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Firing a family member

Don Tyler for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 October 2019
Firing a family member

Let’s face it. We love our kids. It doesn’t matter how much they mess up, how many times they’ve disappointed us or the poor decisions they make, we still love them.

This basic truth is very powerful but can create serious dilemmas when it becomes clear they aren’t pulling their weight in the family business.

Even the best-run operations experience situations where a family member is no longer effective or was simply a “bad hire.” If several remedies have been attempted and failed, there are few options other than separation from the company.

Reasons for termination

Here’s a partial list of the situations and behaviors that should initiate a termination discussion:

  • Consistent inability to do their job

  • Insubordination – refusal to do their job

  • Significant change in financial situation of the operation

  • Complete disinterest in professional development

  • Unaccountability to do what they agreed to do

  • Laziness

  • Abuse of livestock

  • Lack of confidentiality of business information

  • Irresolvable differences of opinion, priorities or values

  • Open lack of respect for leadership or family elders

  • A spouse or relative of the employee who is extremely and directly disruptive to the business

  • Lack of emotional maturity

  • Unresolved anger issues

  • Unacceptable or illegal activities – stealing, drug use, gambling with business funds, DUIs, lying, unethical behavior, etc.

  • Chronic safety violations that risk harm to others and increase liability to entire operation

  • Repeated damage to company property or equipment

  • Sexual or other harassment of employees

  • Consistent actions and behaviors that put the reputation of the company at risk in the community

If these situations occur, it is imperative they be addressed in a thoughtful and straightforward manner. The health and well-being of the family and the business is at stake, with the potential to rob future generations of the opportunity to carry on the family’s farming traditions.

These decisions are often traumatic and emotionally gut-wrenching for everyone in the business, but they must be done. In each of these situations I’ve helped facilitate, there is an initial sense of deep loss soon followed by a sense of relief, optimism and renewed focus.

The process

When deliberate coaching and accountability have failed to create the desired change, we need to begin a process that provides every opportunity to correct the behavior yet still establishes clear consequences for a lack of change.

We start with documenting the instances in a professional manner, detailing the dates, times and descriptions of the incident and any witnesses to each occurrence. The documentation does not need to be extensive. Brief, specific, itemized information is all that is needed.

Next, we have a meeting to discuss this issue, and only this issue, in a formal setting (an office or where regular business is done) that includes the leadership and the individual. Review the list of concerns, their lack of resolution to the concerns and your expectations for change. Include a timeline for the specific changes to be made; the specific behaviors, actions, attitudes, etc., that must be modified; and how you can personally help them make these changes. Make a record of the discussion and the process you have agreed on to ensure compliance.

This process may seem more difficult when the behaviors appear to be subjective, such as inappropriate attitudes, disrespect, lack of emotional maturity, etc. In these situations, we simply identify a few specific instances that occurred recently where the details can be outlined and reviewed. Unfortunately, many individuals will simply deny they occurred, or disagree with your assessment of the circumstances, and hope you will just let it go.

When this occurs, tell them firmly that you (and perhaps others) have witnessed this behavior, and it needs to cease. As a part of the process, let them know that, moving forward, you will address any new instances of that behavior immediately when it occurs so there is no question on the details and expectations.

Along with the listing of these instances, state the specific behaviors that must cease. It is essential that you also explain alternative, positive behaviors. This provides some coaching on more appropriate behaviors and clarifies what they can do to make necessary improvements. It also puts the responsibility solely on them to make these changes while also giving them all the information they need to accomplish them.

Finally, agree on the consequences if they do not change their behavior in the agreed time frame. They may have some creative ideas on this, but the final consequence for non-compliance must include termination.

This plan should have a timeline for accomplishment of 30 to 60 days and be signed by those involved in this discussion.

Additional considerations

It is possible to use a one- to three-day unpaid suspension as an interim step in this process, which shows you are serious about these issues and to give the person a chance to consider the implications of their behaviors.

In some situations, there may be an opportunity for the person to take a three- to six-month or longer unpaid leave of absence to pursue other interests, get professional help or consider a different future.

If you experience great difficulty in making a decision like this, consider the consequences if you do not address the issue. Ever-increasing stress and anxiety over the situation; losing good employees or even other family members; loss of respect by vendors, neighbors and the community; and uncomfortable holiday gatherings may all be worsened by your inaction.

As I have helped families work through this process, one of the best strategies is to help the person transition into a different career that fits their abilities, interests and motivators. Taking this approach allows the individual to leave under good terms and shows the rest of the people in the company that the family business is proactive in these situations – and that anyone can be replaced.  end mark

Don Tyler is founder of Tyler & Associates Management Coaching. For more information about this topic or as a trainer/speaker, he can be reached through his website or at (765) 490-0353.

Don Tyler