Family is one word that may explain why some businesses are called “special”. It isn’t a biological definition, more a state of mind. Not every business has it, but for those that do, it’s a delicate – but potent – part of what makes them strong.
It refers to the closeness, affection and attitude that bind people together and makes them win. It’s an ideal. The reality of many families in the home is of course a darker one than the surrogate family of the workplace.
So, it seems to me that many entrepreneurs are running companies that are special because they act more like committed parents than plutocrats.
“Our people are just like family.” It can sometimes sound like a terrible cliché, but people say it for a reason.
The word family is an emotive and powerful one. Employees who feel part of a working family have a sense of belonging; customers sense the magic; and the business glows if its brand halo is brightened by the sense of family.
There are very practical reasons why people respond so powerfully to the working family ideal. The average person spends about 48 to 50 “conscious” hours in a week with working colleagues as compared to only 34 “conscious” hours with family members. If you’re going to spend so much of your life at work then it’s natural that you want to have a sense of belonging.
Creating a sense of belonging means you’re more likely to give more, work harder, be more committed. So, for any business leader it’s something to think about.
Many are wary of firms that celebrate the family ideal. It infers hierarchy, sentimentalism and false ideals. I think they’re wrong – the rewards far outstrip the risks.
It’s the very absence of a sense of family that makes many bureaucracies and large corporations struggle to find the same sense of identity and purpose as those that have it. No amount of branding gloss can fabricate the authenticity of family. So if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
The most dangerous moment for any family brand is when it reaches a size where it risks losing the magic. Then the family must be turned into a tribe.
So, beware the moment when the people around you start to describe your team as “human capital”, or when the tragedy of redundancy becomes “natural wastage”. Modern management speak is the antithesis of the businesses I’m referring to.
In turn, it’s a myth to believe that family can only apply to businesses of a certain size. I think it’s a concept at the heart of many entrepreneurial businesses, both large and small.
Virgin is a company that oozes family ideals. From a commitment to “fun and a sense of competitive challenge”, to the benign baby boomer patriarch Sir Richard Branson, this is a business with family written into its DNA.
Continue reading on page two.