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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Fallacies of the so-called "Family Style" work culture
18-Jul-11 [ by Larry Chao ] 10218 Read and 1 Comment

Fallacies of the so-called "Family Style" work culture

Ask workers to describe the ideal work culture and often they will mention a warm‚ caring family environment where people respect each other‚ writes Larry Chao.  Sounds idyllic‚ but is it practical?

The Challenge

In today's rough and tumble workplace‚ where compassion is short and demands are high‚ people yearn for more respect and gratitude.  The top-down management style common to many organizations in Asia promotes a harsh work environment‚ where it is difficult to express oneself and build camaraderie between management levels.

Functional silos further serve to isolate people and create fiefdoms and rivalries‚ rather than cooperation and teamwork.  One executive cynically observed‚ "we used to fight with each other as individuals‚ but now we fight with each other as department teams."

Managers often forget to appreciate and recognize people.  While people development is a priority‚ career planning is mostly based on "who you know‚" or timing and being in the right place at the right time‚ rather than on a systematic effort to nurture and promote deserving individuals.

As a result‚ people feel short changed and overlooked.  Review any organization culture survey and the issues are usually the same: people need more coaching‚ more recognition‚ more motivation‚ better career planning.  If things are really bad‚ there will be an exaggerated demand for more money to compensate for this unhappiness.

Need for Performance Too

But the answer isn't to go to the extreme and create a family work culture‚ where everyone is warm and fuzzy to each other and we throw performance out the window.  Respect and performance must go hand-in-hand as the two highest priorities.

Let's see why.

While a family culture can be characterized as informal‚ safe and benevolent‚ it hardly passes mustard for nurturing a healthy‚ competitive workforce.

What happens‚ for example‚ when someone decides to slack off‚ or just does not have a sense of urgency to complete his responsibilities? 

In a family work culture‚ the offending individual usually gets off with a slap on the wrist.  Without any consequences for poor performance‚ there is no motivation to improve.  What do you do with an employee who decides to take the afternoon off or chooses to play Facebook instead of meeting an important deadline?  Little‚ if anything in a family work culture.

Instead of admonishing or replacing that person‚ we tolerate mediocrity.  We let him languish in an important job.  Organization performance suffers‚ but the family work culture prevails. 

What about nepotism and favoritism prevalent in family work cultures?  What happens when people are promoted to important roles based on who they know‚ seniority or because of popularity rather than performance?

In a family work culture‚ the organization suffers‚ until the benevolent leader‚ too nice to remove these people‚ decides to underpin them with deputies.  This seems to work‚ until one day the organization becomes too top heavy and collapses under its own weight of burgeoning costs and paralyzing bureaucracy.

Or how does the company stay ahead of the competition? 

As long as the business does not need to change‚ the family work culture works.  But nowadays‚ to compete businesses are in a state of perpetual motion.  People need to challenge the status quo and incite change.  This implies managing conflict and coming up with the best answer‚ not compromising and preserving harmony.

For businesses to flourish and succeed‚ leaders must put respect and performance hand in hand as their two top priorities.  They cannot avoid performance or they will fail to produce results.  Equally‚ they must demand respect for everyone‚ or else they risk breaking down morale or losing their best talent.

What might a culture grounded in performance and respect look like?  It is one where leaders provide clear goals and expectations for others to follow.  It means listening and coaching.  It means giving frank‚ honest feedback on performance.  Most importantly it means negative consequences for those who do not perform.  In this type of work culture, people have an opportunity to enjoy work and perform at their highest level.

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