Friends and family: To hire or not to hire?

We’ve all heard it before whenever new ideas or needs are presented around the conference table. Those dreaded five words that always seem like a good idea at the time but can often bite us in the rear down the road:“I know a guy/gal who…”Finish the sentence if you dare—Can build a website? Do our taxes for free? Would make a great personal assistant?

Now, we’re not saying that this situation never works. Referrals from current employees are extremely valuable and often provide a level of credibility that is difficult to find with other job candidates. It’s just that “I know a guy who…” is not always the best hiring strategy if that is the only qualifier for a job.

Hiring anyone based on a single connection without consideration to skill or experience, or without opening the opportunity to others, can potentially eliminate a more ideal job candidate.

Consider these potential pros and cons of hiring a friend or family member:

Pros:

  • Shared values
    Friends and family members may have similar view points and values when it comes to business. This can translate into a strong brand and consistent customer service.
  • Loyalty and commitment
    When a friend or family member is hired, there can be a greater sense of responsibility to commit to a job well done. It can also be more difficult for them to walk away and alternately, more difficult to let them go.
  • Inherent trust and understanding
    If hiring a friend or family member, you clearly trust them or whoever referred them. What’s more, established relationships come with rapport which can make for easy communication and enhanced credibility among your team.

Cons:

  • Incompetence
    Hiring based on connection can mean that the hire may not be fully qualified for the job at hand. Be sure to look objectively at qualifications before making any decision to hire a family or friend.
  • Inability to separate personal from professional issues… and vice versa
    ‘Nuff said.
  • Nepotism
    Also known as the preferential treatment to family members in the hiring or promotion process.

So how can you take advantage of the pros and ensure a fair process? How do you decide when hiring a friend or family member is an appropriate and sound business decision? The answer lies within precedent, perception and objectivity. Here are a few pointers for ensuring fair treatment and consideration to all staff and job applicants.

Develop a policy—and communicate it
The first issue that your business should address is one of semantics. If your small business happens to be a family-owned business, nepotism may be a moot point. In any case, it’s best for any small business to consider a friends and family hiring or promotion policy before the occasion prevents itself. Whatever you decide the policy to be—excluding family members from working in the same department, including an objective party in the interview process or maybe even one that limits employees to those within family ties—put it on paper and make sure your staff knows about it. Alert everyone to the policy and open the floor to questions at the next staff meeting. Distribute a copy to everyone in a nice document envelope or compile with other materials in binders to form an employee handbook.

Manage perceptions and expectations
A policy will help in assuring staff members that when a family member or friend is hired, it is because of his/her competency or because it falls in line with the family business plan—policies help to manage expectations and perceptions. It’s also important to manage the perceptions and expectations of those in the hiring process, too. Ask applicants to disclose personal relationships with anyone in your office, and when interviewing friends and family, be sure to alert them of your policy, too.

Offer an outlet
Whether hiring family members and friends or not, businesses should have processes in place that allow for employees to voice concerns over HR matters. Often times, providing this outlet in the small business setting can be challenging but even the smallest of gestures can go a long way. A simple box located in a common area for comments and concerns to be placed anonymously, or using online communication tools like www.Rypple.com or www.BetterMe.com, are both great outlets.

Reward EVERYONE for a job well done
Don’t wait until employment reviews to give your team a pat on the back, and don’t think promotions are the only way to acknowledge a job well done. Take the time to reward all staff for their hard work on a more frequent basis with small tokens of appreciation like card set or a nice gift set.

Don’t get tripped up the next time someone says “I know a guy who…” in a meeting. Instead, respond with confidence—Invoke your business’s policy and hire the best person for the job.

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