Talent Acquistion & Retention: Q&A with Ellie Frey, Director of the Family Business Alliance

We recently spoke with Ellie Frey, Director of the Family Business Alliance, on the topic of where talent acquisition and retention fits in the realm of family owned business.

1. What do you see as a few of the top issues or concerns that keep family business owners awake these days?

  • Succession (family issue)
  •  When to tell the kids and what to tell the kids (family issue)
  • Family dynamics: sibling rivalry, etc. (family issue)
  • Finding talent (non-family issue)

2. What would you say are some of the key talent challenges or gaps for family businesses today?

I’ve had the privilege of witnessing and working with some really smart, capable and hard-working next generations. If there’s one “gap” I’ve observed, it’s the difference between what senior leadership thinks it takes to run the company and the NextGen’s skill set. Often times, no one is telling the successor what they need to do to maintain the level of success a business might be enjoying. Many of the most successful businesses have a detailed succession process down on paper that they share with employees.

3. How does company culture come into play in hiring key non-family member positions?

It depends on whether the family business has a “business first” culture or a “family first” culture. What also manifests itself are family businesses that exist to provide employment opportunities for family members (family-first culture), and then other family businesses that exist to help the family maintain wealth (business-first culture). I think the family needs to have a grasp of which type of business they are, and then they can be candid in the reasons behind hiring certain key non-family employees.

4. Thinking about retention and what companies are doing today to try to engage and keep their people, what particular challenges do family businesses face in keeping people long term?

I think one of the critical considerations a family business must pay attention to is how family members are groomed and promoted in ways different than non-family members. Because many family businesses reserve the top spots in the company for family, non-family employees feel limited in their ability to ascend as far as they might in a non-family business. Families need to address this challenge with an honest conversation about their expectations and what limits, if any, will be imposed on non-family employees. In those cases where non-family members won’t advance to the top, there should be different forms of compensation and rewards available for a job well done, because family or not, a savvy business must recognize and retain its most talented employees.

5. When you think of the top priorities for family owned business, do you see finding and keeping key talent as being high on that list?

Absolutely. This is a community-wide issue, and one that needs to be addressed by high schools, skill centers and higher education. We can all do a better job preparing the workforce for future needs and learning how to better work with the different generations in today’s fast-paced, global economy.

About the Family Business Alliance

The Family Business Alliance is a unique cross-sector cooperation that draws the best from local and national research, expertise, and practice for the benefit of the West Michigan family owned business community. The FBA is committed to “helping family businesses succeed generation to generation”. For more information, please visit their website at www.fbagr.org.