If you Google “Should I hire friends and family?” you will be confronted with pages of cautionary tales about why this is the worst idea ever. They’ll take advantage, says one entrepreneur. You have no leverage, says another. You can destroy relationships, according to a third.
As usual, I’m going to be controversial and say, that’s all nonsense. Hiring friends, family, and people from your community is the best way to grow a business.
I love employing people I know. If you know an individual, that’s half the battle won. You know their character, their strengths and weaknesses. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been employing more and more people from my community, friendship circle and family.
For example, BigChange wouldn’t be where it is today without the incredible contributions from my wife, Amanda, and my brother, Anthony. Also not to forget the Scully family Andrew, James & Lauren.
When I tell people that Amanda and I have been in business together for 16 years, they tend to be shocked… “How can you work with your wife?” I can honestly say: it’s been a breeze. She’s my marketing director and a major asset in the business; she spots things that I miss. And she’s tenacious. If she doesn’t agree with my decision, she won’t just drop it. We’ll be debating all weekend long. She’s not just a director in the business: she holds the same number of shares as I do so she’s a true partner.
My brother started out in new business development and is now the cornerstone of our renewals team. He does an incredible job and I sleep easy knowing that he is handling the crucial job of keeping existing customers happy.
Out of the 100 colleagues in the company, about 75 are people I know, whether that’s through my synagogue (there are three rabbis working here!), an impressive young woman that I met on reception at a local hotel, or a family friend. My sales director’s father was my former manager when I was 14 and worked as a shop assistant at a clothing retailer! An additional 25 colleagues are people I’ve worked with in the past.
One of the major benefits of working with people you know is that they understand you. They know how I operate and don’t have to adapt to my management style.
Of course, you do need to stick to some important rules when employing friends and family.
Firstly, you have to commit to absolute transparency. If you have bad news, don’t try and dress it up differently. Be open about what you expect, and about your plans. This isn’t always easy. During the 2008 banking crisis, I had to let 60 people go from my previous business. We were under pressure from the bank and had to cut costs quickly. It’s really hard to put people you know through a process like that but I was completely upfront about what was happening and why, and everyone understood.
Second, always follow through on your promises. You can’t be the kind of boss who makes outlandish claims and then reneges. That’s a sure-fire to lose people’s respect, both personally and professionally. Bad bosses hide behind ambiguity; don’t let that be you.
Finally, never give people you know preferential treatment. When thinking about the benefits of employing friends and family, I almost wrote that they are more loyal. But then I realised that’s not actually a fair statement: all my employees are loyal, dedicated and go the extra mile. They aren’t somehow more committed just because we met at a party a few years ago. This is why you need to make sure you don’t allow nepotism to creep into your organisation. Meritocracy rules at BigChange.
And if you employ a friend or family member and things aren’t going so great, what do you do then? This is a question that everyone asks. I can honestly say that this rarely – if ever – happens. But if it does, I have the ultimate weapon. I call their wife or partner. Usually their spouse will listen to the issue, and it will be resolved by the time Monday morning rolls back around. It’s not politically correct but it works!
So make sure you’re not missing out on some truly great people. Think about how your friends, your relations and the people in your community could fit into your organisation. It could be the best thing you ever do.
Founder & CEO