketing budget or that they have to fly economy on business trips.
They say the owners are too slow to accept change or are not willing to invest in the company and new technology.
The “disconnect” seems to always happen at this point. A senior appointment, who doesn’t understand the complexity of a family business, not investing time to understand the family or the culture the family has created, let alone the values they have built the business on.
They see it as a negative that members of the family work in the business and often think that some of them are in their roles because of family connection, not on merit.
They talk about culture being important but have no interest in understanding what it takes to build a successful business from scratch and grow and support it over a 35-year period.
They talk about values and how important these are, however do not understand the importance of what it means to battle through economic hardship without laying off staff and why it matters to keep sponsoring local community groups, even when the profits are not what they used to be.
In the end, the frustration felt by the owners and by the key recruit just becomes too much, as their cultural divide is not able to be bridged and, invariably, they part ways. If there is anything I have learnt from these conversations over the years, it is the importance of ensuring that a key staff member, such as a CEO, coming into a Family Business, brings more than just skills and experience.
They need to bring honest respect for what has been created by the family and patience to support the family in coming to terms with the changes that will naturally be a part of their employment. They need to have empathy with the ownership group, including the next generation, and support them in their growth on this journey.
I feel our responsibility in supporting the recruitment process is to ensure that Family Businesses are ready to bring key non-Family staff into the business and that those looking to join a family business are ready to embrace its culture and values and feel a sense of responsibility for the family and their legacy.
We have created LiquidGold Consultants to prepare the family and the staff equally, so if you are thinking about embarking on a journey that involves the hiring of key people, we can help you.