“My company is like a family.” I’ve heard a few shop managers and business owners make statements to this effect. I’ve also heard a few company employees say things along the line of, “The place where I work is like a family to me.” This kind of talk makes me uneasy. I can certainly see why “family” might be an appealing model for the workplace. Respect, trust, affection and acceptance are some of the characteristics we most admire and hope for in a family setting. It would be nice to have the same feelings governing the atmosphere in which we work. Promoting such values is not an unworthy objective for business managers.
However, we shouldn’t be so comfortable in our business settings that we forget the differences between the goals of each institution. Companies are in business to make money. Families exist because people need and want each other. Looking at companies and families side by side can be instructive. Because most of us divide our daily lives between the experience of working for a company and belonging to a family, the comparison of distinctions can clarify our thinking about both institutions.
First and foremost, a successful company serves its external customers. A company cannot do well by its investors or its employees unless it does well by its customers. A successful family serves its internal members. Taking care of its own is the greatest contribution a family makes to the larger community.
A successful company’s strength is in competitiveness, the ability to deliver a better value in its product or services to consumers than other companies can. A successful family’s strength is in cooperation, the ability to work together to maintain a household and nurture growth.
Strong companies take risks, knowing that the harsh judgment of the marketplace favors bold innovators. Strong families create security and are marked by stability. Unconditional love and acceptance epitomize the best of family life.
It is incumbent upon every company to manage its resources, including the human kind, prudently and wisely. Because economic conditions are uncertain, companies must accept a reluctant readiness to put people out of work when necessary. Families don’t have the option of downsizing to cope with economic hardship. That said, material prosperity can place stress on the well-being of a family, too.
Both companies and families are built on committed relationships. For companies, this often means entering into contractual agreements that must be honored under force of law. Families bonds, however, are most secure when formed by the sacred oath of a covenant.
A company can collapse, and a family can fall apart, but the stronger of the two institutions will always be the family. Take the good that comes from each and apply it where it is lacking. But always be mindful of the distinctions.