Success with Key Non-Family Staff

By Davon Cook on December 7, 2015

If you have a non-family employee in a key managment role, have you intentionally thought about their influence and importance to your operation?

Non-family team members can be good as gold if you're blessed with the right one.  Their presence helps maintain a spirit of professionalism in family interactions, and often can calm emotional firestorms.  Just having them in the office, barn or field holds you to a highter standard, not to mention the specific skill set they may bring that your family does not possess.  They can improve credibility , as customers and landowners assume that if someone outside the family wants to work there, it must be a bona fide, professional operation.

However, you must be able to trust key non-family employees implicitly because they often get to see the good, the bad and the ugly.  It can be detrimental to have someone pubicily airing the family laundry or finances.  There are negative impacts from non-family team members not being discreet or misrepresenting things.  And interestingly, it isn't always an issue of indiscreet public disclosure;  sometimes they intentionally create drama within the family.

Trust and discretion are soft skills that you must evaluate.  Ultimately, it depends on the person.  But if you find the right one, hold on to them!  Make them feel valued as an important part of the team - both as a professional and as an honorary member of the family, if appropriate.  Keep in mind the philosophy a producer shared with me:  "Treat them like family but remember they're not."  She explained that family members may have developed over time a strategy to deal with things like dad's unpredictable temper, but a non-family employee confronted with this situation might  not know this strategy or have the same degree of motivation to manage this unpleasant encounter.  You risk running them off if they are drawn into too much family drama or communicated with in an unprofessional manner that, we sometimes use with family.

Finally, be honest about future expectations with key non-family employees.  If the reality is they are not part of your succession plan, don't let them assume or pretend they are.  Rather make sure they are compensated and appropriately valued otherwise (monetarily and emotionally).  If you are willing to include non-family employees as owners, design a specific plan to do so and communicate it clearly.