Back in the 1970’s the world finally woke up to “family businesses”. Early research and studies had emerged in the 60’s with a focus on succession and conflict and articles started to appear in journals such as the Harvard Business Review.
It’s still amazing to me that it took this long to recognise that the world’s economy was made up of family owned and managed enterprises especially considering they go back as far as time. Family businesses were the very first type of business to exist and the most natural thing in the world – as well as being most challenging!
Increasingly family enterprises are being put under the spot light and examined; we see features on ‘the top ten tips on how to create a succession plan’ to the reason that these enterprises fail so often by third generation. Why are they so fascinating and what makes them different?
For one, they account for approximately 90% of the world’s enterprises so there are a lot of them. Secondly they have business challenges PLUS the family dynamic – in other words they are full of emotions, dynamics, history, perceptions, influences, interference, views of fairness, wealth, legacy, status and that doesn’t even scratch the surface. These “soft” issues are the ones that actually impact the success and failure and are the toughest to deal with.
I was recently asked to give an interview to a journalist at Virgin.com to explore whether family enterprises have a model we should all look to. Her question to me was “should all businesses behave and be built like family?”
Instantly my response was “what is a family to you and what that does mean?”. We are all part of a family and so know first hand that they are often dysfunctional and a hotbed of history and issues.
I’d rather reposition this to ask “what are the essential attributes of a great family that we can bring into the business?”
This should be the same the family and non family enterprises alike – understand how your behaviour and choices impact culture, how communication and clear expectations should operate and how you can create the most positive and creative environment that builds safety and trust for growth.
Going “beyond business” is critical in today’s world and is the key to this is alignment - of individuals, groups (including family), the business, the external world and the overall purpose.