‘Family feel’ makes employees more than ‘headcount’

Head to head – with Mike Sheldon of Network Hardware Resale

How important is “family feel” to an organisation? It depends on its style. For our company, it was critical. Through the early years, we grew and changed rapidly and our sense of community was key in binding us all together. We knew everyone – beyond just knowing names and faces. Chuck Sheldon (my father, and chief executive at the time) invested time in asking about people’s families and interests, because he recognised employees as people, not just “headcount”. We would celebrate someone running a marathon, or hold birthday parties for employees. This has been fundamental from the start.How do you define it?

Family feel is about how a company is organised and managed. “Family” companies are typically less structured and more inclusive, with a free flow of ideas and dialogue. In return, the company gets a high level of employee engagement, which is close to what you would get in a strong family.How does it manifest itself?

It shows in increased loyalty and enthusiasm, moving away from a stereotypical view of “work” and “the office”. Teams want to put in the time to ensure the success of a project or task. Staff retention is high and employees tend to resolve personal differences as everyone is focused on the same goals.How does it differ between a small business and a global company?

The family feel first has to be established locally, in every regional office, to become the lifeblood of the organisation. Then it can tie all the regions together. In a small business or one with a single location, the most senior manager can make this their priority. In a global organisation it has to be delegated and made a priority for each local manager. In global companies, there tends to be less of an emphasis on this, since advancement opportunities and bonuses for managers are not typically based on employee satisfaction and the like.How can it be achieved in a growing business?

In a growing business, managers should make this a priority. Small gestures matter – such as good free coffee and snacks, frequent celebrations within departments along with less frequent big celebrations. Solid employee recognition programmes also improve motivation. We focus a lot on working conditions and our work environment. We make sure our employees associate a lot of good things with work besides the actual job.How do you ensure staff feel part of the “family”?

As we’ve expanded overseas this has been challenging. We try to emphasise the roots of the company, as well as future goals.

We hold events with a “family” feel, such as celebrating birthdays and occasions that can include the employees’ families. We think it’s important to celebrate with our employees several times a year in good times or bad.What are the business benefits?

They are huge. Happy employees are engaged, committed, work harder, focus more and are absent less. HR departments can spend all their time monitoring and measuring this, but in a family environment, it takes care of itself.

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