Factors that Form Culture in the Family Enterprise: Part I Family Values

By Kent Rhodes

Kent Rhodes
Kent Rhodes

According to Edgar Schein – a leading thinker about culture in organizations – culture is the invisible, consistent environment that influences how people think, feel and act. But he also admits that culture in a business is an abstract concept and likens it to what personality or character is to an individual: We can see the behavior that results, but it’s harder to see the forces underneath that cause those behaviors.

So, while family enterprise culture is certainly unique to the families that own and operate them, it also can be the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary as it relates to excellence, employee engagement, trust within the community and reputation for “doing good”.  One way to make a culture’s foundation or source more visible is to identify the values that are widely held and deeply shared by owning family members – including the founders – and long-term non-family managers and employees. These aren’t just the values that show up on a poster in the lobby, but the ones that people working in the place, are actually committed to and live by.

So, the 100 year-old family owned lumber yard and home improvement store values “customer service”, but what they really mean is that they know that personal relationships with contractors of all sizes keeps them close to the work happening in the community and everyone is committed to building and deepening those kinds of relationships: They can quickly anticipate what contractors need and supply them with high quality goods “just in time” and they do much of that work over a cup of coffee with their customers. This deeply held value of doing things via close relationship with customers may show up as “just the way we are around here”, but it is a culture that means the big box stores in the same city can’t even begin to compete with them.


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