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3 Steps to Dealing with an Under-performing Family Member

Firing family how to have difficult conversations when they are under-performing

If you work with family, one of the most difficult conversations you may face is the one where you need to remove the family member from their job. Yes, it’s a hard conversation, but it’s also vital to your company. Below are some steps on how to have the discussion.

Don’t be Minnesota Nice or Passive-aggressive

Minnesotans are notorious for being passive-aggressive. In fact, we wrote a blog on it, “How Not To Be Minnesota Nice.” We say one thing, but we actually mean something else. One example we’ve seen is a sales leader that goes into a salesperson's office and says, “I can hardly see you over all that stuff on your desk.” But, in actuality, what that sales leader meant was, “Clean your office. It’s driving me nuts.” But the sales leader never clearly stated that.

Eventually, the sales leader will tip over the edge and explode, and the salesperson will often defend themselves, saying, “You didn’t tell me to clean my desk.” There was no clear direction, and little impact to the person’s performance, and that’s a problem.

According to the Conway Center for Family Business, “Family businesses account for 64% of U.S. gross domestic product and generate 62% of the country’s employment.” So, chances are the conversation about removing a family member applies to many of you.

Let’s relate that scenario to cousin Dave. He’s a great person, but he’s not doing well as a salesperson. He’s not hitting his performance numbers, doesn’t seem to be having much fun, and is in the lower third of the sales group. Being a salesperson doesn’t seem to be “his thing.”

As the sales leader, you may fall back into the Minnesota passive-aggressive habits. You don’t want to be mean, so you tolerate cousin Dave. But not because you think he’s going to improve, it’s because he’s family. You know the conversation you need to have with him and avoid it because it’s incredibly difficult.

We know you like cousin Dave and you want to preserve the relationship. You especially want to make sure he keeps bringing his famous spinach dip to poker night. You truly want the best for Dave, so how do you go about letting him know that this sales position isn’t right for him? Here are three easy steps to take:

Step 1: Share it with them.

Have the courage to talk to cousin Dave. Show him where he is against performance standards and allow the numbers to do the talking. Ask how he’s feeling about it. Chances are he already knows he’s performing poorly. He's also probably not enjoying it and feeling as if he’s letting you down. If you have a different perception from him, then share it directly. Get aligned on how you’re both feeling, openly and honestly. You can’t dance around the numbers, or your perception. Be direct and not passively Minnesotan. Be kind, but blunt.

Step 2: Be ready with choices or next moves.

Just because it isn’t working doesn’t mean cousin Dave has to be fired today. Ask yourself, is Dave likely to improve? How long would it take to help him and see improvement? Be frank with Dave, tell him you’re giving him 30, 60, 90 days to see improvement, and THEN you’ll reevaluate.

When there isn’t a set deadline like 60 or 90 days, cousin Dave could be hearing a number of different things. He may hear, “Okay, I have to start looking for another job.” Or he may hear, “I have to do better.” We’ve even seen times when they hear “Nothing’s going to happen; he’s my cousin.” What the sales leader really means is, “I think I’ve got to fire cousin Dave.” Yet none of you are saying what you really intended. A few options to consider include; giving him two or three months with specifically targeted improvement steps, evaluating if there’s something Dave would be better at, or setting an action plan and going from there.

Step 3: Follow through.

If it isn’t working, then come to a mutual agreement that says, “We aren’t going to continue.” Say it directly. Are you starting to catch onto the being direct part yet? Saying “This isn’t working” is misleading. Cousin Dave could wonder, “What’s not working?”

State outright, “We’re not going to continue. Let’s talk about other options.” The options can be something else in the company that’s a better fit Dave’s skill, or there could be another position outside the company. Tell him you plan to help either way. But don’t continue to ‘just tolerate’ cousin Dave anymore, because it’s not working for either party. It’s also hurting the rest of the team even if they “nicely” aren’t saying it to you!

Firing your family members can be tough, and it feels exceptionally personal; however, if you follow these three steps, it doesn’t have to be. You did your research, gave them time to improve, you worked with them, but you know they would be happier doing something else.

Part of being a leader is having the courage to help people move on, even if they’re family.  It’s part of the job. Do it with care, provide a soft landing, BUT DO IT. Everyone will be better off in the long run.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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