Should family members have position descriptions

When you first see the title of this article you might think “what has this got to do with family business?” or “isn’t this a low level thing to discuss?” or “it’s my business and I don’t need one of these things!” or “great for employees but not needed for the family members!”

My business expertise is not in Human Resource Management (HRM) or any of its functional disciplines however as a strategist I consider position descriptions essential for all family members as they have a multitude of benefits for the business, family members and the workforce. This short article will provide a few areas where they have a positive impact.

Workforce: The businesses workforce consists of family and non-family employees all of whom need to have a clear job role as it relates to the functions of the business. The purpose of the position description is to provide this clarity while outlining its functions, responsibilities, qualifications, expected outcomes and performance requirements. It is one step in ensuring all of the workforce is treated in a standardised format. More importantly it provides the clear line of reporting and supervisory levels ensuring family members, while working in the business, are managed in the same manner as non-family employees. It also provides the platform for cultural embedding and improvement through consistency of performance measuring. Finally it provides the structures within the business that “head off” and propensity to “go around the system”.

Family members working in the business: Family members, as employees, automatically wear two hats i.e. employee and family member. In some instances they may also wear the third hat of ownership. These hats (three circles of the family in business) come with specific responsibilities and accountabilities that can have a positive or negative influence on the business, its culture and its performance. This influence also flows into the family, its values and its legacy. Position descriptions aligned to the specific segment within the “three circles or hats” facilitate separation of the roles and provide clarity for the incumbent, the employee or supply chain segment as to the level of authority of the position rather than that of the individual.

Family member not working in the business: This person or group may have only one hat (family member) or two hats (family member and owner). Regardless of this, they are not working in the business therefore must have clarity as to their roles and responsibilities to ensure they do not become involved in the business in a manner that disrupts its operations, culture or performance.

Multiple hats for family members: As stated family members may wear any number of hats depending on where they sit within the three circles of the family business. What this means is there is a requirement to have a position description for each of the hats that is specific to the individual while being of value to the family, the business and the ownership cohort.

In conclusion, position descriptions not only provide clarity of roles, responsibilities and expectations they serve to protect the family members from adverse behaviours from within the family of external to the family.

Lloyd Russell is a 4th generation family business member and an accredited family business adviser who is based in Brisbane while servicing clients throughout Australia and internationally. Lloyd is a specialist in family business strategy and governance with a particular focus on inter-generational transfer. He has more than 30 years’ experience in senior management and is an accredited neuroscience practitioner.

Contact Lloyd on 0413 549 748 or or

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