Running Your Family Like You Would Run A Business
“The kids are making me crazy! By Sunday morning I can’t wait until Monday to get back to the office.”
Such was the complaint from an acquaintance whose grade school children were out of control. I knew this woman as a buttoned up executive, but on the home front, things seemed to be different. She was dealing with disobedience, bad attitudes, and sibling squabbles that robbed her of the joy of parenting. My “friend” described many frustrations that I (and most every parent) can relate to and must work through with their kids. All of her stories were standard, age-appropriate developmental stuff. However, what I noticed the most was how unempowered she felt in dealing with the challenges.
In an effort to learn if she was simply having a couple of bad weekends, I asked her specifically what part of their family “plan” wasn’t working. She looked at me as if I were speaking Latin.
“What exactly do you mean when you say, ‘plan’?'” she asked.
Hmmm. Considering how much time this woman spent running Excel spreadsheets and knowing her logical approach to all manner of business issues, I thought maybe I used the wrong word. Still, her inquisitive stare told me something else; she didn’t HAVE a plan in place with her kids. In fact, not only was she missing a strategy for dealing with the sassy-ness of a 5th grader, she didn’t seem to apply ANY of her business skills and talents at home with her family.
As we talked about the challenges, she clearly expected her family’s dynamic to thrive in a more “organic state.” She loved her kids immensely and felt as though her emotional connections would guide her. The more we talked, the more obvious it became that she believed a formal plan (or the application of any sort of organizational strategy) came across as sterile and cold. In her mind, they were a family, and their “love would get them through.”
Now I suppose, theoretically, a plan can sound heartless and sterile. If one pictures a family dinner resembling a weekly budget review, then, of course, it will carry little excitement. But, my proposition (and a bit of experience) is that having a plan means every family member knows and supports the purpose, the goals, and the operating rules for their family.
In fact, I’d argue when you approach your family as though you’re running a business, you end up with clarity that gives everyone the chance to thrive and find joy. Imagine your family as a locomotive. In its most organic, unencumbered, and “free” state, the train is off the rails. Unfortunately, that state leads to the train destroying itself. For the locomotive to be useful, it must stay on tracks. A train on the rails is safe and can maximize its purpose.
Many of the practices that give an organization efficiency and potential, also do the very same thing for a family. The principles give a family a good set of “rails” in which to travel and succeed. Here are four to get you started:
1. Family Purpose & Mission Statement – When you develop a plan at work, to quote Steven Covey, you “begin with the end in mind.” Deciding core purposes and missions force a business or family to decide where it wants to end up. When you put words around your purpose, the impact shapes family behavior. For example, one part of our family’s mission is to “stay together” and be unified. To signal that we’re all in this together, we’ve been known to refer to ourselves as “Team Phenix!” This concept stops way short of the four of us wearing matching airbrushed “Team Phenix” tank tops, but it acts as a subtle reminder whenever we’re threatened by divisions caused by attitudes, opinions, or disagreements.
Think about this for your family under the umbrella of vision-casting and “long range” planning. Asking these questions may help:
- What does the family stand for as a unit?
- Why is the ultimate reason that we are all together?
- What matters internally to your family (for us, Team Phenix)?
- What matters externally (How does Team Phenix impact our community?)
2. Family Goals & Objectives- This part of the plan is where you layout specific tactics more suited to “short term” planning.
- Financial Goals – we talk to our kids about money along three categories: what we give, what we save, and what we spend. When we talk about how to spend our money, we cover practical ways to address each of these categories. Budgets are our friends, so we need to introduce them to our kids.
- Time Goals – since our calendars are challenging, we talk together about how we are going to spend our “down time.” This includes conversations about why we only allow one activity per season (our son has fall soccer, our daughter rides horses in the winter) and why “date night” will always be a FAMILY priority.
- Fun “Bucket List” – this is the wish list for family activities and the favorite part of goal setting. Three to four times a year we’ll take a poll about what we want to do as a family. Most of the time the requests are modest (movie night, build a fort, go bowling), but even when they aren’t, we manage expectations so that the “win” is whether the activity points us back to our family mission.
3. Family Operating Rules – Building the plan here is where you establish rules of the road. As Henry Cloud so eloquently argues in his book, Boundaries with Kids, children thrive when parents set limits. Boundaries help kids learn responsibility and develop their character. This part of your plan should give everyone clarity on what’s expected when you’re a member of the family. Topics to address should include:
- Being thoughtful
- Showing respect
- Having courteous manners
- Being kind
- Self-control (especially when you speak)
4. Evaluation Process – Your family is going to grow and change. Periodically you should evaluate your plan and make sure that it’s still working. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Implement bits and pieces as you go.
Finally, and this may be obvious, but you need to reinforce what you’ve decided as a family. If your plan doesn’t have relevance to how you’re living your life, no one will apply it.
I have one girlfriend who took her family to an office environment (the boys wore ties and everything!) and they spent several hours charting out their team plan on flip charts. She tells me the exercise was one of the defining moments of their family.
As parents we are, after all, responsible for the family business.
Do you ever bring the office home with you? How does that work?