It can be difficult to comprehend your beloved small business in the hands of someone outside the family. But consider some reasons it might be necessary to take that step:

  1. Death or illness
  2. Age gap between current leadership and willing-but-not-yet-ready second generation
  3. Fast growth in company, resulting in great need for additional staff
  4. Lack of expertise in a critical area

The hiring process for any company – especially if it’s hiring a leader or upper management – can be complex and challenging. The same could be said for a family business, with even a little bit more emphasis on those things.

As with all succession planning, the key is to do it before you need it.

“Dig your well before you’re thirsty” is a phrase used more about business than about drinking water! Start now, even if you aren’t sure you’ll need someone. If you wait until you’re suddenly in the midst of one of the situations listed above, your inclination will be to hire the first decent person who comes along – not to take your time and ensure that you really do get the best candidate.

Prepare a job description and incentives that are appropriate.

When you write a job description, it’s not just about describing the role that you anticipate needing to be filled.  You might know you need a CFO because your business is growing really fast and you can’t keep up, but if you just describe a CFO in general terms, you could end up with someone who isn’t a fit.

Consider the family members, their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, and the person currently filling the role (or not filling it, as the case may be).  Do you need to hire someone with a laid-back demeanor, or someone with a strong-willed and demanding personality? Do you need someone who is willing to pitch in at the annual event, or is it better if they don’t? Perhaps you need a candidate who can do the job AND train the next generation to take over one day; that person needs to be comfortable as a teacher as well as a doer.  And if it’s essential to you, you can even include that you are looking for someone who will value the “family” part of the business.

When it comes to incentives, think outside the normal box for your current employees. Family members are drawn to participation in the family business for reasons like legacy, ease of finding a job, collaboration with people they love, even a vision for their children. But for someone outside the family, those things don’t matter as much. So don’t forget to make the job appealing to candidates so that you can really get some stellar candidates to choose from!

Prepare yourself for change, and accept it.

The reality is, bringing in someone from outside the family is going to change the family business. There’s just no way around that. Naturally you’ll hope that it’ll be subtle and positive change, and if you manage the hiring process well, it should be. But you just need to prepare yourself for the new dynamics in the office place, new conversation around the water cooler, new policies, and the possibility that there might be some challenges to overcome as everyone adjusts. Having accepted these things will make the transition period easier when it happens.

Use experts to help you with the hiring process

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it is time to do the hiring. Due to the level of emotions involved, and the fact that you probably have never done this before, bring in an expert to help you walk through it. There’s no shame in asking for an outside opinion, or getting some fresh eyes on the candidates. Someone with an objective opinion can help you make wise, non-emotional decisions, which is highly critical during a time like this.  (Broad hint: someone like us.)

You can choose, of course, whether to have that expert walk you through the entire process, or come in at different points and advise you. You’ll want to do advertisement and promotion, select key candidates, hold interviews, narrow the pool, and hold more interviews. Don’t forget to check references, too. During these steps, you’ll also be focused on managing the day-to-day of the business, so if you bring in an expert to walk the journey with you, you’ll have someone who is focused on only that part of your company. They can also help create a non-emotional vibe during interviews. Even the interviewer can get nervous, so it helps to have a little moral support from someone who knows how to conduct interviews and observe body language and tone of voice.

When you have selected the top candidates, it is wise to let your staff (at least the leadership) get to know them a bit. Even introducing them over a lunch can help ease their concerns. They’ll see that you have a variety of people and that you’re truly doing your best to bring in an individual who can complement the business and the staff.

Once you’ve selected the candidate, hire them. Then let them do their job.

In order for the transition to be successful, the new hire needs to be able to do their job without constant supervision or challenge. They have to be allowed to do what they do best – the very things you hired them to do. It isn’t uncommon for there to be a couple of employees who will struggle with the transition.

The last thing you want is for the new hire to be challenged and undermined at every turn. Support them, encourage them, and help bridge the gap between them and the rest of the team.

Help them to feel like they’re really part of the family business. Because they are.