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How to Survive Working with Family & Friends

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

First published on LinkedIn on May 13th, 2023.

I have had mixed experiences working with family and friends throughout my journey as a serial entrepreneur that has so far owned 7 businesses across 3 countries on 2 continents.

If you are thinking of working with family and or friends, here is my advice on how you can do so in a way that prioritizes the business, builds a thriving culture, and safeguards your relationships.

1. Comply with Policy

If your corporate policy does not allow you to work with family and friends, comply with policy.

If policy requires a declaration of potential conflict of interest to require you to recuse yourself from any recruitment and or procurement processes, do that.

You do not want to put yourself “above the law” or set precedence for others to ignore policy when it benefits them.

Comply with policy.

2. Prescreen for Values, Vision, and Work Ethic

If policy allows, when considering family or friends as potential business partners, employees, or suppliers, use your personal knowledge of their character to your advantage.

Even before reaching out to them, privately vet whether their values, vision, and work ethic would be aligned with your corporate values, vision, and work culture.

If they don’t, don’t even bother broaching the subject of inviting them to be a part of your business.

If they do, move on to the next step.

3. Assess for Relevant Work Competences

If you don’t already have them, create the job description and or terms of reference to assess the family member or friend against.

Then, invite them to submit an application for that role. A CV is a minimum, you can add other requirements as needed, depending on the nature of the invitation to them and the role you want to assess them for.

Make sure you have third-party internal and where appropriate, external reviewers that can assess them for the relevant work-related knowledge, skills, and attitude required for the specific role you want to consider them for. Inviting others to assess your family or friend shows impartiality on your part. It sends the message that you prioritize business interests and your existing stakeholders' welfare above personal interests.

If your family member or friend is not a good fit, this should be the end of the process. Give them the hiring or procurement committee’s feedback and final recommendation as you would any external applicant.

If they make it through, proceed to the next step.

Note, by having invited others in the process, they will now take ownership and more likely support your family or friend as they transition into their role.

4. Follow Official Hiring/Procurement Processes

Keep everything official and transparent. Follow your hiring and procurement protocols when engaging family or friends. Negotiate comparable offers, and sign legal documents on everything as you would for anyone else.

5. Onboard with Probation

Take your family or friend through the same onboarding experience you would others. Have them sign any Code of Conduct and probation terms. Follow due process on breach of contract, including, where the circumstances call for it, termination.

Should they pass probation continue with the next step.

6. Maintain Relations That Respect Work-Life Boundaries

At work, treat family and friends the same way you would all others, maintaining boundaries that foster healthy work relations for everyone.

By all means, empathize with them as you would with anyone else, but be mindful of allowing your personal relationships to be an excuse for compromising workplace conduct and performance.

Family for Life. Colleague for 5 Years.

I had the privilege to work with my brother, Andrew Mahiga for 5 years. Alone in conversation one day, I recall him saying, "you know you hold me to higher standards and expectations than anyone else here".

I didn’t realize it until he pointed that out. I must have been so conscious of leading with fairness and transparency that rather than be mindful not to treat him better than the other Managing Directors of our other businesses I ended up holding him to a more stringent standard.

Looking back after almost 10 years since we worked together, I cannot adequately express how Andrew’s leadership positively impacted our Group of Companies’ growth and reach across East Africa. He made working with family a most rewarding experience for me, our colleagues, clients, and beneficiaries of the incredible education and multimedia programs and teams he oversaw that reached tens of millions of job seekers and entrepreneurs.

What’s been your experience working with family and friends?

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