The Difference Between A Business And A Family

Lots of businesses claim to be "just like a family." It's a good bet they don't really mean it.

Fredric Paul, Contributor

December 17, 2008

2 Min Read

Lots of businesses claim to be "just like a family." It's a good bet they don't really mean it.In fact, in the current recession, many companies who claim to be "family" are undergoing layoffs not just in reaction to hard times, but in anticipation of hard times!

A recent example is online shoe retailer Zappos, which had prided itself on great customer service and innovative personnel policies, Last month the company laid off 8% of its staff even though it's still growing and profitable -- and CEO Tony Hsieh had the gall to whine about how it was a hard decision because of the company's "family culture." ANd they're not the only ones doing this -- they were just clueless enough to put it all in one memo.

The hypocrisy burns me enough that I recently devoted an entire column to this topic over at

Find More On A Business Is Not A Family

As former New York Knicks coach and basketball commentator Jeff Van Gundy told the New York Times concerning all the NBA coaches fired this season: "It's always intriguing to me that everyone preaches we're all in this together, we're a family. The difference is we are in this together only when it's going good."

That's the key here. Real families don't fire or lay off people when times get hard. They don't disown cousins to "dump salary" for a better-looking balance sheet. For companies, not so much.

So here's a suggestion. Unless your company is willing to take on the responsibilities of actually being a family, you might want to stay away from calling your company a family. Do what you can to support your employees, but don't set false expectations by claiming to be something you're not.

To paraphrase a comment on a Harvard Business Review story about one company that actually took being a "family" seriously, "Don't talk family, do family."

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