Is blood thicker than water?

Mishal Kanoo examines what to do when one member of a family business is not performing.

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By  Mishal Kanoo Published  April 16, 2006

|~||~||~|Mishal Kanoo examines what to do when one member of a family business is not performing. Here is the moral dilemma. My family member doesn’t do anything yet gets the same benefits as I do. What do I do? This is a serious problem many family businesses face at one time or another. The question that imposes itself on our morality and ethical behavior is how does one approach this delicate subject without causing ripples that could have far reaching consequences within a family and community? What about the cultural and social repercussions of this action? How about the psychological ones? How does a senior member of the family even take such an action? Before I delve into this ethical quagmire, let me make it quite clear that what I am suggesting is just that – a suggestion. These ideas are not a one-size-fits-all solution, nor are they the only possible solutions that might fit. Each person who is faced with this dilemma must resolve it in ways that are not only fair to all concerned, but also in a manner that they can live with. So, now, back to the problem: what do I do with a family member who is a burden rather than a benefit to the family business? Solution # 1: Nothing. Leave this person alone and things will work out somehow. Why not? The general idea is that so far, we as a family (and this could be anyone’s family), got to where we are even though this problem was there from the start. Who knows what fate has set up? And, after all, isn’t blood thicker than water? While some people might discount this solution as implausible because there is too much reliance on fate and too little on management, I would argue that this solution might actually work, as long as all parties concerned agree to it, because when you boil it all down, what is more important? The family and the members that make up the family or the business that the family own? In some cultures, the answer is strikingly obvious - the business. While in others, putting anything ahead of the family is sacrilegious. In our eastern culture where kissing the feet of one’s parents is not only acceptable but looked upon as the right thing to do, the idea that any member of the family should not share in the bounty that the business brings is unthinkable. While in some other cultures which emphasis individualism, the idea that a dead weight can have the privileges as the performer is an insane one. Solution # 2: Leave the person in the business but sideline that person when it comes to business decisions. Thus the external look of success is there but that person plays no active role in the business. To some, this is the best of both worlds where family unity is preserved but the business keeps on functioning for the betterment of all the people concerned. For others, this is a cop-out where maximum benefit is kept from those who deserve it, owing to the dead weights that restraint them from surging ahead. While this might be considered wishy-washy by some, in other words, not making the tough decision that has to be made, it has merit in that the persons who are actually running the business can keep on doing so while protecting their family. Please remember that not all the fingers of the hand are the same. Each has a distinct function. Who knows, maybe that business-challenged member might not add to the company directly, but might be the moral conscience of the company. He might also be the adjudicator that all members of the family and the employees look to when things go array. Solution # 3: Take a financially motivated directive and fire that non-productive member. As some people say, 'nip it in the bud'. In some cultures this is the only solution. When a person no longer serves a constructive and beneficial purpose, get rid of them. Still, in our Eastern culture such an act would be unthinkable. How could financial consideration supercede family ties? The concept of blood being thicker than water plays an important role here. However, an arrangement could be made whereby with the trimming of unproductive branches the family business grows and prospers. The counter-arrangement to this is that the organisation grows and prospers for the few at the expense of the other members who will not reap the benefits of this act. It is important to remember the human element in this equation as there can be no fair assessment as to the weight humanity, and the links that we have with one another as humans, when forced to make such a decision. Can a family member who is about to fire his fellow family member honestly look into their eyes and tell them that they are no longer needed in the family business? Can they honestly discount all that those other family members are—with just one sentence. While there is no easy solution to this dilemma, I honestly believe from the bottom of my heart that the family business is not what makes up the family. The family is made up of people who love one another and care for one another. The family unit is just that—a unit. Each part of that unit has a role to play in the success of the family and by extension, the business. At no time must the family come second to the business. This is my opinion. I could be wrong. This article was written by Mishal Kanoo. This article represents the author’s opinion and no one else’s. This article may not be reprinted in part or as whole without the author’s specific consent. ||**||

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