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What To Do When a Loved One is the Wrong Person in the Wrong Seat

By Kyle Danner

Having family members work in the business may seem like a best-case scenario. Family members are loyal, and you have a strong history and relationship with one another. Unfortunately, when a family member is in the wrong seat in the business, it can be incredibly difficult—both for you and for your loved one.

If a loved one is in the wrong seat, they lack the skills, experience, or desire to be successful at their job. You may see them as failing. Either they have little to no motivation for the work, or their mistakes pile up and create problems for your team and your customers.

What’s more: It’s no secret. Everyone knows they’re a poor fit. It’s a subject of breakroom conversation and family gossip, where everyone talks behind your loved one’s back but no one does anything about it. It creates an atmosphere of tension and can erode even the most engaged and collaborative company culture.

If this sounds painfully familiar, know this: You’re not alone. Many businesses have the wrong person in the wrong seat, and this is especially the case for family businesses, where family members fill in roles as needed. But the good news is, you can do something about it. If you have a loved one in the wrong seat in your family business, follow these tips to help address the issue without causing irreparable damage to your relationship.

1. Avoid Blame

Often, a lot of judgment is dumped on a loved one in the wrong seat. They’re labeled as lazy or incompetent, sometimes referred to as “the boss’s kid” or “daddy’s little girl.” But blaming them only leads to hostility and disagreements, and it never solves the problem.

When you have a loved one in the wrong seat, think about why they are there in the first place. There’s a reason they’re in the family business. Maybe they joined out of obligation to the family. They wanted to (or were asked to) help during crunch time, but there wasn’t a plan to leave once the crisis passed.

Perhaps they feel pressured to stay. For many, leaving the business feels like leaving the family because the family IS the business. And the family itself might be pressuring them to remain a part of the family business. The family may be protecting them from “the real world,” viewing them as someone who hasn’t launched yet or doesn’t appear to have a life plan.

Or, maybe they’re a good fit for the business but just in the wrong position. Mom and Dad started the business and everyone pitched in to help. Now the business has grown and new skills are needed. But rather than go through the pain of restructuring the organizational chart, it’s easier to keep things as they are.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth asking, “How did we end up here?” This big-picture thinking builds empathy and understanding for your loved one. It cuts down on the tendency to point fingers and blame them. It’s also a way to figure out how to keep it from happening again.

Now, before you answer, pay attention to how the question is written. Often, situations like a loved one in the wrong seat happen without a lot of forethought. Your loved one needs help, so you offer them a job. Or you’re so busy working in the business you don’t take time to work on the business. Take some time to think about why they were hired and why they have stayed there. And try to consider it from their point of view.


2. Acknowledge It’s Not Fair 

business-family-arguing-wrong-seat-eosNo matter the reason, realize it’s not fair for everyone that this loved one is in the wrong seat. When a family member isn’t in the right role, the impact goes much deeper than you might think. Everyone from your employees to your customers takes a hit.

It’s not fair to your loved one who’s being set up to fail. No matter how hard the loved one works, they won’t be able to thrive. Even if they start off with ambition and passion, they’ll slowly lose it over time because they aren’t able to succeed and move up in the company.

It’s not fair to the family because working around the poor fit saps the family’s energy. They spend their time discussing the issue but never solving it. It could even impact their relationships outside of the family business.

It’s not fair to your employees who have to cover up mistakes and make excuses. They work hard at their jobs, and the loved one’s poor work can take away from that. It can leave them feeling frustrating and wondering why they should bother when the family member who doesn’t work half as hard still has their position.

And it’s not fair to you and your customers who have to deal with late orders and shoddy service. Your business’s output is a reflection of you. When problems happen because someone is in the wrong seat, you’re often the one who takes the heat, and your customers are the ones who end up disappointed.


3. Be Aware of Your Competing Roles

Family business is about balancing the heart with the checkbook. It’s about knowing when you’re a parent or sibling and when you’re the boss or sales manager. These competing roles collapse on top of one another, making it difficult to separate business issues from family issues. 

When talking to the loved one in the wrong seat, acknowledge which role you’re playing. Say, “As a business owner, I have a responsibility to make sure our customers are taken care of and that orders are delivered on time and correctly.” Say, “As a father, I love you and care about you and I want to help you have the life that’s best for you.” Both of your roles come into play, and you must pay attention to both to provide your loved one with a clearer understanding of how you feel.


4. Discover Their Strengths

You can change the discussion from one of questioning their competence to one highlighting their strengths. An assessment like the Kolbe Index offers objective, third-party feedback on the activities where they truly excel. 

Armed with that insight, you can clearly demonstrate whether they’re in the wrong seat. This takes the pressure off Mom and Dad or another family member trying to convince them they’re a poor fit for the job.

Take it a step further and ask everyone in the family to take the index and share their results. By doing this, you’ll take the focus off your loved one so it feels less like a “witch hunt.” It will also provide extra insight into how everyone can make the best contribution to the family and business. 


5. Help Them Plan a Graceful Exit

If the best solution is for your loved one to leave the family business, be thoughtful of how it’s carried out.  This will be a difficult change for both of you, and you want to ensure your loved one transitions as smoothly as possible.

Consider how the resources of the family and business may be used to help your loved one in their next chapter. Offer to pay for a career counselor or professional coach to guide them through the transition. Keep in mind they may need some financial assistance along the way. 

Just be sure there’s a clearly defined limit. And before you hire their replacement, review the job responsibilities and qualifications to ensure your next hire is the right one. 


How EOS Can Help

cheering-business-people-family-happyWhen solving the issue of a loved one in the wrong seat, you might discover other “people issues” in the family business. 

Perhaps the family member in question isn’t the only one in the wrong seat. Maybe other conflicts are occurring behind the scenes that are stunting your business’s growth. Or there is a disconnect between your vision for the family business and the vision the rest of the team is working toward.

Whatever challenges you may be facing, the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS)® helps solve these issues so you and your leadership team can realize the vision for the business. EOS offers a comprehensive free ToolBox™ you can use to get a handle on your family business.

If you would like to learn more about how EOS works, you can download a free chapter of the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by clicking the button below.



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