"We're a family here." is a line that many businesses, especially smaller ones, like to say to make you feel welcome. Most families are dysfunctional on some level, and you're unable to fire your brother or sister from the family; otherwise, I would have been an only child years ago (I kid because I love). If a company culture is trying to form itself around the idea of family, it will be flawed from the onset. Unconditional love is part of being a family, which means forgiveness, take-backs, do-overs and a much lower level of accountability due to the lack of long-term consequences. The adage about not being able to choose your family comes to mind. By contrast, a value-driven company is formed based on shared beliefs and principles. Sharing your ideas and vision for the future often attracts people that agree or want to participate in this vision. In this position, you are able to hire and choose from a group of people that have already chosen you.
Business should be run as a business with trust, purpose, shared goals and values as a foundation. These are the building blocks of a high-performing team that motivates and supports each other. Family can often be competitive and resentful of one another, even if they would never go so far as to fire each other. It is rare to find a nuclear family that truly aligns with their purpose and shares the vision of the future.
I've worked with actual family businesses throughout the years; some work and some don't. The ones that work tend to have a clear separation of skills and responsibilities, so each family member has their own role that is not in direct competition with the other family members. Even in this scenario, having a shared vision of the future is essential and often a source of conflict or simply a drag on the company's progress.
When a non-family business tells you they are like a family, it may sound nice, as if there is love there; however, they are, more often than not, referring to the obligation to sacrifice. Families are inextricably linked, and thus, sacrifice is inevitable at some point for the benefit of the whole. This is the underlying message of describing a small business as a family - "we all wear a lot of hats here" is code for loose job descriptions and responsibilities. "We're all here for each other" is likely, long hours with little to no compensation for overtime.
With a family, you can take advantage of each other with little compensation or gratitude; however, you are linked, so you will not be fired and cannot quit. In a small business that claims "you are family," always remember you are not. They will push and ask for all the uncompensated extras you would demand of a sibling however you will likely never be valued, loved or protected as actual family. Either of the "family" scenarios can lead to a career of stability but little growth. In a purpose-driven company, you are more likely to want to work long hours because you share a passion for the company's vision. The reward is being of service to a goal that is greater than yourself. A company that leads with purpose unites teams of like-minded people that are equally motivated, which means everyone is trying to achieve the objective, which creates an environment of meritocracy where the best idea wins. This is an environment where an individual will grow by virtue of the company they keep.
Which company will you keep?
Written by Jake Leonti, F+B Therapy
Mr. Leonti has worked in coffee for over twenty years with disciplines at every link of the value chain from barista to roasting, green grading and importing. Jake is the current Editor-in-Chief of Coffee Talk Magazine, columnist at Santé Magazine, member of the Roasters Guild and host of the Food and Beverage Therapy podcast