Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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Are we a Business or a Family?

Last week, I shared an experience and lesson from my sabbatical that revealed the strongest fiber in my family. – A worthwhile discovery! Also, I alluded to how the concept of fibers, i.e., a connecting thread, applies to organizations. And a worthy question for a leader is: What fiber holds my work team together? You may read more here: The Strongest Fiber! – BLOG – www.akesatia.com

Keeping with this thread, today, it is worth exploring the concept of fibers in the context of business. Specifically, to answer the question: What fiber holds my work team together? As we all know, every organization is founded and developed upon a distinct set of principles and values from which the culture emerges. Therefore, this question does not have a universal answer. 

However, knowing what holds an organization together is vital for a leader. Not simply so that they can impress investors and media. Or appear as a good leader with employees. But more so, they can drive positive change, nurture a healthy culture, and create an organization that outlasts any scorecard, quarterly goal, or earnings report. 

Mysteriously, discovering what holds a team together is revealed when one examines the language the leader and members of the team use.

A family, a team, or a group. Which are we?

Today, many organization leaders refer to their teams as a family. And in the last piece, we touched on why leaders may do so. Notably, others have expounded on this subject and shared eye-catching ideas. For example, a Forbes article titled: Should Employees Be Viewed As A ‘Family’ Or ‘Sports Team’ By Business Leaders? (forbes.com) addresses this topic. And it suggests that instead of referring to employees as a family, leaders should discard labels. And allow individual workers to refer to themselves collectively as they deem worthy.

Indeed, given that words such as family can be loaded and evoke diverse emotions in different individuals, this consideration is worthwhile. However, humans use language as a primary vehicle of communication. And leaders need to inspire, connect and communicate their intentions and expectations. Therefore, leaders must be discerning and use words and language that accurately convey their intent.

How we view and treat one another!

First, it is helpful to understand what is so gripping about the idea of a family that might lead a leader to refer to their work team as such. This pursuit leads to an enlightening revelation. – Specifically, a reassuring value families provide their members known as unconditional positive regard.
Unconditional positive regard is a powerful phrase that evokes sentiments of acceptance and freedom. And who doesn’t want that? To live with the assurance that a mistake does not define them. And their wrongs are considered momentary lapses. And most importantly, their mistakes can not lead to their expulsion from their tribe!
If you have been close to a healthy family, I bet you have seen or experienced unconditional positive regard!

Or perhaps you’re thinking: Umm… Does unconditional positive regard mean everything and anything one does is accepted? It sounds chaotic! I do not want to be part of a family or business with such a low standard! How exactly does unconditional positive regard show up?

A Reassuring Value that Family Provides

Unconditional positive regard is a concept developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. According to Rogers, unconditional positive regard involves showing complete support and acceptance of a person no matter what that person says or does. Unconditional Positive Regard in Psychology (verywellmind.com) Notably, while this suggests that one accepts a person regardless of what they say or do, it does not mean any or every behavior is acceptable or condoned.
In a family, showing unconditional positive regard would be calling out unacceptable behavior and helping one improve. And the well-being of one person would not be substituted for the comfort of another. 

The Scenario

To better grasp this, let us consider a scenario.

You are out running errands on a Saturday afternoon and run into a neighbor you have not seen for a while. Excitedly, you stop for a quick chat! During your conversation, your neighbor shares a head-scratching story about a former co-worker, Alice.
Alice is a single mom who unexpectedly lost her job when her company laid off several workers. After eleven months, Alice was still unable to secure a new job. Left in a dire situation and sinking in bills with minimal family support, she made a difficult decision! Alice gave up her two-year-old son for adoption.
She figured because he was very young, he would not remember her or miss her too much. Also, he would fare better with more financially stable parents. And she would use the funds from the adoption to cover outstanding bills and avoid home foreclosure.

Upon reading this story, what do you think?
How do you view Alice’s capability as a mother? Do you pity her? Or sympathize with her? Do you think she was irresponsible? Would you feel different if she waited a little longer before giving up her child for adoption?

I bet most of us would be astonished if we heard a mother decided to give up her two-year-old child for adoption to secure funds. And get back on a solid financial footing. And it is worth questioning why we might feel this way. Is it because we believe family should be a safe zone? i.e., An environment where one is protected? And where the well-being of one does not get sacrificed for the comfort of another?

Naturally, this would lead one to ask: How does this relate to how organizations do business today? 

The Decision to Let Go

To explore this, let us consider a situation many of us might be familiar with.

An organization decides to lay off a junior employee they hired two years ago (the two-year-old child) to secure funds and retain the company assets (or avoid home foreclosure). And the organization justifies its decision by saying: The worker has not worked at the company for too long. And will not lose much. (Similar to Alice saying: Her two-year-old child is young and would not remember much). Also, leadership adds: We did everything to enable them to land softly. We offered a generous severance package and introduced them to leaders at peer companies to help them secure a job. (Much like Alice saying: I gave my two-year-old up for adoption to a loving and financially stable family. He will do just fine!)

Indeed, these situations are more similar than we would like to believe. Yet one leaves us unsettled. And the other, we can readily justify. Notably, we are unsettled when this situation pertains to a family because many of us believe a parent who makes such a decision is irresponsible. But in business, we consider such decisions to be a rational response to unfortunate or unforeseen circumstances. And if the company is public, the stock price might jump as many credit its leaders for being fiscally responsible. And for making a tough call to sustain the business and benefit investors.

Different Lanes for Businesses and Families

In many respects, we expect and reward different behaviors in business than we do in a family. Sure, there are some similarities. For example, in families and businesses, we expect that others do not cause physical harm to others or steal. However, in many other areas, the standards vary. – This ranges from deploying resources to sustaining equity. For example, in a famine, the young children in a family are fed first. While in many businesses, during a downturn, the C-suite has first dibs.
Notably, this may outrage many, but the rationale is clear!

Business is a contract: a binding agreement for the supply of goods or services at a fixed price. Contract Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster. And the goal is to keep the business running. Therefore, in a healthy business, workers aim to sustain the business.
While a family is defined traditionally as a group of persons of common ancestryCLAN. Family Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster. And the goal is for the clan to flourish. Essentially, for members to multiply and thrive. In a healthy family, members rally to protect each other.
Remarkably, this unveils an insight: In a healthy organization, letting go is the last resort. While in a healthy family, letting go is not an option.

Again, we visit the question: Is it reasonable to refer to a business as a family?

For you and to you,



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