Does it matter if you use a Vision Statement when you meant to use a Mission Statement? The answer is yes. As research has shown the importance of a family business having a strategic plan, it is equally important for the plan to include both a clear Vision and Mission Statement. Both statements serve valuable roles as the core element of the strategic plan.
A Vision Statement defines what the business hopes to be in the future. It provides guidance for a five to ten year period. It is written succinctly and in an inspirational manner that is easy for all family members, employees, and customers to understand.
A Mission Statement defines the present purpose of the family business. It usually answers three questions: What it does, who it does it for, and the company’s values and priorities.
The Vision and Mission Statements can be marketing tools as well because it announces your goals and purposes to your employees, suppliers, and customers.
It is never too late for a family business to define its Vision and Mission. In fact, some even reinvent themselves through the strategic planning process, which always should include well defined Vision and Mission proclamations.
I have often had the opportunity to serve family businesses where accountability is alive and well and the resulting culture of accountability provides a competitive advantage. Likewise I have seen plenty of family businesses where the lack of accountability is a perpetual topic of discussion, there are little or inconsistent consequences when people fail to deliver, and accountability seems like an elusive dream. Often family businesses that lack a culture of accountability also have contentious relationships which are a drain on both family and business energy and resources.
So what are some of the distinguishing factors for those family businesses where a culture of accountability is a reality?
Shared Values – Shared values are the foundational building block to accountability as they inform what attitudes and behaviors are expected and provide broad guidelines for family member interaction with one another and with the business.
Shared Vision – A shared vision provides a clear understanding of where both the family and the business are going and how one supports the other. A shared vision provides the context within which results can be gauged and is the connection to a purpose larger than any one individual. It is this connection that creates the incentive to contribute to the overall good.
Freedom of Choice – Accountability is built through freedom of choice to contribute on the part of the individual. Absent a voluntary choice to contribute, there are too many ways to blame others for behavior and results that don’t measure up. The motivation to be accountable is derived from the satisfaction of choosing to contribute.
Certainly articulating goals, roles, policy, procedures, consequences, etc. to provide additional clarity on expectations can be helpful to developing a culture of accountability. However, no amount of structure will substitute for shared values, a shared vision, and freedom of choice when it comes to making accountability an achievable reality in your family business.
Last week an Associated Press article (Family Battle Brews Over Trademark by Alan Scher Zagier) reported on the legal challenge over the use of a family name in a trademark dispute. The passion over the use of one’s last name and image is something that many business owning families know very much about.
Family businesses spend inordinate amounts of time and energy building reputations in their businesses. Quality products and services are part of reputation building, but a family’s reputation as competent professionals and owners with integrity also contribute to perceptions by those in the business and local communities. The deeper the values run, even if unspoken, the greater the passion that fuels the drive to build and protect reputations.
For younger generation family members, the drives to behave “properly” and bring honor to the family name are often interpreted as over-control by a senior generation consumed with external perceptions rather than behaving authentically. While this may be happening in a small percentage of cases, overwhelmingly experiences have shown that a deep and powerful family history and story lies at the root of family leaders’ desires to expect (and sometimes demand) behavior appropriate for the family’s name. Sharing that powerful story among all generations can reveal the deeper meaning behind the family’s high expectations, and create a sense of pride among the family’s younger members. The family can then unite in protecting their common heritage once the back story gets on the table. Lacking the back story, the power of the family’s history is diminished and the family is left with interpersonal conflict.
As for the trademark dispute referenced above, we hope the participants find a win-win solution that honors and protects their shared family name.
Two brothers (Ron and Kim) each own 50% of a half billion dollar manufacturing company in the western United States. Both are over 60 and have large, dynamic families filled with talented, creative, hard-working daughters, sons, in-laws and grandchildren.
During a three day, intensive family business workshop a brave member of the 3rd Generation posed a difficult question to his father, Ron – “am I expected to look and think just like you do if I want to be a leader in this business?” The query spurred a memorable discussion about individuality, guiding principles and the difference between unity and harmony.
To help facilitate the discussion I suggested we use music as a point of reference. I am not a musician, but I was taught how to carry a tune (or some semblance of one) at a fairly early age. I remember singing with my family at church meetings while watching mom’s finger track the melody line of the song. As she sang the words in her clear alto voice, I tried to mimic the sound. Only after adolescence had exacted its toll on my vocal chords, however, did we both realize that alto was no longer a viable option.
Using the same “follow my finger and mimic my voice” strategy, my mom helped me to become comfortable with bass and tenor notes. Soon I was able to pick out the sounds of harmony in the church congregation and felt an increase in my appreciation of the power and language of music.
Ron spoke up in the middle of my analogy. He said, “I know right where you’re going with this Dana. Please allow our family to provide a live exhibit to the case you’re building.” He then called 5 of his 7 children to the front of the room.
He asked them to sing the first verse of “O My Father”, a popular Christian hymn, in unison. Obediently, they all sang the melody line, and did so beautifully. He then asked them to sing the first verse again, but in harmony, each using her or his own voice. What followed brought tears to my eyes and still sends chills up and down my spine. I remember the absolute clarity and heightened energy that came into the room as they broke into alto, soprano, tenor, baritone and bass parts. All singing the same words, but in their own voice. The verse is beautifully written. When sung in unison, it’s lovely. But when sung in harmony, it’s moving and emotional.
Simon & Garfunkel, Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Peter, Paul and Mary. Would the art they have created influenced the world if each had been singing the same tune and mimicking someone else’s voice? On that same note, isn’t a family business system that much stronger when family members use their unique talents, aptitudes and perspectives rather than try to mimic the style of the past leader?
Guiding principles and core values are the words of the song. Those words – such as integrity, loyalty, respect, hard work, innovation, gratitude, frugality, – convey ideas about expected behaviors. Let’s make sure that future generations know that we want them to live those ideals, but in their own unique way. Let’s help them to know that we believe that when they add their own voice to the melody the song will be that much more compelling and beautiful.
Successful long-lived family businesses find a way to preserve their historic values and traditions while, at the same time, renewing themselves and responding to opportunities in an ever-changing world. Firms that are too rooted in the past become ossified, out-of-date, and outmoded. However, those that shun past success as irrelevant to present realities squander a treasure trove of values and accomplishments. It’s an art to combine the ‘secret sauce’ of historic success with the imperative to respond decisively and passionately to emerging opportunities and challenges.
This fine art was exemplified by John W. Baird, who passed away in December, 2013, at age 98.
Mr. Baird took over as president in 1963, following his father, Warner G. Baird, who guided the company in helping Chicago rebuild after the Great Fire of 1871. The firm was founded in 1855.
As president of Baird & Warner, Mr. Baird was deeply involved in civic affairs and the preservation of open spaces and landmarks. In the 1960’s, he was a leader in the effort to end housing discrimination in Chicago, and, as president of the then-Metropolitan Housing and Planning council, testified in favor of ‘open occupancy’, housing made available without consideration of race, ethnicity, religion, etc.
His son, Steve Baird, currently the fifth generation company president, commented, “At the time it would have been considered a very negative thing to the company because it was going against the tradition.”
However, what was ground breaking and ‘non-traditional’ at the time, now serves as a model of civic involvement and integrity for the company, the family, and the city of Chicago. And in fact, was part of the ‘secret-sauce’ that enabled this Chicago institution to survive and thrive up to this day.
There is much more to learn from the example of John W. Baird, who serves as an inspiration to others seeking success in leading their long-lived family firms. A quick web search will yield many links to articles, obituaries and tributes that are full of useful lessons – worthy of further reading and exploration.
*This article is drawn from obituaries and articles that appeared in The Chicago Sun Times, The Chicago Tribune, and online at INMAN NEWS.
One of the most basic dynamics we see in working with family owned enterprises is how people engage in similar process of making meaning of the world in similar ways. We each take in information, organizing into our own unique observations informed by our beliefs and experiences in a way that helps us make sense of the world. However, even though the process is the same for each of us, we are likely to wind up with varying differences of opinions on our individual “takes” to the same set of circumstances. Even though this is a normal process, it can result in conflict between family members.
But it doesn’t always stop there. People are prone to organize their individually constructed perspectives around others’ similarly held beliefs or actions: We tend to associate with the people around us that we perceive to be interpreting the world like we do. Being from West Texas, one of my favorite (and perhaps most extreme) examples of this dynamic was the creation of a community in West Texas designed expressly for supporters of the politician, Ron Paul. The goal of Paulville is “to establish gated communities containing 100% Ron Paul supporters and/or people that live by the ideals of freedom and liberty.” In 2008, the New York Times reported, “For now, the town is little more than an idea and a title deed…” and that is how it remains today.
In larger families – sometimes branches of the family or even just a couple of siblings – can come together with similar perspectives. This innocent, harmless and natural way of organizing can become detrimental when the notions around which these sub-groups of the family have formed are counter to the overall mission or vision of the enterprise or the family. These kinds of intragroup conflicts tend to be more complex and present a unique challenge to manage so they don’t become detrimental to the enterprise or, more importantly, to the family.
There’s been a lot written and said about the link between the culture of an organization and the extent to which it performs well or is effective. This link is even more impactful in a family owned business since part of that culture involves the relationship of owning family members with the business, employees, board members and with each other.
As I have said in earlier blogs, a family business’s culture is certainly unique to the family that owns and operates it. But it also can make the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary as it relates to excellence, employee engagement, trust within the community and reputation for “doing good”. I talked about how values make up the foundation of a culture, but another factor that influences culture is way a family relates to each other.
For example, sibling and/or cousin teams working together in a family enterprise can influence the culture of the place just based on their life long habits of interacting with each other. Whether they are combative around decision-making or wind up laughing as much as getting any work done, they influence the overall culture of the enterprise in ways that seem quite natural to them, their employees and even customers.
But like most factors that create or influence culture, the impact of relationship and communication habits among family members on the culture of their business may not be readily obvious.
Take the family that is generally combative in decision-making. Over time, employees and managers may develop attitudes and plans of “workarounds” in order to more efficiently complete work. While this may carry an element of creativity, the price may also include a reduced sense of respect and trust of some owning family members with workarounds seen as a necessary way to avoid the family confrontations to complete basic work. The end result may not impact the “success” of the business per se, but it could be impacting the extent of the business success – both in the short and long term – if all that is getting done is the bare minimum. That could have a cascading effect that impacts the company’s ability to retain the very best talent and even the reputation of the family in the community.
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.
Business historians John Seaman and George David Smith wrote a superb article for Harvard Business Review (December 2012) that has particularly great value for family business leaders. Wise leaders can use their company’s history for many benefits:
Create a stronger sense of identity for employees ‐ ‐ they are affected with something larger than themselves
Show the need and capacity to adapt illustrating such from the past
Argue that successful change is possible and that adversity can be overcome with examples from before
Promote the enduring values that shape the culture ‐ ‐ especially drawing on stories from before
Learn the obstacles to change from understanding the history and culture
Broaden perspective when making significant decisions by exploring analogies from before and now
We find family businesses have an especially acute appreciation for history from which they can particularly benefit as outlined above.
The article reinforces some axioms we find well practiced by successful family business leaders:
Embrace tradition as a way to prove that, indeed, the company has a long history of change ‐ ‐ a tradition of innovation
When leadership changes, emphasize the platform of values that don’t change before promoting a new vision
Find those authentic values of the past that will enable the new behaviors for success ‐ ‐ reinterpreting their meaning in the contemporary context
Interestingly, the primary example used to argue these principles was the 3 generations of leadership history at IBM. The values regenerated to support a new future were:
Focus on customer needs and
customer service and
long term relationships and pursue
break through innovation
The authors conclude that IBM’s leadership, “found in IBM’s history a usable past ‐ ‐ one that helped them…persuade people to embrace necessary solutions to deep–seated problems, but also grasp the nature of these problems in the first place.”
As Seaman and Smith well show, history is a leadership tool more than an anniversary with “balloons and fireworks”.