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The value of values

Peter Leach is chairman of the BDO Centre for Family Business. Juliette Johnson is senior manager of the BDO Centre for Family Business.

Campden Conferences and the BDO Centre for Family Business are launching the first of a series of surveys on international family values. Peter Leach and Juliette Johnson, of BDO, explain the rationale

A family business is, in part, the external manifestation of a family's value system. These values are one set of key intangibles that families ignore at their peril. They are described as 'what the outside world sees' and the 'blood running through a family and its business'. Generally, a family's values tend to reveal themselves in all sorts of ways via a complicated tangle of customs, anecdotes and unwritten codes of conduct.

Family businesses have their own personalities – often personalities of the founders and succeeding generations, still making their presence felt throughout the family. Many of the most successful family businesses have managed to bottle these qualities and convert them into their organisational values by keeping the family involved and managing transitions and succession carefully.
Values are transmitted down through the family often without the family recognising that this is even occurring. Simply by living them, parents teach values to their children. This begins immediately from birth and is ongoing. Newcomers to the family via marriage may not fully understand or buy in to the importance of their new family's values. Indeed, they may seek to influence them or even eradicate them as old-fashioned or wasteful. The older generation, acting as guardians of the family, will seek to maintain the family's values and view them as key to family unity.

Even though values pass down unconsciously, spending time articulating and exploring these common values is essential as a business passes through generations of family ownership. The more a family grows and disburses geographically and culturally, the more shared values are called on to act as the glue binding the family together and giving the members of the family a compelling rationale for staying together as one.
Once these values have been articulated, it is essential for family members, regardless of whether or not they are involved in the family business, to explore whether their values are in line with the rest of the family and whether they have the desire and vision for the family to work together long term. A family member who does not share these core values would do well to bail out, avoiding the frustrations and conflicts which inevitably they face. On the other hand, even the most distant relative who is not involved in the business in any way may well believe in the family's values and thus be fully committed to remain involved long-term.

Values should not be fabricated or be chosen because a family feels they ought to have them; they are not statements of aspiration. True values arise from people's real experiences, history and traditions. Business families that find common ground in shared values have much to gain. Identifying shared interests, finding a common goal, is a rewarding process in itself.

The BDO Centre for Family Business and Campden are conducting a series of surveys to explore the attitudes of business-owning families, their values and the effects that these can have on both the family and the business. It will examine the relationship between family values and business values and explore the cultural differences that exist between families from around the world. Look for the findings of the survey in the next issue of Families in Business. If you would like to participate in the survey please contact either Campden Publishing or the BDO Centre for Family Business.

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