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An article by Ali Azouz, PhD Candidate in Management Science, Research interests: Family Business and Entrepreneurship, University of Nantes, France, IAE Nantes, LEMNA.
PSYCHOLOGY: 5 Lessons on Building Trust Relationships With Your Non-family Employees
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Trust is not decreed, it is deserved and to be maintained

For many years, the concept of trust has been the subject of theoretical debates among researchers in management. And even though these debates can be very insightful from a theoretical point of view, today we will treat the concept of trust from a purely practical perspective. Drawing on my own experience in the family business field, we will focus on a subject little studied: the trust relationships between family managers and non-family employees.

The arrival of one or more family members in the family business as a manager and/or a potential successor is not a minor event, especially in the eyes of stakeholders such as non-family employees. Being the son, daughter, son-in-law, niece, or any other related member of the founder-owner does not automatically ensure the acceptance, credibility, and legitimacy that is necessary for a successful integration within the organisation.

I have had many opportunities to observe a complicated integration of a family manager who bore the mistrust of non-family employees towards him. The family manager affected in his ego exclaims, “I asked them to do it, and yet they do nothing”, while the non-family employees say to themselves “But who does he think he is? He just arrived a month ago and believes he will teach me my job”. The conflicts between these two parties derive mainly from a lack of trust. In this article, we will explore five golden rules that can help build a foundation of trust in relationships and facilitate smooth integration of a managerial succession or the integration of a new family member.

1. Be humble in your relationships

As a family manager, it is important to be humble in dealing with non-family employees, especially those older and more experienced than you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that humility does not necessarily mean weakness; we can be both humble and ambitious. Humility in your actions and decisions opens up the opportunity to take in the necessary wisdom and esteem of others and build strong trust relationships with your subordinates. Moreover, research published in the January 2014 issue of the Administrative Science Quarterly reveals that companies with managers who exhibit traits of humility – such as seeking feedback and focusing on the needs of others – experienced better employee engagement and job performance.

2. Communicate. And above all, listen. You do not know everything

A family manager should be open to discussing a wide range of issues with non-family employees. Asking employees for their opinion before making decisions, responding to questions, addressing their concerns, and above all, listening with empathy builds up much goodwill. The more you listen to your employees, the more trust relationships have a chance to develop. By listening, you may potentially receive information that you were not aware of before, and you can demonstrate to your employees that you consider their opinions before making organisational or strategic decisions.

3. Make decisions and delegate

Every leader must assume his responsibilities and thus, often makes decisions that can sometimes be difficult. Dismissing an employee, sanctioning or reorganising a decades-old production process can provoke epidermal reactions from the members of the organisation. After all, human beings do not like change. As such, you should regularly remind everyone during meetings or discussions with non-family employees that the decisions are solely made for the benefit of the family business and its sustainability. At the same time, you should not hesitate to delegate tasks, projects, or even objectives to achieve to show that you trust the teams that work with you every day and are looking, just like them, to increase the performances of the family business. This will boost the self-esteem of your team members and give a breath of fresh air to the organisation as well as your trust relationships.

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4. Trust does not exclude control

While trust is critical in dealing with your subordinates, it should not be blind. In other words, it does not exclude control. You should check that the instructions you have formulated have been respected because this will give you an indication of the reliability of the people around you. It will also allow you to better understand the personalities that constitute your organisation and measure the quality of your current trust relationships. It will also show members of the team that their work is essential and carefully observed by the management while implying that every detail, every deadline, and every instruction given should be respected. Often, it is these kinds of details that make the difference between successful firms and very successful firms.

5. Be honest and fair

The truth is sometimes bitter to say, but it is necessary, especially in the context of family businesses where the relationships between supervisors and employees are often close and intertwined. The weight of the unspoken truths can wreak havoc on both the company’s working atmosphere trust relationships that took years to build. You should not hesitate to take the lead and meet face to face with your employees to have an open and honest conversation. Be prepared to accept the potential criticisms you might hear, and you should not take them badly. Everyone needs to question themselves at one time or another. The worst thing would be to consider yourself as an irreproachable manager while every member of the firm, family or otherwise, has undeniable qualities but also areas of improvement. It’s all about becoming aware of them, accepting them and moving forward together in the same boat.