Date posted: November 17, 2016

By Donella Caspersz

Family business has a hybrid identity – that is, it combines the family with the business and, while sometimes this doesn’t work out well, most of the time it does. The 70% of businesses in Australia that are family businesses say so!

But in this changing environment, family businesses have to become as agile as any other business. Agility is not just about business agility but includes emotional agility.

Emotional agility is about developing a positivity to manage that includes being optimistic and confident about the future, building resilience, but importantly, developing grit or a determination to wade through the challenges.

Some ideas that emerge from the family business research that my colleagues and I do include:

  1. Develop a positivity to manage by linking up with others, hearing their ideas, getting yourself a ‘listening’ ear that can hear your ideas and help you to consider, think and develop new ways of doing old things.  You can find this in a managerial round table – Family Business Australia and others run these.

    2.    Continue on the journey of personal development – invest in training you, the family and your employees. Innovation often comes from having the time and structure to think through ideas carefully but in a facilitated way. There are many programmes around, both family and non family focussed. To get a good idea you have to be exposed to other ideas – training is a way to get this. But we have found that what works best for family business is training that uses a ‘conversational approach’, that is, helps you to learn from others. This has proved to be extremely effective as a way of transferring knowledge.

    3.    Look after the ‘tribe’! This is a tip that comes from one of the wonderful people who have allowed me to develop a case study of their business. We all know that the tribe in family business is not just the family, it is also the so-called non family – the employees, the suppliers, the customers – who become the family. They are crucial to business success, especially during times of change. Looking after them is highly significant in helping your business weather the storms.

    Family business is a proud community. Many call their business after their family name and it is pride and often ‘looking after the legacy’ that keeps family business going during the turbulent times.  However, without family business, not only would our economy –as too many other economies – around the world have a gap in their economy; they would also have a gap in the moral fabric that keeps a society together. Therefore, the final tip:

    4.    Maintain the values. Family business has a unique set of values that include responsibility not just for the family but the tribe or community. This gives family business a purpose to not just keep growing, but to remain sustainable. It is a purpose that has unique foundations because it links back to the family in the business system. Thus, while this creates challenges in everyday business operations, at the same time during difficult times this purpose is what keeps family business going.

    Dr Donella Caspersz is an academic at the UWA Business School in the Management & Organisations discipline. Donella works collaboratively with researchers across Australia, UK, Malaysia, Colombia and China on family business research covering topics on governance, human resources, transgenerational succession, positivity to manage, trust and emotions.  Donella has published in these areas. Donella is an academic advisor to Family Business Australia and is on the board of IFERA (International Family Enterprise Research Association), and convenes the annual UWA-FBA Contemporary Issues in Family Business lecture.