Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Be Cautious When Hiring Your Family

Although nearly every church, ministry, or non-profit client I’ve ever known hires their family, I always urge caution when doing it.  Sure – there’s nothing we’d all like better than to hire our spouse, children, or other relatives.  The idea of a “family company” sounds great.  But in truth, it doesn’t work as well as you think.  Entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki is direct and too the point, but worth listening to when he says:  “Don’t hire your family. The probability that your spouse or relative is the best person you can get for a job is 0%. The probability that people will hate working at a company with spouses and relatives is 100%. Never hire out of expediency. Always hire the best person you can get. This usually means not hiring your family.”

I think Guy is a bit over the top here, but the key issue is the perception.  When the leader’s family is on the payroll – especially in spite of one or more being incompetent – it can potentially damage goodwill with employees.  Sure there is  nothing technically or ethically wrong with it, but it can begin eroding employee trust.

Don’t get me wrong.  In many organizations, family members are doing excellent work, and many of these organizations have been our friends and clients.  So I’m not 100% against it at all.  But I do believe it’s worth thinking about because there are so many stories of failure out there.

I’m writing to encourage you to at least consider the ramifications.  Get out of the ministry family bubble and take a cold, hard look at reality – especially the reality of church members, donors, and employee perceptions.  It might just change the way you look at the issue.

Sometimes it’s perfectly OK.  But other times, it’s a recipe for disaster.


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  1. One of the biggest benefits of hiring “outside the family” is the fresh outsiders perspective you gain. If you always keep it in the family you never get a true perspective of the health of the org and where it needs to go.

  2. It is all a matter of humility. I have seen many situations where the family member excels but doesn’t throw titles or lineage around. The times it doesn’t work is when arrogance and entitlement abounds. Some time that comes from the hiring family member and sometimes not.

    Always be cautious but this “don’t hire family” rule should never be an absolute.

  3. What great advice Phil. I’ve had a good deal of experience with
    nepotism in more than one ministry, but it doesn’t end there…. Bosses who hire friends or bosses who become close friends with an employee seem to have the same disastrous effects. When this happens, the culture of an organization becomes crippled by:
    1. Favoritism- it causes the staff to resentment the family/friend, trust is lost in the boss, and it erodes staff morale. 2. It creates an us-against-them culture, another toxic element. 3. The family member or friend has been typically paid more than the most of the other staff members and does less work; this NEVER goes unnoticed by the staff. 4. Instead of leading a good example, the family/friend who regularly violates organization policies/rules…. and then gets away it, causes more staff resentment because they are protected property, untouchable; the rules don’t apply to them. 5. I have yet to see a family member/friend of the boss be a team player, they are Lone Rangers, and Lone Rangers cause unnecessary conflicts and distractions. 6. When family/friends slack on the job, other team players have to pick it up and deliver the goods that they were responsible for…. And are getting paid more to do it. 7. Enables and breeds entitlement mentality.

    The boss does no one favors by hiring a family member or friend. What I have experienced seeing is the family member/friend take advantage of the relationship, do less work for more money, while having a negative effect on the organization internally, and sometimes externally. There is an exception to every rule; I just haven’t seen it yet.

  4. I have for a number of years felt I am called to do something that would allow me to hire some of my family members. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what, but the nagging notion continues to reside at the back of my mind. No opportunities or ideas have materialized yet and I have no direction to even start to prepare for that opportunity.

    I have thought about what we could do together and the very things you outlined Phil about insisting that family members deliver, or they will be have to be replaced. Has been solidly placed in my mind. Although I have also felt that there are those at times that I just need to care for never expecting anything in return, because for whatever reason, they are for me to care for. The deeper thinking on this is; it is a reminder to me about how I am cared for in so many ways I don’t even understand. Yes, I need to try to help those inefficient souls learn how to find their niche in this world. But when I’ve done all most I have cut loose but for a very few I can’t cut them loose.

    So for now it remains a mystery. I’ve prayed about this for years. For now, all I can do is rest on this idea, and keep growing on what I’m learning about writing. Maybe someday…

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