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The Coach: ‘A partner at my practice keeps employing his untalented family’

Shutterstock father and son
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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect frustrated that nepotism is foisting poor-quality staff on his workplace

I am an associate in a practice where one of the founding partners has a habit of employing family members. His wife has been a very ineffectual staff member with us for many years, and one of his children works for us too. He has now asked me to manage his other child, a student. This person has a lot of attitude, is not very able, and really doesn’t contribute what I would normally expect from a colleague. It sets a bad example to others and is bad for all of our morale.

Matthew turner

Oh dear, this sounds an exasperating situation for you. Architectural practices, the huge majority of which are very small private businesses, are fertile ground for fiefdoms. But often it may be more out of habit than malice.

Until you were called on to be directly part of this, I imagine you could have been ignoring this to some extent. But now your work is being directly affected, I completely understand your concern. However, there is a fundamental here: this is not your practice, it is theirs.

Your superiors may be perfectly happy to run an inefficient office

For some, a practice is a vehicle rather than a means to an end. Your superiors may be perfectly happy to run an inefficient office. At its core, the purpose of the practice may range from being status-related to keeping themselves occupied. You will need to take a view on this, as well as your bosses’ moral compass.

Should you decide to raise this, I would suggest broaching the issue very diplomatically, explaining how your work is being affected, and how this might potentially be bad for the business, and for you and other colleagues.

You will need to bear in mind that however unjust the situation you paint, blood flows strong. The partner may well admit the failings and issues of his own family and act on your observations. Equally he may also respond with the equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. Think ahead to what you might do then, in advance of deciding to bring it up

 AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com 

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