Summer is here, and as a small-business owner with a seemingly never-ending to-do list, you might be tempted to put your high school or college-age family member to work. This could be a great opportunity, but my experience working in the family-owned business and consulting as an advisor on the issue makes me strongly suggest that you consider these tips before you put the word out at your next family gathering.
1. Set ground rules. Sit down with your “next generation” family member and talk through each of your expectations for the internship. What does each of you hope to get out of the experience? What does your family member feel his or her strengths and weaknesses are? How will you treat each other in the workplace? Greg McCann, professor of Family Enterprise at Stetson University and consultant at McCann & Associates, suggests, “It’s important to involve your family in the process and have a meaningful discussion.” He emphasizes that a parent should “share his or her thought process” and take the time to double check that family members are on the same page in terms of what will be expected in the workplace. For example, how might you both deal with any feelings of “nepotism” that could ruffle feathers of other colleagues?
2. Think for the long haul. Keep in mind this intern could end up joining your business full-time down the road. Encourage him or her to earn people’s trust, show maturity and act professionally. Gently remind family members that they should show up early, dress appropriately, maintain a good attitude and be appreciative of the opportunity to learn from new people. Christin McClave, professional leadership coach at Unifi Coaching and family business blogger, remembers life as an intern in her family’s business. “Sometimes people see you differently when you are a family member. It is important to position yourself as a professional and not just the boss’s kid. I was conscious of this and worked extra hard to earn people’s respect,” she says.
3. Make the job fit. Consider your family member’s experience level and individual capabilities before deciding on his or her role. If your daughter is a Facebook wiz, for example, maybe it’s time you put her social media skills to use to build your brand online. Pick a position that is an appropriate match for his or her background and previous training. Brad Wasserstrom, president of The Wasserstrom Company, recalls sweeping the floors of his family’s business warehouse as a pre-teen. "When we were young, all of the cousins were involved in the family business. We started with humble jobs and had to work our way up, just like everyone else in the company. We learned the ins and outs of the business at a young age and were able to build on that experience as we got older.”
4. Specify a project. Determine a clear, definable and measurable project for your family intern that is reasonable for him or her to accomplish over the summer or whatever length of time is designated. Make sure your plan has a carefully outlined scope with quantifiable goals. Not only will your organization benefit from a specific deliverable, but your intern will walk away with a distinct feeling of accomplishment. Consider having your family member present their project results on their last day to other employees or team leaders.
5. Match with a mentor. If possible, pair your family member with a non-family mentor who will oversee his or her growth and development. This way, your intern will benefit from more objective evaluation and oversight, as well as a perspective, viewpoint and experience that is different from your own. Josh Bloom, OPEN Forum member and fourth-generation family employee of Standard Pest Management, says “In our company, interns are paired with technicians in the field to get first-hand knowledge of the underpinnings of the family business.” Also, encourage your intern to network and establish relationships with different leaders in the business so they are exposed to more roles—and more insights.
6. Exchange feedback. As if everything already mentioned isn’t enough about fostering open communication, consider this: Set specific milestones as opportunities to exchange feedback on your intern’s performance, such as the halfway point of the summer or the completion of an individual project. Use this time to give your intern constructive reviews and also ask him or her for ideas on how to improve your organization.
Have you hired a family member as a summer intern? What challenges or successes have you faced?
OPEN Cardmember Andrea Rubinfeld is a former family business member and family business consultant, and is currently founder and CEO of FamilyFounded.com, an organization that helps family businesses, family offices and family foundations solve problems by giving them access to peer networking and professional resources. @FamilyFounded
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