If you mention April 16, 2000 to a rabid New England sports fan, you’ll be greeted with a sly, knowing smile.  Tears will glisten in their eyes.  They’ll have a moment of silent meditation, then recollect one of the greatest days in the history of the world; the day Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round by the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady was unquestionably the greatest pick in the NFL draft.  In recruiting terms, he wasn’t the perfect candidate.  Scouting reports said that he was slow; he was frail and he didn’t throw a really tight spiral.  That didn’t deter the Patriots.  When quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein returned from the NFL Combine which is a week-long series of tests for potential NFL players, he told Head Coach Bill Belichick that Tom Brady was “the best fit for the [Patriots’] system”.

Family owned businesses face a complex challenge in hiring outside managers for their organizations.  These companies are equal parts family and business, two institutions of modern society with vastly different goals and objectives.  Successful outside managers are charged with navigating the labyrinth of family relationships as well as aggressively growing the company. In order to identify these exceptional candidates, a Family Owned Businesses can adapt the Patriot’s draft methodology of 1) Detailed Understanding of the System 2) Review Draft Class; and 3) Skills Assessment for their hiring process and achieve dynamic results.

Detailed Understanding the System = Develop Your Family Business Story – Belichick is a known perfectionist who controls every facet of New England’s game.  Each Patriot employee understands his philosophy and blueprint for success.  For a family owned business to duplicate the Patriot’s success, the owners need a deep understanding of the organization and be able communicate its mission within and outside the company. 

 The Family Business Story is the great tool for accomplishing this task.  Storytelling is the oldest form of narrative communication known to humans. Every human culture throughout history creates stories to help people understand complex situations which are otherwise undecipherable.  The Family Business Story starts with a 360 assessment of every aspect of the organization including company history, current family member roster, company plant, company events, future family members, community involvement, corporate social responsibility policy, etc.

Facts and figures don’t explain the near mythical role that the business plays in the lives of the family members.  The business is a monolith with a bigger than life personality and a legacy that dominates the lives of each succeeding generation.   Thinking about getting married.  Retailers aren’t going to hold weddings the weekend of Black Friday, Cyber Monday or anytime during holiday shopping season.  Wholesale air conditioning distributors won’t be taking summer siestas at the beginning of summer.  When Hamlet asks the question “to be or not to be”, parents/grandparents/uncles/cousins ask the question “to be in the business or not be in the business”.

Innocuous incidents turn into full blown culture wars within the confines of family owned business.  Jeff King, former President of King Restaurants tells the story that one day his father walked past his desk and didn’t speak to him.  This went on for a month.  Finally, Jeff confronted his father and asked why he was so angry.  Jeff’s father said they were going to meeting with his uncle and cousin and Jeff was walking ahead of them.  Why did Jeff think he was so important that he couldn’t walk with the rest of the family?  This may not make the top ten list of problems with American Business, but it’s emblematic of the every day problems that occur in family owned businesses.

The Family Business Story enables a company to create a narrative that covers critical business data, discusses overt and underlying emotions, and lionizes idiosyncratic rituals.  It’s a heroic saga that celebrates permanence and continuity in a Snapchat society.  The Family Business Story creates alignment so that every individual in the company has a clear understanding of the organization and its core values.  It cements the institution as a backbone of society.

Review Draft Class = Develop Your Candidate Pool – The Patriots were confident drafting Brady because they were able to evaluate over 300 prospects at the Combine who were ranked in a variety of activities including 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, and The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test, a popular group intelligence test used to assess the aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving in a range of occupations.

Since the cost of the Combine is approximately $2.5 million, it’s highly unlikely a company will hold one for their recruiting needs.  The key takeaway is that by reviewing a large number of potential applicants a company can take a snapshot of the talent marketplace for a particular position.  One way to create this candidate pool is to work with an outside recruiter.  A traditional executive recruiter will cost anywhere between 25% and 33% of the candidate’s first year estimated compensation.

There are other methods to build a qualified candidate pool.  A number of large companies have built internal talent acquisition departments to meet their recruiting needs.  If your company has enough open positions, you may want to consider that option.  A third option is to advertise for the position whether it’s through an on-line job site, employing social media recruiting tools or placing an ad in print paper.  The most important thing isn’t how you aggregate your candidates, it’s having as many conversations as possible with qualified applicants, and this will enable you to determine the best fit for your organization.

Skills Assessments = Candidate Interviews

Brady was not impressive at the combine.  He ran his 40-yard dash in 5.2 seconds, the slowest of the 13 quarterbacks to run at this year’s combine.  Belichick and the Patriot organization were looking for mental toughness and leadership in a quarterback. After reviewing a tremendous amount of tape, they believed he had these attributes.

For any organization, the first step in the candidate evaluation process is to measure the candidate’s skills and experiences against the duties and responsibilities for a position.  If it’s a new position and a company is unsure of the exact duties and responsibilities, they can seek assistance from Board Members or their professional service providers who have functional experience in the area.  If a candidate has the right skills and experiences, a company evaluates whether the candidate would be a strong cultural fit.  While companies vary in the significance regarding cultural fit, they’ll general hire the person with the highest match of skills and abilities.

For family owned businesses, the opposite is true.  If a candidate is not a fit with the Family Business Story, the candidate will not be successful.  Sometimes there are specific issues where the business/family paradigm comes into play.  If a company is looking for a Regional Sales Manager, they’re seeking a hard charging sales person with a take no prisoners’ attitude.  However, if a family member is the Vice President of Sales, are there any long-term opportunities for the Regional Sales Manager candidate?   While there are multiple ways a company can answer this question, it will be difficult to identify the perfect match unless the issued is considered throughout the hiring process.

The more common problem is determining how to evaluate outside candidates for their cultural fit in the organization.  There is no one-size fit all answer.  While all family businesses share the “family vs. business” issue, each company has its own genetic imprint including type of business, size, location, length of operation, family members in the business, family members not working in business, community involvement etc.  The company’s task is to identify the right individual that fits into the unique nature of your family owned business as well as the right skills and expertise to make a positive impact on the bottom line.

The Family Business Story is a key factor in identifying the best suited candidate for your organization.  By sharing your Family Business Story with a potential candidate, you create an intimacy with a candidate that enables them to comprehend your organization in a straight forward manner.  It allows the company to be truthful about some of the behind the scenes issues in a non-judgmental manner.  It creates transparency which is vital for a potential employee thinking about your organization and whether they have the tools to succeed in your organization.

More importantly, the Family Business Story provides you an opportunity to evaluate a candidate based on their reaction to the Family Business Story.   Not surprisingly, candidates that come from a family business will immediately relate to the omnipotent role of the family enterprise.  There’s a shared shorthand and an understanding of the special privileges and special responsibilities of a family owned business.  The right candidate from a family owned business is an extremely attractive candidate.  However, it’s important to run a thorough process, including reference checks, to make sure they have the skills and experience for the job.  If a candidate has worked for a family owned business other than their own, use the Family Business Story to engage the candidate in their own experiences working in a family business?  Did the candidate deal with issues which match the dynamics and needs of your organization?

If you find a candidate with off-the-chart functional experience, but no family business experience, carefully gauge their reaction to your Family Business Story and their motivation for joining your organization.  Perhaps the candidate was a teacher prior to joining the business world so the idea of mentoring a young family member has tremendous appeal.  Maybe a great regional sales manager is a single parent with young children so can’t take on the travel of a national sales position.  There may be elements of the company such as community involvement, social responsibility, product offering, work environment or whether you allow dogs in the office that really matches their highest needs and interests.  Use the Family Business Story to paint a picture of life at the company.  In turn, have a candidate tell their story so that you can visualize if they’d be successful in your environment.

Identifying and hiring senior level management is one of the most difficult tasks for an organization.  The task is even more daunting for family owned businesses due to the unique interplay of family and business.  However, if you build your Family Business Story and identify individuals that thrives in your particular environment, you can raise your hiring success rate.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs. They were Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

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