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Unique Talent Management Challenges Faced by Family Businesses

6 min read
Unique Talent Management Challenges Faced by Family Owned Businesses

Family businesses have a significant presence in the UK market. It’s estimated that 85.9% of companies in the UK are family owned, making up nearly 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These family firms generate 44.4% of the national GDP and cover 50% of the private sector’s employment. 

While these businesses offer many benefits, such as a strong sense of community and a shared vision for success, they also face unique challenges in managing their talent effectively.

Understanding and addressing these challenges is essential for ensuring the long-term success of a family business. And to do so, it’s crucial to explore several key factors contributing to these challenges, including culture and dynamics across the entire family enterprise, succession, resources, and maintaining professionalism in hiring and management practices.

Culture and Dynamics in Family Businesses

Many family businesses have a unique work environment that can make talent management challenging. In most of these family firms, family members often hold key positions and play a significant role in decision-making processes. In 61% of family businesses, as much as 100% of the company board is nominated and elected by the same family business owners.

Additionally, family members may have different expectations and priorities for the business, which can impact talent management in various ways.

Unique Talent Management Challenges Faced by Family Owned Businesses

Challenges in Talent Management

Some of the most common challenges you may face when managing the talent within your family firm could be:

  • Favouritism: Family controlled enterprises may be more likely to hire or promote other family members, even if they are not the best fit for the job.
  • Difficulty separating professional relationships with personal ones: Family conflict can make it challenging to maintain professional boundaries, further exacerbating issues related to favouritism and fairness.
  • Different visions for the future of the business: Family members may have conflicting ideas about the direction of the company, which can lead to conflicts over hiring decisions and talent development.
  • Prioritising family relationships over business success: a company culture that includes this may need better hiring decisions and a lack of focus on talent management.

How to Face Challenges in Talent Management

Family businesses must establish clear policies and procedures for talent management to overcome their challenges. Some methods include:

  • Creating a transparent hiring process that values merit over family ties.
  • Implementing performance metrics to provide fair evaluations and inform future business decisions.
  • Establishing a clear code of conduct for all employees across the business.
  • Outsourcing expert advice to guarantee objectivity and impartiality when making critical talent management decisions.

By taking these steps, there is room for a more equitable and professional work environment that promotes the success of the organisation and its team members.

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Succession Planning in Family Firms

Succession planning is vital for family businesses as they often have a greater emotional and financial investment in their company. Yet, data by PwC show that as much as 43% of family businesses don’t have a succession plan.

There are many reasons why a succession plan might need to be in place. Some owners may feel too young to think about succession, while others may need a suitable successor. Some owners may be reluctant to discuss succession with their family members, fearing it will create family conflict or tension.

However, there is still room to secure a smooth leadership transition and long-term success by following succession planning best practices for family businesses.

Identifying and Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

If the plan is to build a lasting family enterprise, identifying who in your company has what it takes to be a future leader and developing their skillset is critical. To ensure success, it is essential to:

  • Objectively evaluate each candidate to confirm they have the skills and experience to lead the business successfully. They’ll also need to possess the same ethos as their coworkers and have a long term vision for what the organisation needs.
  • Consider non-family members as potential successors and create opportunities for them to advance and develop their skills.
  • Implement leadership training and mentorship programmes to secure the next generation of leaders with the necessary skills to succeed. Family businesses who do so will experience a competitive edge as they will build highly valuable team members.

Unique Talent Management Challenges Faced by Family Owned Businesses

Creating a Formal Succession Plan

A succession plan is crucial for ensuring long-term success, as it outlines a process for identifying and developing the future generations of leaders within family owned companies. The plan requires a few core steps:

  • A clear vision for the future of your family firm. Apply long term thinking to determine the right candidates to lead your business forward.
  • Explicit criteria for selecting successors and a timeline for the transition process. This could mean what you’re looking for in a leader, whether it could be their potential for creating business growth, or their ability to develop strong personal bonds between them and their team members.
  • Consider the impact of the succession process on the organisation and confirm that it aligns with the strategic goals and common values of your family run business.

Attracting and Retaining Non-Family Talent

Attracting and retaining non-family talent is essential for the success of any family business. One way to do this is to create opportunities for non-family members to advance and develop their skills. In action, this would involve:

  • Creating a positive work environment that is conducive to learning and growth.
  • Offering competitive compensation and benefits packages that are in line with the market.
  • Providing opportunities for non-family members to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
  • A strong commitment to creating a sense of community and belonging among non-family members.

Communicating the Succession Plan Across Family Business

Communicating the succession plan clearly to all stakeholders is essential for a smooth leadership transition. It ensures that family and non-family members gain a greater sense for the succession strategy and their roles in it. The plan should be revisited and revised periodically to guarantee it makes sense, remains relevant and practical.

To effectively communicate your succession plan, here are some of the things you could do:

  • Be clear and concise when communicating your business decisions.
  • Use visuals to help illustrate the business plan, and perhaps supply further reading to your team.
  • Provide opportunities for questions and feedback so that everyone understands the plan better.
  • Be patient and understanding as the plan unfolds.

 Unique Talent Management Challenges Faced by Family Owned Businesses

Limited Resources

Family run businesses often have limited resources compared to larger organisations, which can create unique challenges for talent management. Globally, the majority of these firms (76%) rely on their capital, as well as bank loans (61%), equity financing (35%), and debt financing (31%). With limited resources, one thing that can occur is a cashflow crisis, which may cause the family business to consider making financial sacrifices, like lower pay, which can affect turnover rates and the reputation of your organisation.

However, there are ways to overcome these challenges and build a solid and engaged team. By being creative adopting a flexible approach, families running a business can attract and retain top talent and position themselves for long-term success.

Challenges Caused by Limited Resources

Limited resources can impact talent management in family run businesses in many ways:

  • Limited budgets for training and development: There may be different financial resources than larger organisations to invest in training and development programmes. This lack of funds can make attracting and retaining top talent challenging, as team members may feel their career growth opportunities could be improved.
  • Smaller HR teams: Family businesses may not have dedicated or smaller HR teams than larger organisations. Ultimately, this makes managing and developing talent difficult, as there may be insufficient resources to handle the necessary HR functions.
  • Difficulty attracting external talent: Not having the same brand recognition or resources as larger organisations may cause struggles to attract external talent. This situation can make bringing in new talent with fresh perspectives and ideas problematic.

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How to Handle Challenges Caused by Limited Resources

Despite these challenges, family businesses can overcome their limited resources through creative solutions. Here are some examples:

  • Cross-functional training: Provide cross-functional training to your team, allowing every single person to develop skills and knowledge outside their job functions. Eventually, this helps your team feel more engaged and valued and helps your organisation develop a more well-rounded team.
  • Outsourcing HR functions: If the issue is workforce-related rather than budget, you can outsource certain HR functions, such as payroll processing or benefits administration, to external providers, freeing up internal resources and allowing the business to focus on other vital parts.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible schedules, to help attract and retain talent. This practice can appeal to team members who value work-life balance and may be willing to sacrifice higher salaries or benefits in exchange for more flexibility.

Staying Objective With Family Members

Due to their unique dynamics, family businesses may need help maintaining professionalism and objectivity during hiring and management practices. An analysis by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills found that when family businesses have deep family ties, their motivations may be more family-oriented than business-oriented, especially when multiple generations or branches of the family are involved. 

Ultimately, this leads a business to slower professionalisation and reluctance to seek external advice or support, as there may be less pressure from external shareholders to challenge family management. It leaves room for issues like nepotism, which may cause other team members to feel undervalued and overlooked, negatively impacting morale and productivity.

If that’s the case, family businesses must:

  1. Implement clear policies and procedures to ensure hiring and promotions are based on merit, not personal relationships.
  2. Be transparent about decision-making processes to ensure all employees are given equal career opportunities to succeed.
  3. Seek outside advice and counsel, such as hiring consultants or establishing an independent board of directors to oversee critical decisions and provide an objective perspective.

These strategies can help many businesses create a more fair and equitable work environment for all employees, regardless of their relationship with the company’s owners or managers.

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Sergio is a seasoned copy and content writer who has worked directly with company founders, CMOs, brand executives, and marketing directors from multiple industries. He's an HR geek and humble terpsichorean.

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