When you start the process to hire an executive from the corporate world to work in your family business, be proactive in setting the stage for the person to be successful. Explore cultural and job fit deeply, and reveal sacred cows early on.
Before starting the recruitment process, create a job description that clearly defines reality and highlights decision-making scope and areas of authority. And, do the hard work of getting buy-in from all key family and non-family stakeholders.
Cultural fit is much more than a buzzword; it often exceeds the importance of skill level. In order to use cultural fit as a screening mechanism, step back and have multiple people participate in a process to define the current culture, or the culture you desire, and then create a robust methodology for assessing cultural fit in candidates.
When you have found the right person, encourage them to stay within the scope of their area of responsibility and authority so they don’t loose focus and credibility. Often people fail in their roles because they loose perspective on the nature of the relationship between the family and the business; setting the stage for accountability early on supports their ability to succeed.
Any executive worth their salt is going to challenge the status quo – that’s what you want. The sacred cows often found within a family businesses come as a surprise to a person from the corporate world. By laying out the realities of projects or initiatives that are important to the family or the business, and are not up for discussion, there will be less chance of creating unnecessary waves. Evaluating fit effectively and being transparent helps new executives avoid landmines.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
 Tom Lumpkin of Syracuse University and Keith Brigham of Texas Tech University (2011)
Family business owners think a lot about how to determine the “fit” of a prospective non-family executive in a values-driven family company. Some recommend visiting the candidate’s home; some suggest dinner with spouses. Others find many interviews with both outside executive and with some family owners to be valuable.
A recently heard story comes to mind:
The evening after a first interview a family-owner is, unbeknownst, at the same theater as a candidate. Not yet having an opportunity to go greet the candidate, she observes him tipping the parking valet to get to the front of the line of those waiting.
A key non family executive once shared that he could help the owning family make a lot of money or grow their business if they would just tell him what they wanted him to do for them. Conversely, we at times hear from thoughtful family business owners that they very much appreciate their non family leaders, and need their help to achieve company goals. Ironically, it is not uncommon to hear both of these sentiments shared by owners and non family leaders from the same business.
Business owning families can help by exploring several key questions with their most cherished non family managers, such as:
1. What do our key non family leaders believe are the family’s goals and objectives?
2. What can non family management do to help our family achieve excellence as family business owners?
3. How will we let our key non family leaders know that we appreciate their efforts and commitment?
4. Are key non family leaders able to accurately report how they are appreciated by the family?
While some of us have clear answers to the above, the inability to answer these offers an opportunity for ownership to gain clarity and implement plans to communicate and gain alignment with key personnel.