Tag Archives: leadership

Incremental vs. radical innovation (“Everything in moderation”)

Joe Schmieder
Joe Schmieder

Groundbreaking new products—like the iPhone or Viagra—rarely emerge from family businesses. Family-run enterprises tend to prefer smaller-scale, incremental innovation over radical changes, versus the publicly held Apples and Pfizers of the world, which have deep pockets for R&D funding. For most family enterprises, growing by incremental steps is preferable to advancing by giant leaps. This “incrementalist” approach dominates partly because family businesses are averse to taking large risks and taking on large debt. Not surprisingly, then, family businesses tend to be quick followers or quick improvers, rather than original innovators. But we can argue that incrementalism represents a form of innovation, as it focuses on steady improvement of offerings or ways of doing business through meaningful change.

Research suggests that successful, long-lasting family firms exercise moderation with regard to most key dimensions: planning, leverage, and innovation, among others. A 2013 research study conducted by Alfredo De Massis, Federico Frattini, Emanuele Pizzurno, and Lucio Cassia entitled “Product Innovation in Family versus Nonfamily Firms: An Exploratory Analysis,” highlighted how family businesses tend to take an incremental approach to new product development, as part of a broader objective of careful resource management. The moderation approach is related to the desire to maintain sufficient resources, financial and otherwise, for family shareholders. Thus, while venture capital firms talk about burn-rate, or the amount of cash a start-up venture plows through in early stages, and how quickly a given innovation can be brought to market and scaled, family businesses tend to talk about less exciting things, like self-funded developments or modifications to existing products. That prompts some to believe that observing family firms innovate is like watching paint dry. In reality, steady progress is the key to success and continuity for many family businesses and non-family firms. The paint may take time to dry, but it sets very well, with deeper, longer-lasting color.

The moderation approach to innovation has served most family businesses well: They evolve at a pace that fits them, based on collaborative thinking among family leaders and non-family executives who understand and adhere to the family’s guiding principles. At the same time, the incrementalist approach may not always be ideal, especially in fast-shifting markets. Family businesses that fail to adapt quickly enough to the changing landscape will struggle to perform. The print media industry, for example, has been a high-profile sector populated by many family-owned firms (such as newspapers). In the new millennium this market has undergone rapid transformation, mainly because of the rising popularity of non-traditional content-delivery channels, especially digital ones. Some family firms have adapted very well to the Digital Age, innovating digitally based strategies and offerings. Others have not adapted nearly as well, and are suffering greatly for it.

The highest-performing family businesses are those that have learned to be just innovative enough, like Goldilocks searching for the “just right” bowl of porridge in the bears’ house. They match their innovation speed to the requirements of their industry and the pace of their competition, moving more deliberately than many non-family peers, in part because they don’t face the same kind of pressure for short-term results.

The World Cup as Metaphor

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

The brightest oranges, whitest whites, deepest navy blues, sun-ray yellows: each World Cup game brings a different color combination to the field but that is just the surface excitement. Are the players tall, long-legged, loping and passing the ball in graceful arcs from toe to toe, using the entire length and breadth of the field? Or are they short and compact, firing the ball in focused staccato bursts shaped like tight triangles that keep mostly to the field just in front of the goal? Does the team wait until the final 5 minutes to unleash the full power of their athleticism, or do they hit the goal, hard, in the first 60 seconds of play? Who flips and flops on the field after the appearance of a foul, and who springs up for more play after being flung to the ground or elbowed in the face? Who lingers to clasp their opponent’s hand, to speak with them face to face, trading jerseys, and who falls to the ground, on their knees, in tears, in private pain?

The World Cup may be one sport, with one objective, but week after week it has served up a rich feast of group dynamics and individual drama. Innumerable variations were played on the themes of strategy and opportunism, physical power and mental command, supremacy and surrender and ultimately, victory.

Many paths to success. A lesson to inspire us all.

The Family Business Difference: Capitalizing on Family Innovation

Joe Schmieder
Joe Schmieder

Family businesses have unique strengths built on the overlap of family and business, in part because the family running the business has more at stake—including reputation, survival, and security—than the managers and employees of non-family firms do.

Innovation is one such strength at the family-business intersection. Innovation in a family business, like most other features, is different from that in non-family firms. A key dimension of difference is that innovation in family firms is driven and enhanced by several distinct factors that can ultimately yield greater business performance, and family harmony.  Family-business features that serve as innovation drivers include:

  • Personal attachments such as family bonds, customer relationships, and inter-family-business connections—all of which support innovation

  • An incremental approach built on exercising moderation with R&D spending and emphasizing small changes to offerings, rather than giant leaps

  • Longer time horizons that yield greater patience with the development time associated with innovation

  • Shared values including innovation itself, with several supporting elements such as innovation-focused objectives and cross-functional visibility

  • Low leverage, with an emphasis on reinvesting funds back into the business—and into innovation, specifically

  • Experimental tolerance, or a willingness to try new things, even when that means going against the conventional (in a calculated way)

  • Family leadership that supports innovation by generating high-value ideas and speeding the product development process

Family businesses are indeed different from non-family firms, and many of the differences cited above support their ability to innovate, which in turn supports their growth and profits and the family’s well-being.

Next-Generation Leadership in the Family Enterprise Part 2

Steve Miller
Steve Miller

In a two-part blog post, Family Business Group consultant Stephen P. Miller highlights some key findings from his recently completed research on how nextgeneration family leaders develop leadership skills.

My research on nextgeneration family business leaders demonstrates the importance of family climate on the degree to which nextgeneration family members learn leadership skills.  Ironically, some of the leadership characteristics we often observe in entrepreneurs who build successful family firms may actually work against them in their efforts to prepare the next generation for leadership responsibilities.  The kind of hardcharging authoritative leadership style that may have helped a senior family entrepreneur overcome the significant challenges of establishing a successful family firm negatively affects the development of nextgeneration leaders.  Nextgen family leaders need age and experience appropriate opportunities to practice decision making, take risks, enjoy successes, and recover from failures.  A senior generation leader who makes all the decisions and sets all the rules can unintentionally deny nextgeneration family members the experiences they need to develop their own leadership skills.

The study further suggests that nextgeneration family members interested in playing a leadership role in the family business should consider taking responsibility for their own development of leadership skills, particularly emotional and social intelligence competencies.  If the family climate is one characterized by senior generation leaders who exercise unquestioned authority, nextgen leaders would be well served to suggest or create some area of the business for which they could be responsible and held accountable by others.  If the senior generation refuses to allow it, then the potential nextgeneration leader may be wise to seek experience with genuine responsibility and accountability outside of the family firm.  The research is abundantly clear that shouldering real responsibility is strongly related to emotional and social intelligence competencies demonstrated by the most effective leaders.

Next-Generation Leadership in the Family Enterprise Part 1

Steve Miller
Steve Miller

In a two-part blog post, Family Business Group consultant Stephen P. Miller highlights some key findings from his recently completed research on how nextgeneration family leaders develop leadership skills.

Engineering a successful generational transition is often the issue that most concerns family business entrepreneurs who hope the businesses they have created will thrive through multiple generations of family ownership.  Family firms that develop effective nextgeneration leaders often employ the following leadership development strategies:

  • Ensure next-generation leaders have job assignments with real responsibility, accountability, and risk; inside or outside the family business.  Nextgeneration leaders need opportunities to make complex decisions and experience the results of those decisions.
  • Provide accurate feedback on performance, often from trusted non-family leaders in the business.  Nextgeneration leaders benefit from knowing how others perceive their leadership practices in order to learn the emotional and social intelligence competencies that account for over 85% of top leaders’ performance.
  • Create a positive and supportive family culture.  Families that work hard to foster open communication, establish effective conflict resolution and governance processes, and create an overall positive family climate enhance the chances that nextgeneration family members will develop leadership skills.
  • Start early:  Learning leadership skills takes decades, so wise family business owners encourage nextgeneration family members to gain leadership experience in activities in which they are personally interested in school and early in their careers.

The good news is that leadership skills can be learned.  Forwardthinking family enterprise owners focus as much or more on the development of their human capital, including nextgeneration family leaders, as they do on their financial capital.

Does Your Leadership Inspire Others?

Anne Hargrave
Anne Hargrave

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

Entrepreneurial leaders encourage entrepreneurial behavior and innovation in all that they do, which enables others to see things differently, and capture and act upon the problems and opportunities they see every day, in all their walks in life.

Entrepreneurship is really a life philosophy composed of attitudes and behaviors that can be applied professionally and throughout one’s life.  An entrepreneur believes that he can affect change, that there is a better way, that opportunities are everywhere and that there are no mistakes.  Failure is just about learning, and it’s important to embrace innovation, change and growth.  By persevering, pursuing opportunities and being willing to take risks the entrepreneur influences her business, family and herself.

Be an agent of change in your family business, or family office, by designing your own dream, by looking outwards and by empowering the organization to do the same.

 

Managing the Whirlwind Mindfully

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy        Sage-Hayward

Leading in a family business is layered with complexity due to the integration of the family in the business environment. This complexity is highly rewarding but also stressful and challenging at times especially for family business leaders. When trying to balance the demands and needs of the family and the business it can feel like managing in a whirlwind. New research on the brain helps us better understand how we can deal more effectively with the daily whirlwind of the family business.

Typically we perceive a stressful event using one of two automatic brain responses:

  • Adrenalin based reactions – saving ourselves from danger by fighting with, running away from, protecting or camouflaging ourselves… ….fight, flight and freeze OR
  • Problem-solving processes – where we attempt to fix or resolve a perceived problem with higher level thinking. This is where we respond wisely and appropriately, rather than adding to the stress by engaging in automatic uncontrolled reactions. Neuroscientists call this a mindful reaction.

Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally….” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Mindfulness is a mental discipline which involves focusing our attention. It is not a method of distracting ourselves or tuning out. In fact, it is about tuning in. Research by Jochen Reb previously at The University of Cambridge shows us that leaders perform better when they are mindful. They make better decisions, are in a more positive mood, and effect change more successfully in their businesses. The anxious, stressed or depressed state of mind is a distracted state (i.e., mindless rather than mindful) and has a negative impact upon a leader’s performance.

Many research findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation increases our mindful abilities and has many positive impacts on our physical, emotional and mental well-being including “neuroprotective effects” which result in reduced mental decline associated with normal aging (Pagnoni and Cekic).

Incorporating mindfulness practices into the daily routine of family business leaders promises to bring about more thoughtful, positive and constructive leadership to both the family and the business. Mindful practices are simple and yet have a powerful influence on our family and business relationships. Here are two simple ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Attend to something easy like your breathing for one full minute. When your mind drifts away, bring it back to your breathing. The repeated returning to a focal point trains your attention.
  • Take a few minutes and focus on each part of your body starting at your toes and moving slowly up to your head. This is called body scanning.

The benefits gained by family business leaders from engaging in these virtually effortless, yet influential daily practices are quite remarkable:

–   boosting teamwork, cooperation and well-being amongst family and non-family employees

–   reducing unconstructive thoughts and emotions which waste valuable mental energy

–   renewing energy and creating a clear focus to address decisions and tasks at hand in the business

–   arriving home with a positive mood after the day’s whirlwind of activities

Mindfulness deserves our attention!

The Case for Versatility

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

If you read my post earlier this week, you will see that I began to explore the keys to effective leadership in a family business, and that one of those identified keys is a deep understanding of the family business’ culture.

Effective leadership does not, of course, rely solely upon cultural understanding, and one of the most prominent features I see in effective leaders of family businesses is versatility. By “versatility,” I mean that a leader can modify his or her behavior depending on the circumstances at hand. If the situation calls for focusing on strategy, a versatile leader will be able to do so effectively… and then switch to being more operational when circumstances demand such a shift.

This support for versatility is certainly not mine alone – there’s some powerful research that supports this claim. An article from the Summer 2003 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review reports on a research study where senior leaders were assessed in terms of their versatility as well as their organizations’ effectiveness. The correlation between versatility and effectiveness indicates that approximately 50% of what separates effective leaders from those who are not effective is versatility. In other words, while versatility is not the only factor that contributes to effective leadership, there is nothing more important. If there is only one other factor – and reason suggests that there are multiple other factors such as industry experience, functional knowledge, and cultural understanding – then at best that one other factor can only be as important as versatility. If there are multiple other factors, then this research suggests that each of them would be less important than versatility.

In your personal experience with family businesses, what do you see as other key characteristics of leadership?

Life Long Development

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a family business conference.  I was struck by the number of sessions devoted to the topic of education – educating the next generation of owners, educating the next generation of leaders, educating responsible stewards of wealth.  The audience was clearly attuned to the importance educating the next generation to ensure they are prepared to carry on the family business…  Yet, they didn’t seem to think much about what they, the current generation, may need to be doing themselves to ensure they were doing the best possible job as owners and leaders.

One of the experts leading a session raised the point that the words training and development, often inter-changeably, are actually not the same.  Training refers to a set of exercises or activities that are designed to lead to mastery of a topic. Many of the conference attendees were seeking advice on how to train their next generation members, so they would be well-prepared owners and leaders.

 Development, on the other hand, is an ongoing pursuit, with no end point.  While one may work on development of leadership skills, leadership will never be fully mastered.  There are always opportunities to learn ways to become a better leader.  So, while preparing the next generation is important to the perpetuation of a family enterprise, we shouldn’t forget the importance of the ongoing development of the current generation. 

We know that the best way to perpetuate a desired behavior in a younger person is to model that behavior.  The old adage “Do as I say, not as I do”, is NOT a recipe for success. 

If you are a member of the current generation of family business leaders and owners are concerned about the next generation, consider what you can be doing to develop yourself.  Ask yourself the question – “What could I work on that would help me be a better mentor and teacher for the next generation?” “How could I model the behavior that I hope to see in them?” By expanding the focus of your education programs beyond those that come after you to include yourself, you are setting the best example of what you hope for – owners who are constantly thinking about how to develop themselves.

Decisions, Decisions….

Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

As we watch decision-makers around the world struggle with the difficult choices and trade-offs of how to respond to the crisis in Syria – I am reminded again that leadership is very, very hard.

When you lead a business, a family or any organization you often have to make decisions without all the facts you want to have, knowing there will be some ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ as a consequence of your choice, and as a result, there will always be some who disagree with your decision.

In a family business, leaders may particularly struggle to make the hard choices because they worry about unintended consequences and the collateral damage in some of their closest relationships.  The overlap of family and business can make it very hard to remain objective, when objectivity is so very important.

If you aspire to leadership roles in your family’s business, make sure you are up to the task of making the hard choices.  Remember that when important issues are involved, there are very few ‘black and white’ answers – and it is tough to be the one who has to make the call.