Family Inc.

Making sure your family works for you

Have you looked at your family lately? Really taken a good, hard look at your spouse(s) or significant other(s), kids, parents, siblings, step-people, in-laws, grandchildren, nieces, nephews—that constitutes your clan? It is time to take the family seriously and position it effectively in this competitive and uncertain global economy. Families are a dime a dozen these days—how are you going to ensure that yours stands out among the rest? Evaluating your policies and practices on a regular basis assures your family’s future in a competitive marketplace. After all, what is a family but one’s corporation of origin?

Cold? Harsh? Perhaps. But I’m a realist, my friend. When I realized my family of origin wasn’t ISO 9001–certified, nor was my new husband’s personnel file up-to-date, I knew I was setting us up for failure. It was time to consider our brand and our organizational effectiveness—not to mention our supply-chain logistics. Now, your family units may be siloed and not necessarily integrating strategies. Still, there are valuable lessons to be learned from my experience owning and operating a family. That said, here is some message delivery.

First and foremost, I had to assert my role as Team Leader in a somewhat hostile takeover. (My siblings might describe it as an annoying takeover.) In any case, your kin may be resentful that you’ve assumed a leadership role and tell Mom. Realize a family is no place for feelings—unless they map with the objectives.

That said, what are your objectives? You might be satisfied to remain a mom-and-pop outfit with low overhead. Maybe you want to be a leader in grandchildren market share or perhaps you’re focused on building the brand. Perhaps you’ve got yourself a new baby and realize it’s time to implement Six Sigma procedures to identify and correct errors in the manufacturing and delivery process.

Whatever your goals, remember: The key to a family is its people. This is your “human capital” and your most important asset. Think: Where would you be without them? Why, you’d be just a lonely, middle-aged woman with too much time on her hands and middle-child syndrome manifesting itself in megalomaniacal fantasies while operating a turtle rescue organization out of her home and constantly watching Judge Judy while decades of Popular Mechanics magazines accrue throughout her house.

So, anyway, if you’ve ever been part of a family, willingly or unwillingly, you know how hard it is to attract top talent. Competition is tough. It’s not like the old days when folks stayed with one family until retirement. These days, in-laws, children, even parents are just as likely to change families two or three times in their lives. So now, more than ever, managing personnel takes skill and sensitivity.

We’re lucky in our family: we’ve had very little churn or shrinkage. Maybe that’s because I empower my stakeholders to do their job in a branded way. (Note: You may refer to your relatives as employees, staff, associates, or assistant managers. I prefer to call my relatives “stakeholders,” as it gives a sense of enfranchisement in our future.) Of course, “empowering” requires a shared vision, the communication of necessary information and adequate resources. I’ve found that pretty, motivational posters seem to inspire folks, and random and ambiguous threats are helpful, too. You might try seeding rumors of potential layoffs.

And don’t underestimate the value of performance appraisals. Using capricious and self-serving metrics, annual reviews—whether they take place yearly, bi-yearly, monthly, or hourly—are an opportunity to establish expectations and evaluate core competencies and incompetencies. Bear in mind that it’s also important to document any missteps or problematic incidences. (As part of our Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, I have an entire file cabinet full of grudges!) Allow me again to message my own personal experience: After years of strategic planning and empowering, my executive board of talented and motivated In-Law Process Owners have boxed up many a leftover for me, helped me move on many occasions, and have given me a used TV here and there.

At the end of the day, it works! We now are a family of excellence (and a Minnesota Star City!), strategically positioned to be acquired by a huge, multi-national corporation, which will result in the financial enrichment of some of us. So let me message you again by referring to one of the motivational posters in our family’s break room. Vince Lombardi is looking reflectively at some distant goal, and underneath reads these wise words: “Teamwork can be summed up in five short words—Mom put me in charge.”