The One Thing Your Family Business Culture Needs

Posting by Geoffrey D. Brown, CPA

I recently came across a great article in Entrepreneur about re-focusing a fourth-generation family business in a new strategic direction. In this first person chronicle, Will Housh, the current business owner, tells his story of selling the family’s HVAC business and refocusing it on an ecommerce enterprise.

Change is difficult for most of us, and it can be even more difficult in a family-owned entity. The same qualities that can help sustain a family business – closely-held values, family traditions – can also prevent your company from changing and adapting in order to stay competitive.

Yourr family business culture needs is the ability to change, adapt, and move forward. If you’re a CEO struggling to change your family business, I would encourage you to think about these three tactics:

  1. Bring in Outside Perspective. In any business, but especially in a family business, personal and business needs and motivations can become enmeshed. Bringing in an outside facilitator or advisor can cut through the family drama and emotional clutter to help find the best way forward. I highly recommend that you make a space for a non-family board member to get outside perspective regularly.
  2. Start Small. If you have a business that seems stuck in its old ways, you may need to make a lot of changes (many of them big), but a large amount of change without the proper communication, preparation, and structure can do more damage than good. Find small ways to move in your intended direction. If you want a greater integration of technology in your office, start with one area, such as expense reporting. Build on the smaller successes until you have more widespread change.
  3. Find an Ambassador. When you see someone adopting the forward-facing perspective and ideas you want, not only should you encourage him/her, but also give this person a position of leadership, as is appropriate. Use this example to inspire success in others, and ask this individual to help guide and mentor others to adopt these mindsets and behaviors.

Tradition and a forward-facing perspective do not have to be mutually exclusive; you must simply use your traditions and the values that drive your business to drive growth and expansion. They’re the compass that drives your decisions, whether they are to expand your services, acquire another company, or begin a new employee training program. Many companies find themselves grasping at straws for the new product or trend that will catapult them to success. Your values can be the map that guides you for how and when to change.

Spurring change and evolution isn’t an instant process; often, it’s a full-blown culture change. If you wait to start the wheels turning until you realize that it’s time to change, it’s probably too late. By being bringing in outside perspective, starting with the small things, and using internal momentum, you can use your traditions and values to inspire change and gain a true competitive advantage.

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