A few months ago, my friend was thrilled with her new job—a creative position at a small business with a worthwhile, interesting product. Now, however, her inner conflict is obvious.
``A bunch of us were out at lunch the other day and we agreed that it was the most immature, juvenile atmosphere we've ever worked in,'' she moaned. ``I really, really believe in the product. But I don't know if I can stay there.''
The work environment was poisoned by department heads who engaged in temper tantrums and feuds. These managers gained their positions—and generous salaries—as a result of obvious favoritism.
To the outside world, this is a respected, successful company. So it may seem puzzling that no one in upper management has stepped in to halt the misbehavior.
But the answer is simple. If you haven't guessed by now, we're talking about a family business run amok.
That's right. Mom and Dad put the kids in fancy jobs despite their lack of experience and training.
The kids get salaries, cars and down payments on homes based on their desired lifestyle, rather than performance. And they re-enact their childhood spats in front of appalled employees.
Now, all family businesses aren't like this. Family-run companies are kind of like monarchies: An enlightened family company can be a wonderful place to work. But a dysfunctional one can be hellish.
Those who counsel family businesses list several steps to avoid such train wrecks.
The toughest one was taken at one of the nation's largest family-dominated companies, Ford Motor Co., in the 1970s when Henry Ford II declared that no ``crown princes'' were designated to succeed him.
Big or small, companies do better if they're run by the best people available. If you want that person to be one of your kids—and if that person wants the same thing—start early to prepare him or her to win the job on merit.
Let that person work for another company in the field, or start him or her low on the totem pole to learn your business inside and out.
Bring respected outsiders onto your board to inject expertise, and improve manners.
Meanwhile, be prepared to promote non-family members who excel.
These are all truisms, I suppose. The hard part is putting them into practice. But failure to do so can cost you good employees and, quite possibly, the long-term health of your company.
Mr. Guilford is managing editor of Crain's Small Business in Detroit, a sister publication of TIRE BUSINESS.