Is Your Company a Family or a Team? Why Smart People Still Don’t Get Human Business

Paul Hebert Bad HR, Employee Engagement, Employment Branding and Culture, Good HR, Paul Hebert, Performance

About a month ago on the HBR website in their HR Blog section, some smart and successful people wrote a post called Your Company Is Not a Family. The article was penned by Reid Hoffman, cofounder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, Ben Casnocha, award-winning entrepreneur and bestselling co-author, with Reid Hoffman, of The Start-up of You and Chris Yeh, entrepreneur and co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. Some pretty nice pedigrees there.

But unfortunately, like many in the “business” world they are living in the past (IMO).

Let me explain.

The point of their article on the HBR site was that businesses shouldn’t talk about employees as members of the “family” but as members of a “team” and adopt the attitude that many sports franchises do where they put together the best team based on skills, for the money they have. In other words – approach your business like a money manager approaches their investment portfolios. No real people – just skills and talent profiles. Plug and play so to speak. Need an SEO person? Go buy the best and brightest you can with the money you have.

Remember – this isn’t show-friends this is show-business.


While this discussion sounds right at first, it is so wrong for the vast majority of businesses and for almost every single employee.

First of all: In the world of sports the visibility into talent and performance is almost 20/20 – for business however, we are Mr. Magoo behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car – business is moving fast and everything is blurry. There is no way to assess performance in the way sports franchises can, and therefore before the word go, this analogy falls apart.

Second: By comparison, the money we pay most employees doesn’t give us the ability to create the expectations we put in place for our multi-million dollar athletes. They can expect to be traded and moved around at a moment’s notice. They know they will be out the door when the next great player graduates from 8th grade. We don’t have that reality for most employees.

And Third. It’s just not the right thing to do (see #2 above). Because we don’t provide our employees with the ability to weather an employment world where, if you get let go after 2 years you can arguably not have to work for quite awhile, we need to be more human. We have to take into account how the organization’s needs intersect with the individual’s. That’s what human organizations do. Not to mention that most of the jobs we’re talking about in most of our organizations aren’t so specialized that we can’t retrain and reset employees into new positions much easier than a pro sports team.

Sure, the idea of buying and selling talent to create the best possible team sounds good and cool – ‘cuz we’re all masters of the universe don’t ya know – but the real world has to be taken into consideration. And the real world is approximately 150 million people supporting themselves and their families. For the record – the analogy in this article applies to approximately 2,000,000 professional athletes (but in reality, we’re talking probably the top 1%) who could arguably support about 100 families each based on their “average” salary. The analogy is a 3 sigma discussion. It only applies to the very tip of the tail in a normal distribution—not the people who we rub shoulders with every day.

Family Values VS Family

Where these smart guys go wrong is thinking that applying family “type” values is the same as treating people like “family.” Of course you can’t fire your kids. But there isn’t a financial and business contract involved with kids (okay maybe on the parents’ side there is.)

However, if you want to elevate your relationship above the transactional then having an organization that tries to leverage values that are similar to what you find in families can get much more out of the investment you make in your employees.

Courtesy, honesty, gratitude, second chances, training and support are all ways you can inject family values into an organization. These “values” have value. Maybe not in the traditional monetary sense. But they do offset monetary offers to a degree. Research has shown that employees will take less salary to work for a company that matches up to them in the values category. That is a #FACT.

I personally find the advice in this article a bit too sterile, transactional, logical. I don’t know about you, but I like my employer with a little emotion… a little humanity.

If you want to build a company using sports franchises as your model, go right ahead. But don’t be surprised when the competitor down the street (or the city of Cleveland) offers your best employee more money and they take it.

Because, just like in the advertisements about drug abuse that ran a few years back… they learned that from you.