Your Company Is Not a Family
When CEOs describe their company as being “like a family,” they mean well. But using the term “family” makes it easy for misunderstandings to arise.
In a real family, parents can’t fire their children but that’s essentially what happens when a CEO describes the company as a family, then institutes layoffs. Regardless of what the law says about at-will employment, those employees will feel hurt and betrayed—with real justification.
Consider another metaphor—one that Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, introduced in a famous presentation on his company’s culture. Hastings stated, “We’re a team, not a family.” He went on to advise managers to ask themselves, “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep? The other people should get a generous severance now so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role.”
In contrast to a family, a professional sports team has a specific mission to win games and its members come together to accomplish that mission. The team can remain a consistent winner despite high personnel turnover because it combines a realistic view of the often-temporary nature of the employment relationship with a focus on shared goals and long-term personal relationships.
Additionally, winning as a team is a good way for individual team members to achieve success. The members of a winning team are highly sought after by other teams, both for the skills they demonstrate and for their ability to help a new team develop a winning culture. It’s about bringing together a disparate team to achieve a common goal despite the reality of staff turnover. That’s something for which all businesses should strive.
Is the “Family” metaphor serving your business in a positive way?
Adapted from an article by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, Harvard Business Review