“The more things change, the more things remain the same.” As e-mail, voice mail, and technology allow people to conduct business without ever seeing each other, the competitive edge can very well be the re-creation of conversation—specifically conversation that allows people to feel a “family” connection. It’s a connection that recalls the fact that commerce was traditionally an intimate affair. My great-grandfather started a shoe store, the first account Florsheim shoes ever had. Farmers would hook up their horses and trot into York, PA. By learning about the customers from his father, my grandfather knew their type of farm, their family members, what kind of shoes they needed. In short, business knew its customers and customers TRUSTED that a product or service would be delivered “as promised”. Reineberg’s Shoe Store was known for “fitting feet” not just selling shoes. Business was conducted on a family-like connection. The same was true of employees. Employees TRUSTED that the company would listen to them as if they were members of an extended family. Employees knew that my grandfather would value their individuality, understand that personal and business life were connected, and pay a fair wage for a day’s work. He also never asked more of others than he asked of himself. Times have changed. But it’s not too late to develop family “trust”. However it’s not easy. Customers abandon companies they do not trust and so do employees. Trust develops over time and can be dashed in an instant. But improving organizational trust is more difficult and subtler than installing new software. Research conducted by Leonard Berry, author of Discovering the Soul of Service, and professor at Texas A&M concluded that successful companies tend to act like extended families. They display these “family traits” in five ways: Family Gatherings: These are events designed to share, console, help, celebrate and communicate. Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Midwest Express Airlines routinely hold all-hands meetings to answer employee questions, give awards, and keep everyone up to date. It’s rather like the long forgotten family councils, the circle of the tribal elders. Information is freely given and encouraged. Sessions like “Stump the CEO” are held with prizes given to employees who ask the most difficult questions. One advertising agency holds “HELP!” sessions that can be called whenever a team member needs advice and ideas. The stand-up-and-talk gathering is spur-of-the- moment, brings all hands around, and is over in less than 15 minutes. And the family member who asked for HELP! walks away with new ideas and insights. Family Familiarity: Leaders are accessible, approachable, and caring. First name-basis becomes the order of the day. Amazon.com mirrors this on their web site that literally calls a customer by name and outlines suggested purchases based upon the customer’s buying history. How might you move beyond a web connection to create a higher form of conversation? Family Honor: Management trusts employees. Time clocks are rare; remote work common. At Miller SQA, a division of Herman Miller, factory employees keep their own hours on the honor system. At AES, a utility organization, cross-training is so prevalent that employees trust each other to perform a task when called upon. Family Fairness: Pay for performance, even handedness, promotions from within and merit-based rewards. An example is Custom Research. This company won a Malcolm Baldridge Award. Only 50 employees could attend a celebration in Florida. The organization-from the president down to the clerical-drew names to see who could attend. Family Fun: Humor is the shortest distance between people. Families play together. At SW Airlines, they have ice cream parties on the spur of the moment. Malaysian Airlines offers dance and music concerts staffed by employees’ talent. The options are endless. Customers are also included in “the fun”. The trust test is passed or failed on a daily basis. Retaining employees and customers are more likely if retention becomes a family affair. © The Resiliency Group. All rights reserved. You may reprint this article so long as it remains intact with the byline and if all links are made live.