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Family Business Terminations

I hired my brother-in-law for a management position not long ago, and it's apparent already that he is failing. However, I have real concerns about the impact on our family if I terminate him. What do you suggest?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is a real difference between a family tree and an organization chart. The more that you let the former influence the corporate ladder, the less effective you and your company will be.

If any employee is sinking on the job, you need to respond in a businesslike way. This means that the first step is to sit down with your brother-in-law, review his performance, and see if there is anything that you can do in terms of increased guidance, training, follow-up, or support. He needs to know precisely how he is doing, and the two of you should jointly develop specific plans and objectives to correct any problem areas. It is important for your brother-in-law to understand the upside potential associated with improved performance, along with the consequences associated with continued marginal work.

As uncomfortable as you are dealing with a relative whose performance is not up to par, it is important to remember he is probably feeling doubly bad not only because of the failure, but also because of the fact that he is failing in your eyes. The family matter weighs heavily on him, and he is probably sensing high levels of stress and embarrassment. In fact, he is probably more concerned than you about the impact of his performance on the family.

As is a good idea with any employee, it makes sense to see if there is a more appropriate position for him within the company. Perhaps he will be more squarely pegged in another hole.

However, if there is nothing available, and you have given him every fair and agreed-upon opportunity to succeed, he can be terminated...but not exterminated. This means that you do not just show him the door. Rather, the most equitable and constructive method is to use an outplacement approach where he is given guidance and support in understanding his own strengths and skills and in locating a more suitable position. As for the family reaction, they will probably be relieved that he has been relieved.

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