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A family feel to your business? Really?

I recently heard about a chap who seems to be doing really well. He’s owner of a business with about 50 employees – an indication that things are probably going well, spends a lot of time at work – hardly ever home – but tells everyone that he loves it, and his work-place is just like a large happy family. They go out for drinks regularly – do lunches - go-carting and other such things. Sounds like it might be a great place to work!

But then I heard that he had another family – a wife and two children at home. So which one is his real family? After some thought, here’s my take on it:

Firstly, let’s consider the research and experience of Professor Bruce Robinson of the Fathering Project ( Prof Bruce is a world authority on lung disease that results from exposure to asbestosis. So his patients are usually men and usually dying. Prof Bruce noticed a pattern: these men regretted in their last months of life, that they didn’t spend more time with their children back when they had the chance. They also realised that work seemed to be more important at the time, than it really was.

Secondly, let consider the statistic that 19%, close enough to 1 in 5 employees in Australia, are actively dis-engaged. These people have two effects on organizations – they undermine productivity of everyone, and they make it a miserable place to work because of their negativity. Now there is a way to minimize the impact of actively disengaged staff. Essentially you need a strong set of real values which are clearly defined, constantly communicated in different ways and employees are held to account for not only achieving outcomes, but also living those values.

So I wonder how well he is holding his surrogate ‘family’ to account? Is he really prepared to fire his drinking buddies for not living up to the values, or achieving outcomes when push comes to shove? So what must it be like working in an organization where some of your work-mates are not pulling their weight and the boss is not taking action – surely disheartening? If his team does have the average number of ‘lemon suckers’ (or worse, more than the average), what must that work-place feel like?

Thirdly, with 50 staff, the Boss can truly delegate all that is not essential for the boss to retain. Even once an organization goes past about 20, the boss should be spending most of her time working on the business, not in it. Ineffective delegation not only has an impact on the boss, it also demoralizes staff and holds the whole shebang back (I’ve made this mistake in spades). A business can only go as fast as the boss – and this one might be ‘maxed out’.

Finally, a busy business owner is not thinking clearly. The three typical contributors to fuzzy thinking are: fatigue, stress and emotional involvement. How could this fuzzy thinking be impacting the future security of all their jobs and future growth in a rapidly changing world?

Don’t get me wrong, a high performing team who love working together is what it’s all about. But 50 staff and a very busy business owner who treats everyone like family? Lots of red flags - don’t buy shares and don’t apply for the job there until you know a whole lot more!

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