‘Ohana, the Value of Family Aloha

Originally published for the print edition of Ke Ola Magazine: March/April 2014 Hawai‘i island issue.
Previously in this series: Ho‘okipa, the Value of Complete Giving

IMG_6753 Sunflower by Rosa Say

‘Ohana is a value of strong influence in our Hawai‘i, for a value about family bonds is one we can all relate to in some way. Hānai families (adoptive, usually informally) are common, and greatly admired for their warmth, spirit of Aloha, and inclusiveness. I chose “the human circle of Aloha” as the tagline definition for ‘Ohana in Managing with Aloha’s language of intention to convey those feelings, rooted through generations in our islands.

In my coaching practice, I urge business owners to think of ‘Ohana as a modeling aspiration they can apply their visionary thinking to. Knowing as we do, that our values drive behavior, what can an ‘Ohana in Business be about in shaping organizational structure, and for behavioral culture building?

Oddly, hearing the phrase ‘a family business’ can give us pause, and we’ll usually wait to hear more about it: What do you mean? Family owned? Family run? Family values? Which ones? Family owned or family run can actually mean the organization is exclusive rather than inclusive, and that distinction becomes a caution. Most people are fine with exclusivity in regard to ownership; they respect foundation and admire an ‘Ohana’s tenacity and resilience. We may even be fine with limited options in promotability. What we will still expect however, is inclusivity in operational decision-making, feeling that our input is welcomed, encouraged, and taken seriously.

We have several examples of family businesses locally, who pioneer profit-sharing or educational endowments as a way to express their gratitude to both their staff and to the community. It is a visionary and very worthy objective, to ‘give back’ and share an organization’s success with these programs, and I will always encourage them in business modeling. However, let’s turn our attentions to the culture-building aspect of an ‘Ohana in Business: What are those distinctions?

We started this discussion in Managing with Aloha: An excerpt follows:

“In those Let’s Talk Story meetings, we asked our employees, ‘What does our ‘Ohana mean to you?’ We knew that learning of their answer was critically important: It would shine a bright light on the crucial components of ‘Ohana we needed to sustain for them, somehow infusing these benefits with more vitality, more dynamic connection. I took careful notes during those sessions, and what they said would prove to inspire and sustain me over and over again as I sought to be a good manager and leader for them.

These were some of their responses:

  • When you are part of this ‘Ohana you honor everyone else in it, by conducting yourself with Aloha, dignity, and respect. So when I work here, I can practice being a good role model for my children.
  • ‘Ohana is teamwork, but in the context of our Hawaiian cultural values, because it’s more than that.
  • When you are away from your own family at home, it’s nice to find the same values at work; it feels right.
  • With ‘Ohana, you get the opportunity to have a stronger relationship with people than would normally happen in a business setting; you care about each other.
  • Here, even though our origins and ancestry may be different we can still come together as an ‘Ohana. The differences go away, they’re just not as important.
  • We willingly say we love each other, and we demonstrate it.
  • In ‘Ohana you lift each other to higher ground, you expect more from each other. You expect more from yourself.
  • Acceptance for who you are is huge in ‘Ohana, and when you get it you give it, and you give it to everyone, even the customer who’s grouchy or complains.
  • ‘Ohana is more intimate than team, and more inclusive than department.  It takes more truth and honesty. You can’t hide things, but you also don’t need to.
  • ‘Ohana was the most unselfish gift we could give to the new residents that would help us build this community. It was also the first thing we had to be sure to teach them, for they have to participate.
  • Ho‘okipa (the hospitality of complete giving) demands ‘Ohana, and it must be Kākou (all of us), where it is done by every one of us together, not just a few.”

The ‘Let’s Talk Story’ title we gave to these meetings was very appropriate, for they beautifully illustrated something else about the value of ‘Ohana: It gets people talking, and empathizing. The conversation about this value is often supportive, passionate, and extremely positive.

This spring, I encourage you to take up the discussion, and walk the talk of ‘Ohana in your own workplace, whether called a family business, a corporate one, a not-for-profit, or a volunteering effort. What behaviors can the value of ‘Ohana, as our human circle of Aloha, inspire in you, and in your culture-building?

Until next time ~ Rosa Say

IMG_6753 Sunflower by Rosa Say

For more on ‘Ohana, I invite you to visit my ‘Ohana index archived on www.ManagingWithAloha.com

Next in this series: Lōkahi the value of harmony and unity.