Many people answer this question quickly by saying one word: pay. While it is true that some people work for financial compensation, not everyone does. In fact, you can probably think of many people you know for whom money is not their primary motivator. Some are mainly driven by being in control while others put a high value on being recognized for their efforts. Others still are primarily driven by the desire to help those in need.
When I say “primarily driven,” I do so because it is quite rare that someone is motivated by a single driver. Typically, employees will have 2-4 motivators that are most important to them, with one in particular being a little more important than those that follow.
A number of researchers have attempted to understand the various motivators that provide purpose for workers, and I’ve found that the list generated by Hogan Assessment Systems to be particularly useful, especially when it comes to family businesses:
Recognition: Responsive to attention, approval, and praise
Power: Desire for success, accomplishment, status, and control
Hedonism: Orientation for fun, pleasure, and enjoyment
Altruism: Help others and contribute to society
Affiliation: Desire for and enjoyment of social interaction
Tradition: Dedication, strong personal beliefs, and obligation
Security: Need for predictability, structure, and order
Commerce: Interest in money, profits, investment, and business opportunities
Aesthetics: Need for self-expression, concern over look, feel, and design of work products
Science: Quest for knowledge, research, technology, and data
The above list is important for family businesses for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve found that family businesses are typically very clear about their purpose, and they make great effort to hire employees who share that purpose. If, for example, you are a family business that is primarily driven by helping others (“Altruism”), then being clear about that characteristic will help you to find employees who share that purpose… and will likely do better work as a result.
Second, as a manager in a family business, understanding that your employees will not all be motivated in the same way means that you can tailor your management to fit the specific drivers of each employee. For example, giving an award for “Employee of the Month” may do very little to motivate a worker who doesn’t care about “Recognition,” but that same award will likely mean a lot to someone for whom “Recognition” is at the very top of their list.
What drivers are most important in your family business?
What is the purpose of family? It sounds like a funny question given “family” is so fundamental to the fabric of our society and to our very being. However, it may be so fundamental that it has become invisible to us. We may have lost sight of the real purpose of family as we pursue our individual goals and interests.
This time of year is a perfect time to reconnect with the real purpose or “task” of family. The first place to start is with the definition of family. My experience with families in business is that the shape of a family changes over time as newcomers enter, and sometimes, exit the scene. On occasion we need to rejig our concept of family to encompass more than just the traditional form (e.g., one dictionary definition defined family as “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household”). An example of a more modern family business consists of two parents who have separated from each other and found new partners. Some of the children from the marriage are married, some are co-habiting, and others choose to remain single but decide to have children. This modern family goes on holidays together but may still hold ownership meetings with the original nuclear family (Mom, Dad, and 4 Children). The separated couple still work side by side in the office together with one of their new partners. All is not smooth and simple, but the vision of family is clear and purposeful.
So if we can wrap our mind around what we mean by family – in that it can be defined in a wide ranging and diverse form – then what is the “task” of family? This question would likely receive different responses depending on your world view. Here is one set of thoughts on the purpose of family….
To create and raise the next generation
To provide care and safety
To offer affiliation and a sense of belonging
To give an abundance of acceptance and love despite the warts (which we all have!) of each individual member
To instill respect for social/cultural norms as well as the family’s unique values, norms, and beliefs
To teach and guide
To be a support system when in need and through life’s ups and downs
To provide life-long relationships
How would your definition vary from the above? If you were going to grade your family on how well it accomplishes its tasks, how would your family report card look? Where would you need to do some remedial work to bring up your grades?
Over the last twenty-plus years of working with and observing multi-generational family businesses, three attributes common to the oldest, largest and best performing ones seem to present themselves repeatedly.
First – the family shareholders are aligned around matters of vision, purpose and expectations of each other and the enterprise. And, as often as not, they reach alignment through the use of family meetings or other such important forums for shareholder and family education, development, trust building and communication.
Second, the output of those family meetings – their vision, purpose, sense of unity, policies and agreements – these all serve as important contributors to strategy. The outputs inform management of what is expected of them and the rules they’ll have to play by; what some may call the non-negotiables.
Third, their values implicitly or explicitly include transparency, accountability, stewardship, outside input and a responsibility to others. These values usually guide them to establish appropriate and active governance – both for the family and the operating company.
At our website, www.efamilybusiness.com, you’ll find dozens of books, webinars and thousands of articles loaded with ideas about family meetings, governance and being an effective family firm shareholder.