Family Owned Business: Set Company Culture

Family Owned Business: Set Company Culture

We’re a family-owned small business with a history of saying we’re family oriented with all of our employees. But we’re having trouble explaining what that means to our employees and potential new hires.

Thoughts of the Day: Smart companies pay a lot of attention to culture and fit. Family-owned businesses can mean different things to different people. Whatever you ultimately decide is your company’s culture, it’s important to walk the talk.

Smart companies pay a lot of attention to culture and fit.

As the unemployment rate continues to pose hiring challenges, more and more small-business owners and managers are looking at the role culture plays in attracting and retaining best-fit employees for their organization. In some families, interactions are healthy and productive. Other families struggle to make things work in harmony. The same is true for companies. Build a resilient culture that brings people together, in an environment of loyalty, support and trust. That’s a family culture worth having.

Family-oriented culture can mean different things to different people.

Culture is all about the company’s overall beliefs, core values, and ways of behaving. Since companies are made up of people and family-owned businesses are headed up by one or more people in charge of everything, it’s important to consider what’s coming down from the top and how well that matches with employee views and principles. When things jive, it makes it much easier to build and sustain cross-supporting teams of people all pulling in the same direction. Any disconnect, whether between owner and employee or between employees, can lead to dysfunction, disruption and stress.

  • For some companies, family-owned business culture means creating an environment where employees have time and resources to care for their families.
  • In other companies, it means treating all employees as if they are members of one big, inter-engaged (and hopefully happy) family.
  • For still other companies, treating people like their family means regularly bringing people together in off-hours, so they can get to know each other on a more personal level.

Decide what family-oriented culture means to your company.

Start with these questions.

  • What are our top priorities? What do we value the most?
  • How does that play out day today?
  • What’s our company responsible for making sure that everyone is cared for properly, demanding accountability, helping people succeed, and reaching out to help when people are struggling?

Once you’ve defined your company’s ideal culture, create a set of questions to use in interviews that can help to identify what individual candidates personally value. Look for connects and disconnects to what your company believes in. It’s much easier to train people for skills than it is to change core beliefs. Put your hiring emphasis on culture fit.

Whatever you ultimately decide is your family-owned business’ culture, it’s important to walk the talk.

Build your company’s mission and values into everything. 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 in real-time. Listen in on conversations. 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. Set a zero-tolerance policy for picking on people. Replace the attitude of attack and blame with one of listening 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 personal as well as 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 walk the talk? Look for and publicize examples emblematic of your company’s family-oriented values.

Looking for a good book? Try “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace” by Ron Friedman.