Brick by Brick, regardless of your presence.
You can learn a lot by observing children about the parents who raised them.
Similarly, you can learn a lot about a business by observing how the employees conduct themselves when their employer isn’t present.
Being raised within a family, quite gratefully I can share that I had a fair amount of mentors around me to keep me humble.
In a family business, one can easily grow up believing there’s always a safety blanket; one to fall back on or hide behind when troubles do arise.
Whilst it’s not the greatest mentality to have if one wishes to progress on their own venture, it’s the family that built the business that matters.
The combination of having wonderful parents who built a successful business, becomes an ingrained value which becomes a benchmark of a legacy you must live up to.
A family name — one which matters more than it just being an emblem.
If the foundations the business was built on, much like an architectural foundation, weren’t strong; suffice it to say that the structure would one day easily crumble.
We’re not introduced as ‘members’ of the family, hardly any employee is ever aware of whom they encounter, or whom they speak to of their employers, or the regard in which they hold them in.
It’s not just in a family business that these qualities are found synonymous, it can also be observed in an extension built on a franchise.
Employees will almost always, stay loyal to an employee who has treated them well, they’ll also come to embody the same values they observed and learnt from their employer; much like a child does growing up, observing and soaking in the intricate details of the qualities their parents exhibited.
The humbleness, gracefulness, the willpower it takes to do the right thing — even when it may incur a loss; are qualities that employees learn to value.
The argument can be made that there’s always a few who will exploit or deviate from the internal values of the business, but they’ll be shunned — as their colleagues provide the characteristics of watchful protectors of one another.
I found myself at a crossroads when my flight was delayed and I had to extend my stay, deciding it would be best to stay closer to home — I made the decision to book myself a room at the family hotel.
None the wiser, the employees weren’t aware of who I was or rather that I’m a member of the family that built the business.
Yet, there was a sense of familiarity, a sense of gracefulness that I had witnessed at home.
The lack of intent for doing a service for the sake of a tip.
The refusal to accept a tip, since it was against the business code-of-ethics; despite me urging that it doesn’t hurt to break the rules every once in a while, as the service department does work extremely hard.
In this startup culture that I find myself in, whilst the offices are open and the employees do interact with one another as friends, the C.E.O rides a bicycle to work and doesn’t really have a designated desk or an office; there is a lack of substance, a lack of foundation.
The free-form attitude looks appealing at first, the t-shirts instead of formal clothing seems like a comfort, a relaxed atmosphere — yet the business is failing.
There’s a lack of strategy, a lack of self-worth, the work environment feels too much like home, it’s easy to be laid back — a bit too laid back.
Whilst the freshly baked croissants look delicious and having a fancy coffee brewer looks enticing, there’s hardly a sense of uniformity.
Even though the culture seems to be present within the business.
The C.E.O or Founder is roaming around the environment and interacting with their employees like they’re friends, these are no different than the qualities my ancestors exhibited — yet there’s a sense of disassociation present.
A silent observer, may find that whilst the t-shirts look great, the revolving colourful chairs look visually appealing, the freeform office screams freedom; there’s lack of uniformity, lack of order — it’s chaotic under the surface whilst it’s not overtly displayed.
The new culture has evolved but failed to incorporate a crucial foundation, a foundation built on initiative and responsibility.
The relaxed atmosphere has allowed for a zen-state where there’s no stress, but also that there’s no actual goal being achieved.
I’m left wondering,
Suits or T-Shirts?
Cubicles or Open-Offices?
Designated Desks or Freeform Tables?
Coffee Brewery and Fresh Croissants or a Simple Vending Machine?
A cool-hip boss or an eloquent graceful demeanour?
I used to hate corporate culture, and here I am in the polar-opposite of it.
I’m starting to miss home, finding that there was order in which the business used to be fun, a business structure I had grown all to familiar with.
The Designated offices were a sign of responsibility.
The Suits were a sign of self-worth.
The vending machine was a sign of liberty.
The eloquent demeanour was to establish a sense of respect and leadership.
In a start-up when the boss is out and about on their bicycle, the employees hardly seem to care of taking any responsibility.
Yet, in this business that my family built — one I often joked was run on primal values does seem to resonate a sense of familiarity to this day.
Was this because I’d grown in a corporate culture?
Evidence proved otherwise, because it wasn’t the culture that I grew up in — it was the foundation laid by my ancestors who devoted themselves to the very core of taking initiative and managing hierarchies.
The respect with which employees were treated was not limited to a title or a dress-code, yet the titles and dress-codes represented far more than what was perceived to be their generic purpose.
A sense of uniformity, initiative, responsibility, and respect.
Which was never demanded nor forced, but rather led by an example.
Examples of Loyalty, Family Values, Appropriation, A non-flamboyant lifestyle could all be achieved without wearing a T-Shirt, Riding a Bicycle, or having Freeform offices.
It was achieved by work-ethic, leadership, and every brick that led the business to fruition without forcing a culture but rather embodying it.
Just don’t be the guy from “The Wolf of Wall Street”.