What Is Your Family’s Culture?

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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What family legacy are you creating? What words would a stranger use to describe your family if they met you for the first time? More importantly, what words would your kids use to describe your family?

Many business leaders build vision statements and a core value system for their organizations. They have clearly defined rules of engagement, and roles & responsibilities for key players. They reward achievement and performance, and penalize for performance infractions.

In addition, all organizations have a unique culture that is a by-product of its people, processes, and resources – all required to make it run.  These organizations require a level of passion and commitment to thrive. The family unit is no different.

Yet as much effort as we apply to building our organizations, we rarely apply the same rules of engagement to our most important foundation: the family unit.

“No success in life compensates for failure in the home. Families require leadership in the same way businesses require leadership.”  This statement was one of the most important takeways of Warren Rustand’s presentation on Building a Culture of Greatness.

{For those who missed my first recap column: “A Culture of Greatness Belongs With You,” (https://www.successfulculture.com/culture-of-greatness/) I had the privilege of attending an all-day Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) learning event with Warren Rustand, a lifelong entrepreneur and former NBA player. Rustand is currently Managing Director of SC Capital Partners, an investment banking group offering corporate advisory services focusing on the microcap market. He was previously the CEO of Summit Capital, a firm specializing in small to midsize company development. He has served as Chairman/CEO of 17 companies, and was the Appointments Secretary and Cabinet Secretary to President Ford. In addition, he is the father of 7 children and 16 grandchildren who choose to live in close proximity to him, and has been married (to the same woman) for almost 50 years.}

The Need for Principles and Values
What does your family stand for? What principles should guide decisions, both as a family unit and on an individual basis? As our children (ages 11 and 14) lobby for more independence, it is our job as parents to make sure they know the non-negotiable principles. For example, Health is a key principle of our family. Through eating habits (massive quantities of ice cream and chocolate binges excluded), exercise, and sleep patterns, our family has shown a life-long commitment to health. As our kids potentially face unhealthy options (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes) in an unsupervised environment, punitive discipline, fear, and punishment can’t be the deterrent. Rather, our children must be able to reach back to a family principle – a value of Health – to make an informed, intelligent, healthy choice.

What are your family values? For us, other family values include teamwork, honesty, compassion, a commitment to education, family first (with flexibility), and a commitment to always trying your best.

These are the values that your kids will take with them once they set out on their own. Despite the many external influences that surround our kids today including peer influence, media influence (social media, music, gaming, videos, movies, TV), and marketing messages, research strongly indicates that parents still hold the most influence over our children’s decisions. When are kids invariably face difficult decision points, ideally we want our voices to drown out the voices of others for guidance.

The Need for Rules and Laws
Rules and laws must govern any organized group, and the family is no exception. As we are now experiencing with our 14-year old son, the boundaries are very murky and open to interpretation when there are no clearly defined rules. Those rules may apply to curfews, where kids can spend their time, technology usage, homework, snacking, or a host of other circumstances. We are currently discussing with our kids what the technology boundaries should be.

As with many organizations, achieving buy-in from the stakeholders will go a long way in adoption of the rules of engagement. Buy-in must apply to both the rules and the consequences.

Rustand suggests these parameters:
1: Involve children in the creation of both the rule and the consequence
2: Fewer laws is better… limit them to 4.
3: Identify key words or phrases that define and describe the laws. (For example, if a parent says, “please,” it is no longer optional.)

Some rules we’ve identified include:
Home Rules
1: Read every day. All days end with reading time.

2: You are responsible for your friends in our home. We expect your friends to treat our home with respect. Our kids are responsible for conveying that message and making sure their friends follow it. If they make a mess and don’t clean it up, our kids have to clean it up (Legos, popcorn bowls, dirty dishes, blankets/sleeping bags). It’s a home, not a hotel, and I’m a mom, not a maid.

Safety Rules
3: You may not get into any car at any time to go anywhere without us knowing, and you may never get into a car driven by a high-schooler. At this point (5th and 8th grade), our kids are prohibited from driving with other young teenagers. They shouldn’t be hanging out with 16 and 17 year olds anyway.

4: You may not go to anyone’s home after school or to any parties where there is no adult supervision. And yes, I check directly with the parents.

Technology Rules of Engagement
5: All technology is shut down at 9:30. We extended this limit from 9:00 to 9:30 after our 14-year old agreed to not use technology during family time, including 7:30-8:00 AM before school, during meals, conversations, family outings, etc. The goal is to give him space to connect with his friends, but also foster more connection and engagement among family members.

6: You may not post any profanity or any offensive or hurtful messages, comments, or status updates. (This only applies to our 14 year old – and yes I check this too).

7. You may not join or engage in any chat rooms. (Instant messaging chats with people you know are excluded).

8: You may not accept friend requests from anyone you do not know. If an adult sends a friend request, you must share with us immediately so we can contact them.

Have you identified your rules of engagement? Has it been a collaborative effort, or more in line with a dictatorship?

Building a Vision Statement
What vision do you have for your family in the future? Regardless of how long you’ve been established or who makes up your family (newlyweds, empty-nesters, families with kids, families with no kids, families with extended family members), creating a vision charts a course to realize the best version of yourself. As in an organization, a vision provides direction, and a path of purpose.

For your family, it provides a roadmap for decisions and actions. In times of crisis, difficulty, or uncertainty, family members can reference the vision statement for clarity and security. A vision statement offers a shield of protection, creates unity, and celebrates your family’s uniqueness.

Once your family has collaboratively created a vision statement, frame it and post it in agreed-upon places where it is easily visible.

What is your family vision? Where do you see your family going?

Creating a Family Economy
Earn. Save. Invest. Pay.

These are the four pillars of a healthy economy. (In full disclosure, our family economy is in the middle of a major overhaul.). The goal of a strong family economy is to teach work, responsibility, decision-making, self-discipline, and self-reliance. In an era when 40% of college students drop out before graduation, and more than 45% of those that finish college are moving back home because they can’t make it on their own, instilling work ethic, responsibility, decision-making, self-discipline, and self-reliance seems to be mission critical at this point.

How many readers are guilty of elevating their children to “rock-star” status to justify spoiling them? We overload academic, athletic, fine arts, and community service schedules to build a “well-rounded” individual. Then, we compensate for the inevitable exhaustion with unnecessary gifts. We’re reinforcing taking and spending, rather than teaching giving, saving, and earning.

A “performance and reward” culture helps to curb the taking-and-spending cycle. Parents and kids together can identify mandatory work responsbilities  – the everyday fundamentals of living like putting dishes in the dishwasher, putting their shoes away, and hanging up a wet towel – as well as tasks that enable the children to earn “incentive pay” – such as taking the dog for a long walk, clearing the dinner table, or vacuuming. This creates a community of teamwork, contribution, and cooperation, and gives kids a sense of family belonging and “ownership.”

Do you remember the feeling you had when you made your first big purchase using money you earned? It’s never to early to instill the sense of pride and ownership that accompanies an earned purchase, or to teach the value of work.

Rewarding Achievement
One of the most controversial topics for parents is whether to reward kids for good grades. On one hand, parents feel that kids should be expected to get good grades no matter what. This is their only “job” and it is their responsibility to do their very best. On the other hand, some parents feel that rewarding a kid for excelling in school is representative of the real world. Those that excel and are in the top percentile of their peers earn more money because of their efforts and results.

According to Rustand, parents should reward all achievements – grades, scouts badges, athletic achievements, etc. “Reward all great achievement.” We’re going to implement this in our family. It should be interesting to see how it plays out, as our kids already get good grades. Perhaps they will be motivated to go above and beyond.

Ground Rules for Money Earned and Saved
When we discussed our new Family Economy framework with our kids, the first question was, “if we earn money, can we spend it on anything we want?” For our family, the answer is, “Yes… with restrictions.” There are certain purchases that we simply will not allow. We won’t allow the purchase of the video game, Grand Theft Auto, or any game made by this producer. We won’t allow (for Jordan) the purchase of any songs with explicit lyrics. Those are the only restrictions we have at this point. Other than that, the kids have freedom to purchase what they want.

However, they can’t spend all of their money. 10% goes to charity, 20% goes to saving, and 70% goes to spending. We have always insisted on an allocation to charity, to help others that are in greater need than we are.

These systems create a family unit that allows for choices and consequences. It conveys the important message that above everything else, family is the first priority. The system also enables the parents and kids to manage the external influences, and gives children a clearly defined system to guide them when difficult decisions arise.

All of these factors are vitally important, because the family is the basic organizational unit of society.

To recap the primary take-away of Rustand’s lesson, “No success in life compensates for failure in the home.”

Are you inspired to implement some of these ideas? I would love to hear your feedback about these concepts, and to know how well-received these ideas are in your family. Please share your strategies, lessons learned, and successes as you work to build a culture of greatness in your home.

Good luck!  


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