Business Friends Working Together

The One Client Argument You’ll Never Win

I never argue with clients unless of course, it’s about baseball, plus I have to know I’m right beforehand.

Yes, it’s a given we’re not in the business of verbally sparring with our clients. There is one time I want to–I mean really want to. But I never do. I just bite my tongue and hold back.

Is it because I’m a wimp? Not even close. It’s because I’ll never win the argument–never.

So what’s the argument?

My First Employer after KPMG

I spent nearly 10 years with a mid-sized family business based in Missouri after enduring a few years of audit torture at KPMG and RSM (formerly McGladrey & Pullen).

The family name I worked for is recognizable throughout most of Missouri. During my tenure, there were only two brothers in the family who ran the business that was owned by survivors of the founders, brothers, spouses, grandchildren, and other distant relatives.

The family’s position toward nepotism left a strong impression on me. Competent, respected, and likable family members who have paid their dues? I’m okay with that. I just have no tolerance toward dead wood. Family members just showing up to collect a check will never earn my respect.

Several years ago, I encouraged a bother to pay his sister $60,000 not to show up to the office because she never did anything. When she did, she was ineffective. She was hurting the office culture by doing very little. He took my advice.

Friends of Business Owners – We’ll Never Win That Argument

And now the argument we can’t win. Friends–good luck on telling your client to cut bait on a friendship that dates back to childhood.

I continue to find business owners who are otherwise successful yet turn a blind eye on incompetent friends whom they have hired to work in their businesses.

Here’s the part I really hate–they have no idea how those incompetent friends are hurting the morale of those who are trying to give 100 percent every day.

You don’t need to give me advice. I’ve tried everything. Trust me, it doesn’t work to reason with business owners to have them part ways with friends. Instead, I just do the following:

  1. I do what I can to help my client keep being successful in spite of my misgivings about the friendship in question,
  2. I lend a friendly ear to employees when they need to vent about these incompetent friends, and
  3. I keep my distance from the friends in question (odd, they seem to know to stay away from me)

If you are a new consultant, I promise you’ll go through this. You’ll want to do everything in your power to get the incompetent friends fired. You might even be tempted to seek therapy wondering how this insanity continues.

My best advice? Don’t take these issues as personal as I have done so in the past. I always viewed lack of change as a failure on my part. I ultimately learned that I was not the problem nor my message. Looking back, I underestimated the bond that two people can have, even in business.

Accordingly, your job is to keep making incisions. Your clients make the decisions, good or bad.

For Business Owners Only

If you are a business owner reading this post for whatever reason and you made it this far without stopping, I have some input from a source far wiser than I am.

Instead of reading why it’s bad to keep on family members and friends not earning their keep, consider the words of Ray Dalio in his book Principles: Life and Work:

I wanted Bridgewater to be like a family business in which family members have to perform excellently or be cut. If I had a family business and a family member wasn’t performing well, I would want to let them go because I believe that it isn’t good for either the family member (because staying in a job they’re not suited to stands in the way of their personal evolution) or the company (because it holds back the whole community). That’s tough love.

Dalio, Ray. Principles: Life and Work (p. 340). Simon & Schuster.

Have you ever considered you might be holding back your friend by not letting him/her go?

Photo Attribution: Adi Goldstein

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