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Daily Leadership Thought #121 – A Business Is Not A Family

Whenever I hear a business owner tell me his/her  employees are like family I wince and get a bit nervous for them  No matter how much you may care for your employees they are not family members. Unless, of course, technically they are which creates its own set of issues.  The very nature of the owner – employee relationship is that it is based on a transaction.  Employees receive a paycheck to fulfill their work responsibilities. If they do not perform these responsibilities they become a liability and can be fired.  In addition, very few of employee relationships last a lifetime and even good people will eventually leave for other opportunities or life issues.  Moreover, employees aren’t children and to perpetuate a parent child dynamic is inadvisable for them and you for many reasons.

I encourage my clients to instead think of their businesses as meritocracies where performance and attitude are rewarded. Employees should be expected to behave like adults.  If people are doing well treat them that way.  The more they prove themselves to be diligent and competent the more flexibility you give them.  Their compensation and other rewards should reflect the ongoing quality and outcomes of their work.  In addition, I’ve always believed that owners and bosses should spend the majority of their time with their top performers helping them get better not their problem people whereas the dynamic in a family is often quite the opposite (as often it should be). 

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating for a rigid, cold and uncaring work environment.  People are not widgets and should be valued.  Supportive, caring and loyal work cultures are still the way to go but not at the expense of performance.  Friendship in the workplace is still a good thing.  However, I urge you not to confuse the issues of family and business. I’ve seen far too many people get burnt as a result.  They’ve held on to people much longer then they should of and done damage to their organization as a result.  The best thing you can do as a business owner is to surround your good people with other good people and remove their barriers to performance. Have high expectations and reward these results when they happen.  When it comes to non-performers and toxic people, move them out as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Your life as a business owner will get easier and you will have more time to spend with your real family.


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