The Business Advice Column: Clearly Defined Job Titles Eliminate Succession Drama

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Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice to political business owners. Do you have a question about your business? Email her directly at [email protected] and she’ll respond here.

Q: My adult daughter has been with our company for a while now, but I want to give her an official company title. How do you recommend making her role “formal” and how senior should she be compared to other non-partner staff?

A: Do what you would do if she wasn’t your daughter. I hope you’ve taken the time to create an org chart and define each role in your business. This means that each position must have a written job description including qualification requirements, defined key performance indicators and a salary range.

If your daughter already fits into one of these roles and performs her duties well, great. Make sure she has the compassionate job title and salary, and let everyone else on the team know that you’re formalizing her role. If you have to admit that you should have done it a long time ago, do it.

If your daughter is not fulfilling one of the defined roles of the organization, why is she there? Is there a defined role that matches her abilities that you can move her into? If not, let her go so she can find a position that better matches her skills and experience. She might be mad at you in the short term, but she’ll thank you in the long run. Do not deprive her of the opportunity to prove herself.

Treating this situation differently will breed resentment among the rest of your staff. Show them that you value each team member’s contributions equally and aim to center fairness in your work culture. Clearly defining the duties of the position and the consequences that will result from non-performance will greatly facilitate this task.

Q: A client contacted us asking if we could do something very specialized in which we are not specialized. I was tempted to take on the project, even though it was beyond our scope, but decided to refer it to an expert I know. but have not worked with directly. Should I be worried about this? I don’t know if there is a protocol to follow.

A: It depends. Were you clear with the potential client who had no direct experience with the expert you referred to? There’s nothing wrong with saying “I’ve heard good things about X, I’ve never worked with them directly, but you might want to give them a call and see what you think.”

Now, if there was a meaningful way for you to help the client achieve their best outcome, surely you could have reached out to the expert, asked if they would like to partner with you on the project, and managed the billing through your organization as a way to gain experience working with them.

After all, if this situation happened once, it will probably happen again. Keep in mind that when you do this, you take ultimate responsibility for the project going as it should. This means that if it turns out that the “expert” isn’t quite up to the job, you’ll have to rush to find someone who is. Don’t feel bad about scoring someone else’s services if you’re the one handling the project administration – that’s work too.

It’s always good to tell a prospect you’re not the right person to take on their project and refer them to someone who might be better, like you did. Just be upfront about the knowledge of the expert you are referring to. If you can’t help them, your prospect will appreciate any leads to someone who can. You’re in business for the long haul – and acting that way shows you’re centered on integrity and genuinely have your potential client’s best interests at heart. The reference karma will come back to you.

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