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Treat Your Team Like Staff, Not Family

Tips for Developing Company Culture

Many small-business owners take pride in saying that “we’re like family” when talking about their business. When they say this, they are referring to the fact that people who work for their company care for one another, are willing to pitch in and help with whatever needs doing, and feel like they belong or have a connection. What better way to describe it than to say, “We’re like family”?

But families, as many of us know, sometimes have their drawbacks, which is why you should reconsider drawing the comparison. When you are a member of a family, your history with one another and your unconditional love can cause you to ignore problems (Oh no, Connie doesn’t have a drinking problem.), have poor boundaries (Hey meathead, get me that report!), and take advantage of each other (Karen won’t mind if I’m late again. She’ll never fire me.)  Families are great places to grow up, make mistakes and learn, but they are not designed to maximize results, create great work for clients, or create efficient processes.

If your business is like a family, what is your “family” style? The hierarchical family where the father (owner) knows what’s best for everybody and makes decisions for them all? The mother (owner) who tries to do everything for everyone and whom no one appreciates or respects? The absentee parent with latchkey kids who run amok, doing whatever they want? Some owners take on the role of “parent” because of a void in their own family lives. Trying to fill this void will only prove disastrous, not only for themselves but for their own business.

As you can see, reinforcing you are “like family” sometimes makes it difficult to make decisions that need to be made, causing you to prioritize individuals (in particular, nonperformers) when you really need to prioritize the health of the business – for everyone else. What you’re saying is you don’t set appropriate boundaries with anyone. They are who they are – and you love them unconditionally. While that’s nice and heartwarming, it’s no way to run a business. And really, we’re sure that’s not what most owners mean when they say it anyway.

So let’s rephrase this in a way that would capture all the positive aspects of a family without incorporating the negative aspects. The close-knit and caring feeling that you’re referring to is what you call your company culture. It represents how people in your company should act and interact. And unlike a family culture, which we know may have uncontrolled aspects, a company culture is something that you can create, execute and enforce.

What is your company culture? Since you started the business, the values should come from you. Do you value integrity above all else? Creativity? Excellence? Brilliance? How do you make decisions? What one value, if you could have it and no others, would you choose? If you don’t know, think about what you want it to be.

Once you determine what values are important to your company, you can reinforce them by:

  • Putting them down on paper and sharing them with your staff.
  • Setting an example through your own behavior.
  • Sharing your values with potential job candidates to determine if they share the same values as you.
  • Telling stories about how you, and your team members have lived out those values.

Your business is your baby, so it’s easy to feel like a parent sometimes. But business can be tough enough without throwing “family” into it – just ask members of real family businesses. It’s best to keep business at work and your family at home.

Stacy French Reynolds is a small-business advisor with Anchor Advisors.

Photo credit: anyjazz65

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