Blog: Six Components of a Great [Family] Culture

According to John Coleman at Harvard Business Review (HBR), there are six components of great corporate culture.  In my efforts to learn about family culture, I am convinced that there are few differences between family culture and corporate culture!  While I’m not suggesting that we should run our homes like an office, there are many similarities that we can recognize as opportunities to use to our advantage.  (This post contains affiliate links).

1: Vision

HBR: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Nonprofits often excel at having compelling, simple vision statements. The Alzheimer’s Association, for example, is dedicated to “a world without Alzheimer’s.” And Oxfam envisions “a just world without poverty.” A vision statement is a simple but foundational element of culture.

While we don’t have employees or customers in our home, we have children, and friends and communities that interact with our homes.  The first step to enrolling or enlisting our family into a common goal is to create a vision statement, mission statement, or statement of intent (see Episode 014 with Mary Ann Johnson).  When you sit down to discuss what you envision for your family, everyone begins to catch that vision, or dream of what your family has the potential to become.  What does your family value?  What shapes your family identity?  Write it down.  What do you envision for you family?  It could be something that reflects your values: our family will be faithful disciples of Christ; our family will make an impact on anyone that comes into our home; our family is unified and kind, we value hard work and honesty; our family will be Olympic athletes, or academic athletes.  Every family will have a unique mission.  The important thing is to have a vision.  Then, when it looks like anyone is drifting, you can remind them simply with a statement like, in our family we do this.  Then you can redirect the behavior to comply with the family vision.  I recommend a book called The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable about Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life.

2. Values

HBR: A company’s values are the core of its culture. While a vision articulates a company’s purpose, values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. McKinsey & Company, for example, has a clearly articulated set of values that are prominently communicated to all employees and involve the way that firm vows to serve clients, treat colleagues, and uphold professional standards. Google’s values might be best articulated by their famous phrase, “Don’t be evil.” But they are also enshrined in their “ten things we know to be true.” And while many companies find their values revolve around a few simple topics (employees, clients, professionalism, etc.), the originality of those values is less important than their authenticity.

Your family’s values will generally be rooted in those things that are most important to the parents though may evolve as kids grow and get more involved.  Hopefully, family values are mostly unchanging when rooted in standards that uphold expected behaviors.  When I was a kid, being the sixth of seven kids, my parents had already determined there needed to be some set of rules that would establish an expectation around their values.  I remember a big poster where my parents had posted things like, “no dating until you’re sixteen” and “no R-rated movies.”  I grew up with a commitment to moral purity and abstaining from anything that would harm my body because of the standards my parents had set around their moral values.  It also helps to have a standard-bearer, such as a religion or a family canon to guide or measure of your values.  This could be a religious book, a proclamation or declaration, a Constitution, or anything that you refer to consistently as a family to realign your values.  Review it together as a family often.  An excellent book to help in the process of establishing values is A House United: Changing Children’s Hearts and Behaviors by Teaching Self Government.

3. Practices:

HBR: Of course, values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. If an organization professes, “people are our greatest asset,” it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. Wegman’s, for example, heralds values like “caring” and “respect,” promising prospects “a job [they’ll] love.” And it follows through in its company practices, ranked by Fortune as the fifth best company to work for. Similarly, if an organization values “flat” hierarchy, it must encourage more junior team members to dissent in discussions without fear of negative repercussions. And whatever an organization’s values, they must be reinforced in review criteria and promotion policies, and baked into the operating principles of daily life in the firm.

This is where family rituals and traditions come into play.  Your family values good hygiene, so you establish a habit of daily showers, dental care, and regular doctors’ visits.  You value and expect kindness, so you establish a habit of recognizing when someone is being kind and practice being kind.  This is where the “rubber meets the road.”  If your family is practicing its values, then you can establish traditions, habits, and routines the will serve those values.  If your family values leadership, then giving your children opportunities to lead, choose, and encounter challenges will encourage leadership.  If you family treasures service, then set up opportunities to serve.  If you feel like a clean home helps the feeling in your family, then establish a system of keeping the house clean together.  A few books I recommend are The Sweet Spot: How to Find your Groove at Home and at Workand The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Businessand The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness.

4. People:

HBR: No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. That’s why the greatest firms in the world also have some of the most stringent recruiting policies. According to Charles Ellis, as noted in a recent review of his book What it Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Firms, the best firms are “fanatical about recruiting new employees who are not just the most talented but also the best suited to a particular corporate culture.” Ellis highlights that those firms often have 8-20 people interview each candidate. And as an added benefit, Steven Hunt notes at that one study found applicants who were a cultural fit would accept a 7% lower salary, and departments with cultural alignment had 30% less turnover. People stick with cultures they like, and bringing on the right “culture carriers” reinforces the culture an organization already has.

As families, we don’t really get to choose the people who become part of our little cohort!  However, when I read this, I envisioned that the people in our family need to come first.  We can’t just expect that all these people with individual spirits, thoughts, and opinions are simply going to comply and mold themselves to our plans and wishes.  We need to be able to be adaptable.  We need to put our family first.  That means that while we have specific expectations, we shouldn’t just jump to punishment or compliance.  We need to love and connect first.  Maybe that means family values need to include forgiveness, empathy, and patience.  We also need to be able to enroll our family into our plans rather than force it upon them.  There needs to be freedom, and a feeling of community and involvement when shaping the family vision statement.  A couple of great books that illustrates this are Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peersand The Awakened Family: How to Raise Empowered, Resilient, and Conscious Childrenand also The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears or Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

5. Narrative.

HBR: Marshall Ganz was once a key part of Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement and helped structure the organizing platform for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Now a professor at Harvard, one of Ganz’s core areas of research and teaching is the power of narrative. Any organization has a unique history — a unique story. And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. The elements of that narrative can be formal — like Coca-Cola, which dedicated an enormous resource to celebrating its heritage and even has a World of Coke museum in Atlanta — or informal, like those stories about how Steve Jobs’ early fascination with calligraphy shaped the aesthetically oriented culture at Apple. But they are more powerful when identified, shaped, and retold as a part of a firm’s ongoing culture.

I have referenced this article from The New York Times often: The Stories that Bind Us, because it expresses this sentiment so well.  When families know their stories, kids are not only more resilient, they are also strengthened by their identity as a part of something larger.  The “unifying narrative” of your family involves family history, stories of how mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa overcame adversity.  Your family origin stories, and stories of when babies were born/added to the family.  Our family traditions become part of that narrative, as well as spur of the moment adventures that create memories.  The family narrative solidifies who you are as a family.  I recommend just reading your own family histories.  Find them at, or ask your parents and grandparents or other relatives for stories.  Create your own stories!  Tell your stories to your children.  Or, you could read classics together.  Check out The Read-Aloud Handbook for ideas about reading, and this list for great classics.

6. Place:

HBR: Why does Pixar have a huge open atrium engineering an environment where firm members run into each other throughout the day and interact in informal, unplanned ways? Why does Mayor Michael Bloomberg prefer his staff sit in a “bullpen”environment, rather than one of separate offices with soundproof doors? And why do tech firms cluster in Silicon Valley and financial firms cluster in London and New York? There are obviously numerous answers to each of these questions, but one clear answer is that place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviors, like collaboration. Certain cities and countries have local cultures that may reinforce or contradict the culture a firm is trying to create. Place — whether geography, architecture, or aesthetic design — impacts the values and behaviors of people in a workplace.

Our homes are the place where the feelings we engender are given a place.  Our homes can be a place where we can hide away in our rooms and avoid contact, or they can be a place where the shared spaces are inviting and encourage kindness, discussion, and support.  In my home, bedrooms are just a place for sleeping – except my room where everyone likes to congregate in the morning and jump all over the bed! Computers and electronics aren’t for bedrooms.  We have two tvs – in the living room, and in the office – so we all come together for entertainment.  I’m not very good at decorating, but perhaps your home is a place of beauty and comfort.  That would be welcoming.  I want our home to a place where my kids’ friends want to come.  Home is the place where the feelings of our family are fostered.  Some may have the opportunity to deliberately choose the location and shape of the home, but if not, we can still adjust how our home feels.  Consider reading Get Organized the Clear and Simple Way or something written by the Fly Lady, or maybe a good FengShui book if you’re into that.

Corporate culture and family culture are closely linked.  You can tell when you step into an office what the feeling and expectations are there.  The same can be true of our homes.  When we shape our family culture to reflect these components, our homes can be a place where families thrive, and children are resilient.

About the author, Jodi

I live in Richmond, Virginia with my husband, Michael, and our four young kids. We homeschool, and work remotely, so I guess we may take this on the road some day! I have a bachelor's degree from George Mason University in Health Promotion Studies, but I attended five different universities before finally finishing while I was expecting my third baby! I'm a returned missionary from the Hawaii Honolulu Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm sort of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, but I do enjoy reading personal development and parenting books, finding new ways to enjoy exercising, and learning more about being an entrepreneur.

1 Comment

  1. Cedric Matkowsky on 03/07/2018 at 3:45 PM

    I have been reading out some of your stories and it’s pretty good stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your site.

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