By Robyn Goldenberg
Dilemma: We’re a family-owned small business with a history of identifying ourselves as family-oriented to all of our employees. But we’re having trouble explaining exactly what that means to our employees and potential new hires. How do we accurately but succinctly represent such a subjective term?
Thoughts of the Day: Smart companies pay a lot of attention to culture and fit. The concept of a family-owned business can mean different things to different people. Whatever you ultimately decide is your company’s culture, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re leading the charge by setting the right tone and embracing the ideals you promote.
As the unemployment rate continues to pose hiring challenges, more owners and managers of small business are looking at the role culture plays in attracting and retaining employees who are the best fit for their organization.
In some families, interactions are healthy and productive; others struggle to unify behind even the smallest hurdles. The same holds true for business families. It’s only to your benefit if you build a resilient culture that brings people together in an environment of loyalty, support, and trust: You’re all part of the same team that’s working toward a common goal. That’s a family culture worth cultivating.
“Family-oriented” means different things to different people
Culture is all about the company’s overall beliefs, core values, and guidelines for personal conduct—and it all starts with how diligent and genuine owners and management are in their efforts to lead by example.
Since companies are composed of more staff members than decision-makers, it’s important to consider what’s coming down from the top and how well that matches with employee views and principles. When things are harmonious, it makes it that much easier to build and sustain cross-supporting teams of people all heading in the same direction. Any disconnect—whether it’s between the owner and an employee or between employees themselves—can lead to dysfunction, disruption, and stress, all of which can turn routine tasks into complicated tangles of blame, decreased efficiency, and, ultimately, lost profit.
For some companies, a family-owned business culture means creating an environment where employees have time and resources to care for their own families. Others may define it as treating all employees as if they are members of one big, inter-engaged, and—hopefully—happy family. And some feel that treating staff like they’re family means bringing people together so they can get to know each other on a more personal level.
Decide what a family-oriented culture means to your company
Start by asking yourself these questions:
• What are our top priorities? What do we value the most?
• How does that play out day to day?
• What’s our responsibility for making sure that everyone is cared for properly, demanding accountability, helping people succeed, and reaching out to offer help when people are struggling?
Once you’ve defined your company’s ideal culture, create a set of questions to use in interviews so you can better identify what each candidate values personally. Look for connections to and disconnects from what your company believes in: It’s much easier to train people to learn new skills than it is to change their core beliefs. Put your hiring emphasis on how their values fit with your company culture.
Build your company’s mission and values into everything you do. Start new employees off with an orientation that talks about the real culture of the company. Survey employees regularly to find out how the values of the business play out real time. Listen to not only what your employees say but also how they say it—and pay attention to their body language, too.
Where there are challenges, ask if the company’s goals are front and center, and if everyone is fully engaged in achieving those goals. Look at how well employees are able to discuss differences with respect and regard for each other’s perspectives. Set a zero-tolerance policy for picking on people. Make it clear that any attitudes that err toward attacking and blaming co-workers will not be tolerated, and emphasize the importance of listening to teammates’ in order to learn and understand.
As an owner, make sure you’re on point
Ask yourself: “How do profitability, creativity, motivation, empowerment, patience, kindness, good communication, encouragement, and drive for both personal and group success fit into our overall culture? Am I living up to the values I espouse for the company? How well do other family members exemplify them?”
Look for and reward examples emblematic of your company’s family-oriented values. You’ll find that the results are more than worth the effort.
Robyn Goldenberg is Director of Operations and Business Development for Strategy eaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.