Loyalty & Harmony (The Dark Side)

Two key values of most families working together in business (and families as a whole) are loyalty and harmony. Who wouldn’t want these in their family after all? And values that are strong in a family are almost always strong in the businesses they run as well.  In general, this is a great thing. Loyalty given and received within the business can create longevity in the employees, with lower turnover and deep experience as a result.

Where this can work against the business is when the value of loyalty overpowers reasonable business decisions. We sometimes see staff (or family) working in the business, who are not well-equipped for their role, or who are not performing well. Though the person may be struggling, the business leadership can sometimes resist making a change (whether re-assignment, or replacement) because of a sense of loyalty to that person, who may have been with the firm for a long time.

It is always important to treat the family like a family, and the business like a business, and to try to not get the two confused. We do no one any favors when we do not deal with a performance problem due to misplaced loyalty.  Being loyal and helpful in some cases may mean dealing with a situation where the person will not succeed on their own.

In a similar way, seeking harmony can sometimes result in not dealing with issues that are better resolved. Conflicts between employees or family members are not always easy to resolve or pleasant, but if they are left unresolved, they generally do not get better or go away on their own. We always say “conflict that gets buried, gets ‘buried alive’.”  Yet, in seeking harmony, far too many family businesses fail to deal effectively with the issues that truly do need to get resolved in order for the company, and individuals, to move ahead.

As in all things, there is a balance to be struck here. There are some family businesses where loyalty is not valued enough, and harmony is secondary to the business. Each enterprise will have its own value system, which will shift over time, and harmony and loyalty can be strong values which propel a company to great success. Maintaining loyal employees and minimizing conflict are good goals, which can create a more sustainable firm that outperforms many others. Stating these as ‘Company Values” can help the team know that the company (and the family who owns it) are committed to these principles inside the business and outside of it too. This helps by creating a level of accountability within the firm to the stated values.

The key is to step back when values are challenged, to see what the right balance is, and which values may (at times) trump others, or when an intuitive commitment to one value can mislead the thinking of leadership to a path which does not truly meet the company or family values or intent.