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Monday, June 1, 2015

Honestly, It Is NOT a Business Family

According to the treasure trove of wisdom known as Wikipedia, “family business is the oldest and most common model of economic organization.” If the research is right, these family owned businesses account for more than 30% of companies with sales over $1 billion. That’s pretty impressive.

One might easily think that this is close to an ideal world in which to work. The family doesn’t rely on outsiders. Kin looks after kin. Brother supports brother.

I will not tread into the fallacies associated with this thinking. Plenty of examples in history prove that, just as Cain and Abel couldn’t keep it together, family members can be among the worst business partners. Enough said.

Instead, I would like to focus on a different fallacy of business. It is articulated well in the new book from Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Please know I have not read the book titled The Alliance — just an interesting write up from Ezra Klein.

The article captures two “lies” in the employer/employee relationship. They are the biggest lies supposedly told by each party. The employer “lie,” Hoffman says, is that “the employment relationship is like a family.” Conversely, the employee “lie” professes a false loyalty or commitment to a company framed this way, “Oh, I plan on working here for the rest of my career.”

Reid Hoffman “wants both workers and employers to begin having honest conversations with each other — conversations that admit employment isn't for life, that loyalty only lasts so long as it coincides with self-interest, and that the relationship doesn't have to end when the worker leaves.”

Got that? Your value to the firm may be only as good as what you’ve done for the company lately. Lest you mistakenly thought you had employment security. But…we can still be friends.

A couple of years ago, I heard a presentation by the former CEO of John Deere. He gave a classic example of how this “family” posture sneaks into an enterprise. John Deere headquarters in Moline, IL, is obviously a much smaller community than where you find most corporate headquarters. Thus, it can easily seem like this fosters a real “family” environment. It may feel like it, but don’t get confused. Lack of performance removes you from “the family.”

A variation on this theme came up recently in my personal life. By God’s grace and the blessing of Salem Media, my radio contract in Chicago has been renewed for another year. In sharing this with a few friends, I received a response I didn’t expect. A couple of times I heard, “Oh, so you are only year to year.” Well…yes.

However, it is a “Well, yes….BUT!” Throughout most of my business life, I did not have a contract extending out in time. I lived by what MOST workers live by. That agreement is known as “at will.” In that arrangement, neither party has any long term commitment. We are both two weeks away from a possibe unpleasant goodbye. How’s that for job security?

As with all workplaces in which I’ve been employed, several people have moved on even within the first year of my time at the radio station. Some chose their departures. Others didn’t. This is to be expected in a performance based world.

Reid Hoffman and his team know this happens. And they plan for it. Read the article or the book for more details.

There IS a place where security is guaranteed. It is a place where all your needs are met…forever. No one displaces you. You don’t need a health plan. Or a 401k. All the benefits you could ever want are included. I know, it sounds like I’m making this up.

It’s called heaven. In Revelation 21:4, it reads “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (NLT) And who qualifies for this place? Go look up John 3:16.

No, a business is not a family. But the fellowship of those who trust in God is. Just don’t expect a Christmas bonus.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

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