It’s like a family here

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The confidence game…

One of the great lies I hear on a regular basis is “This business is like a big family.” While I love my family I’m not sure I would like to be in business with them and as far as joining any company or business being run like a family I think I would run away fast.

Recently when coaching a senior executive this phrase was used with me to describe the business. I asked, “Have you fired anyone?” he answered ‘Yes.”  I made the point that with family you don’t get to fire them. You certainly can choose not speak to them or even move to another city, but fire them? No. They will always be your family good or bad.

Stating that your business is just like a “big family”, sets up all sorts of expectations and obligations: you will stick together through thick and thin, I will always be with you, I will stick by you in sickness and in health. We don’t even do that in modern families as we get divorced almost as much as we get married!

On one hand the word “family” can bring up a nice rosy glow and feeling of comfort and strength. That of course is based upon your own experience of family. Sadly, for some people that might mean abuse and escape. We may never know what family means to one person and it is even difficult sometimes to know what it means to ourselves.

And yet on a regular basis I hear it being applied to business, I think this is a cultural bias and yet it is a lie, sometimes a convenient lie. When interviewing a person you want to hire it is easy to say “it is like a family here” even though we all know that is a lie!

To state that “This business is run fairly and equitably” seems like a reasonable statement to me. To state the values of the business and its mission and purpose for existence is great. It gives the individual members and potential employees of the business an opportunity to look and see if they fit or if they can contribute.

So why do we want it to be like “family”? I believe in our fragmented world we are unconsciously looking to belong, to be part of something safe, to be part of a tribe or family as that would protect us from the chaotic ever-changing world.

As we spend most of our lives working it does feel like “family” and when difficult financial times hit a business and someone is let go it is often a devastating loss to everyone. If you have been sold on the idea “we are family” and then it is revealed it is a business the feelings of betrayal and anger naturally arise.

My family, like most, has some amazing people and some not so amazing, I love and accept them all. Would I choose to spend 8 hours every day of my time with all of them and my off time? I don’t think so.

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