What are the Biggest HR Challenges for Family Offices?

Date: Jun 18 2019

Robin Letchinger, JD, Family Enterprise Market Leader, Family Office Exchange

Just as family offices differ in most ways from other types of businesses, Human Resources (HR) in a family office presents its own unique challenges. That’s why family office executives find it beneficial to share their experiences with one another—because there are no one-size-fits-all methods and many of these challenges can only be understood by a peer. 
When the FOX Executive Council ‘14 met in Salt Lake City, UT earlier this year, a discussion on human resources—specific to family offices—was a highlight. Cassie Atteberry, HR Director at Chinquapin Trust Co., and Bonnie Gauger, HR Director at Johnson Keland Management, Inc., led the discussion by sharing their tried-and-true approaches and addressing questions submitted by the group in advance about their greatest HR challenges. Below is a summary of the group’s collective wisdom on the top two challenges:

Attracting and Retaining Talent

When searching for and attracting talent, there are two things you need to be super clear about:

  1. The profile of the person you are looking for (e.g., if you are looking for someone who can wear multiple hats, then you are seeking a person who has a higher risk tolerance, as well as an entrepreneurial spirit and is not motivated by titles, but instead by growing and learning)
  2. The unique qualities of your office (i.e., what is the culture of your office that would entice someone to want to work there?)  

Strategies for retaining talent include:

  • Identifying career paths for people in the office by asking them what they are looking for and what skills they want to acquire, and then helping them acquire those skills with the reasonable expectation that they likely will move on at some point
  • Being creative and unconventional in rewarding high-performers (e.g., offering to subsidize a portion of their child’s education)
  • Exposing them to many areas of the family office, which has the added benefit of appealing to the talent’s desire to learn and grow and the family’s desire for continuity
  • Understanding the motivations of those who have stayed and then tailoring opportunities to those motivations
  • Maintaining an organizational chart that is shared with everyone in the office
  • Providing clear job descriptions, as well as professional training
  • Conducting regular reviews
  • Providing access to family office information so that others understand how their contributions fit into the whole picture—this creates a team environment.

Flexibility in the Workplace

The four threshold questions to ask to determine whether an employee should work remotely:

  1. Does the work support being done remotely?
  2. Is this person a strong performer who can handle getting the work done?
  3. Is there trust that this person will in fact get the work done and get done well?
  4. Is this person available and engaged, even when not in the office?   

Ultimately, the group agreed, you need to have clear guidelines and policies that everyone understands. 

Within the HR session, the group also discussed strategies for talent development and Cassie and Bonnie provided a trove of resources and exercises to help council members improve HR in their respective offices. 
For more information on HR in the family office or joining a FOX Executive Council, click here.