Managing as if the Future Mattered: What to Look for in Non-Family Executives and Board Members

by John L. Ward

It’s generally believed that “the long-term view” is the most valuable and most emphasized competitive advantage of family firms. If so, it seems critical that board members and executives share that perspective – otherwise there could be a troublesome cultural misfit. But how does one see the long-term view trait when evaluating prospects?

A paper by two highly respected academics provides excellent clues (and deeper insight) into what “long-term orientation” really means.[1]

They propose there are three dimensions to “long-term orientation.” Thinking particularly of each of these provides ways to gain more insight on critical hires. Doing so also offers ideas on what to emphasize in employee orientation and training.

Futurity

“I’m excited about the future. By planning ahead we can achieve some things that are important to me. I have some socio-emotional goals (i.e., benefits for non-economic stakeholders, such as the community, employees, suppliers) that I believe it’s important to realize.”

Continuity

“I want to steward and pass on our proud legacy and reputation. I believe in pursuing an enduring mission. I have great respect for the past and see the past as a bridge to the future.

Perseverance

“Doing the ‘right thing’ today will make the future plans possible. Though it takes time, thrift, persistence, patience and hard work are redeeming values.”

In short, a definition of long-term orientation is

  • I have aspirations for others;
  • I have respect for the lessons of tradition;
  • I believe sacrifice is rewarded.

If so, it’s natural to embrace the long-term thinking that’s so fundamental to family business identity and success.

[1] Tom Lumpkin of Syracuse University and Keith Brigham of Texas Tech University (2011)

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