When it comes to family business, one of the biggest challenges they face in the near full employment economy in which they operate is the recruitment and retention of staff. The culture of any organisation determines many things and can have a real bearing on the staffing conundrum. Our recent attendance at the Institute for Family Business national conference clarified the cultural impact on family firms even further.
The next generation of employees, current graduates and school leavers have very different career objectives to many of their predecessors, whether it is in regard to working hours, ways of working, working practices or simply looking for a role with a purpose. Professor Veronica Hope Hailey from the University of Bath was clear that the right approach that is already adopted by many of the 5 million family firms across the UK today with regards purpose and values should stand them in good stead, and make the 21st century, THE century for family firms.
Purpose and values serve much more than simply words. They help to define the culture of a business, a way of working and a real set of values that should permeate the entire workforce, creating a unique environment to work and service the needs of customers. The culture is also shaped by the leadership of the business, often over generations with different generations helping to shape the business for subsequent generations too. Over time, different family firms will inevitably create a culture of inter-generational collaboration, something that can take various forms, not least at an extreme level the destruction of the history wall, only for two generations to then work together to rebuild it with a better impact as the end result!
Culture needs to be worked for, values lived and breathed, with leadership demonstrating the values to which they subscribe each and every day. Creation of successful family business culture and good governance through the existence of a successful board culture is also important, and in this regard the roles of both family and non-family members are key. Obviously, with the wrong people on the board and the wrong chair in place, family or non family, can lead to the creation of an unsuccessful culture that can create all sorts of challenges going forward.
Culture is not only defined by a set of values but also the history and heritage of the organisation, something that is clearly apparent in long standing, multi-generation family businesses. Younger family firms also have their own culture too. However, over time, it is inevitable that the roles and impact of previous generations on the culture of the family firm becomes more apparent, the stories and anecdotes from previous generations playing their part, as does the fact that in many of these businesses multiple generations of families have worked for the businesses too, creating a unique mix of pride, determination and passion to continue.
Never under-estimate the power of culture within the context of the family business. It can be a truly powerful force and a clear point of difference in a competitive market place, adding real value to the business and the relationships with stakeholders and helping in the battle to attract, recruit and retain the workforce for the next generation too.