When we work with family-owned businesses, a common question we hear from parents is, “How important is it, really, for our sons and daughters to work for someone else? Won’t that just delay their readiness for key roles in our own company?”
In our view, it’s pretty important. We generally recommend that before you hire a next generation family member into a career-level position, you first require them to work for a company that is neither owned nor otherwise connected to your family enterprise. Sons and daughters need to work in a setting where they are not seen nor treated as “special” in any way. They also need to stick with that employer for a minimum of 2-3 years and experience some form of promotion or advancement before they can enter their own family’s enterprise. Again, we’re talking about career-level positions – those high-responsibility roles that people take on after completing their formal education. We don’t object to having your 16 year-old working summers in your family business while they’re in school. In fact, we encourage that.
Working outside the family business early in one’s adult career will be good for that person’s professional development and credibility, and for your company’s performance.
You see, once they come into the family business, they have special status. Even if your son or daughter has a great attitude, is super responsible and works harder than everybody else, they’re still almost certain to receive more attention, more support, and more opportunity than non-family employees. They know it, you know it, and so does everybody else.
Requiring them to work for someone else first, long enough to advance on what could only be their own merit, their own track record as a “nobody special” – positions them very well when the time is ripe for them to enter the family business. They will then come in with credibility and respect in the eyes of your other employees, which is very important.
Furthermore, they are likely to come to you with a healthy balance of self-confidence and humility. So many of those who never worked outside the family business are plagued throughout their careers either with self-doubt (“What have I really accomplished? I’m only here because of what my parents handed to me”) or on the flip side, a certain cockiness, or as a former colleague of mine would put it, they were born on third base and think they hit a triple.
Finally, in working elsewhere, particularly a business that is larger and more complicated than yours, that young adult will gain exposure to practices and ways of thinking that can breathe life into your business and improve its performance.
So, if you think it would bring fulfillment to both you and your son or daughter if they were to join the family business, then by all means, bring your child to work. But it will likely turn out better for everyone if they prove themselves elsewhere first.