I am the son of a one of the owners of a family run business. I'd been doing non-executive, technical jobs for about 2 years and have just recently taken on a role in managing and developing the business. I have, however, found that my instructions are often not followed by my colleagues because they are unlike the 'way things have been done' for about a half decade now. There is a very low chance of me being able to fire anyone due to labour laws in my state highly favouring workers over business owners.

I understand my position is a little awkward within the firm (have to give instructions; cannot fire). What are the best steps I can take to get my colleagues to do as they are instructed without making myself the proverbial 'boss's son barking orders'?

Thank you in advance.

  • 3
    you only need to find a reason to fire one, discipline is a priority in such a case, not following instructions is a good enough reason for primary disciplinary measures, not doing it more than once is a good enough reason for firing, so long as they're documented. Give someone enough rope to hang himself/herself. – Kilisi Apr 11 '16 at 11:43
  • Very often in a family business, people will have strong opinions and stick to saying such as "but we've always done it like this". However when you wish to implement something or change something this doesn't always work unless they 100% understand WHY something has to change. If you don't wish to explain why you want to do something, then you'd need to change the business's culture. which could take months/years. Instead, try to understand the business's culture and play into that. Instead of working against you, they will work with you. (there are many different studies about this) – Migz Apr 11 '16 at 13:17
  • How many people are you managing? (The number changes the approach) – MealyPotatoes Apr 11 '16 at 13:39
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    @Kilisi That's a good idea if you want to destroy morale and lose key people. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Apr 11 '16 at 13:53
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    @RichardU key people who don't follow orders? No loss. Without discipline it all descends into chaos and that sort of behaviour feeds on itself. Make an example of someone while being professional, and morale will actually rise in the end. Can do the beauty pageant stuff and make friends later. At the start it's important to make a firm no nonsense impression. Just my opinion though, lots of ways to handle the situation, I just tend to be direct. Which is why I just put it as a comment. – Kilisi Apr 11 '16 at 21:31

When someone new takes the helm, especially when that person is related to the owner, there will be resistance to change. The problem with someone who either rises up from the ranks or takes over for a relative is that while you have the title, you do not have legitimacy in the eyes of the workers.

Unfortunately, you've got the double-whammy: You are a relative who was promoted. You're not the boss until and unless you establish legitimacy in the eyes of the employees.

There are several ways to do this.

  1. Fire people. This is the easiest way for you to establish that you are the boss. Fire a few people and the rest will get the message. You can do it if you document insubordination. The law doesn't favor employees when you've got a ream of paper to back you. The downside is that you will have to replace them. You will also damage productivity in the remaining people. They will acknowledge your power, but they will not be as eager to help in the future. Do this and expect to be "booked" for a while. People will come in and do their job and nothing more.
  2. Lead by example. This will involve you getting your hands dirty and will take some time, but will pay big dividends. You essentially need to be a salesman. "Because I said so" is not a sufficient reason for people to follow you, and they won't be satisfied by it. It's not enough that you're the boss if you cannot demonstrate to your people that you know what you are doing. Pick up a book on sales or Dale Carnagie's "How to win friends and influence people". A good boss can give orders where the people wind up thinking that they came up with the idea themselves. Engage them, ask for their input and ask them why they think the old ways are better than your ideas. This way you will see thing from their perspective while getting them to see things from your perspective.
  3. Be a nag. Be persistent in your approach, reject any work that isn't done the new way. After they have to redo their work a few times, they will get the message. It's one way to push people out the door who refuse to change.
  4. Make life miserable for those who resist. It's management's way of "booking" employees. Delay responses to vacation and time off requests. Deny days off when you know it's important to them, but not something that will bite you. Require a doctor's note for every absence.

I recommend option 2. It's harder for you right now, but it's the best for both you and the company.

  • Hi @richard-u, your answer is neat. – Andy K Apr 11 '16 at 12:56

You need to engage them. Explain why you want the changes, what their purpose is and most importantly why they will make things better. If you can emphasise making your co-workers lives easier, so much the better, but if the changes are for productivity or profitability reasons you need to explain that too.

In short, tell people why things are changing, and listen to their responses. Then you're managing, not instructing.

  • Also find out what they need to actually follow the new instructions. For example, say everyone is used to tool X, but you want everyone to use tool Y for such-and-such business reason. It's possible that your people are pushing back simply because they don't have enough training with using tool Y. In that case, additional training may be an answer. – Brandin Apr 11 '16 at 12:47
  • I only wish that were true @brandin. The instructions not being followed are in the vein of 'check email once a day'. – Bryan C. Apr 12 '16 at 6:48
  • @BryanC. Well, that could also be a training issue. Answering e-mails for fun is one thing. Answering them effectively in a business setting is not second nature, especially if there are lots. Also keep in mind they will not say "I need training". If they need training they will make excuses instead, like "we didn't have to do this before, I have other things to do, etc." – Brandin Apr 12 '16 at 8:23
  • If teh thing they are resisting is something liek check emails once a day, perhaps you need to start using the emails in a way that makes them want to check it. Send out an email that you will give a $20. gift certificate to a local lunch place to the first person who responds to the email. Do something like that about once a week at different day and different time of the day and people will start checking. – HLGEM Apr 12 '16 at 17:28

My answer would be the following question instead :

  • What have you done so far, to gain legitimacy / credibility except from being the owner's son?

You are the financial owner of your business, at least your parents are but the people who worked there, they are the one who build that business, by being on time, working hard to make the business flourish and in the same time, making a living for themselves.

I would be finding who has informal leadership over your future business, someone from seniority, who knows how the business is run and ask him to be his mentee. Like that you can learn the rope and knows the dynamic inside of your business, what is ok , what is going wrong, what the customers want, what the customers don't want. In japanese, they call it Genba walk.

Once you have gained that leadership/authority from being on the ground, you will be heard and will be the voice that can introduce change. Without that legitimacy/credibility, your efforts are doomed.

All the best

  • 1
    I'd state this even stronger--when the owner's son takes a management role they have to overcome being the owner's son. It's a negative. – jimm101 Apr 11 '16 at 13:00
  • Hi @jimm101 ha ... :) many thanks for your comment :) – Andy K Apr 11 '16 at 13:01

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