What's wrong with these scenarios?
- You want your Ivy League-educated son to learn the business from the ground up, so you start him with a six-month stint as a stock clerk.
- You and your daughter, who for the last three years has proved herself a fabulous marketer with another company, decide it's time for her to join the family firm. You put her in the accounting department.
- With his newly acquired college degree in business administration, your son comes to work in the family business, and you put him in charge of manufacturing.
What's wrong here is that the parent is setting the child up for failure.
There's nothing wrong with wanting a child to learn every aspect of your business. But relegating the Princeton graduate to the stockroom can dampen enthusiasm and crush the spirit of someone who's eager to tackle what he considers more important projects.
"You might reason you don't want anyone to think you're favoring the child, but if you wouldn't normally hire a college graduate for a stockroom position, it's equally inappropriate for your own child," says Michael O'Malley, a family business consultant in Chicago.
In that same vein, the daughter who has proved she is an able marketer in another company should be allowed to bring those skills to bear in her family's business. Knowing how the accounting department works may be important at a later date, but giving her the opportunity to prove her worth in an area at which she excels is better than letting her flounder in a field in which she has no interest.
Finally, putting the business graduate in charge of a department before he has had the experience he needs demoralizes the employees he'll be supervising. Even worse, it sets him up for failure by giving him too much responsibility without the necessary background or expertise.