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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

12 MAY 2015

What's in a word? Defining and developing the culture in your family business

What's in a word? Defining and developing the culture in your family business
David Emanuel
Managing Partner (London Office), Veale Wasbrough Vizards

Defining a 'culture' that is supported by all staff is no easy task. By working with your team, you can analyse and develop your values and ultimately strengthen your business.

This is the second of three articles on culture in the family business, the first appeared in the March edition of our Family Business Law Brief.

What is the culture of your family business?

In some cases, family businesses may find it difficult to define their 'culture' and utilise their strengths.

Business websites often contain bold statements of 'values' and 'beliefs' which, in truth, are aspirational and have nothing to do with their culture. Instead they focus on how they hope customers or prospective employees view them.

You should invest some time in defining your family business' culture to ensure you make the most of it.

What do those who work in your family business think the culture is?

One way of achieving this is by asking everyone to complete a questionnaire in which they grade statements about the business (positive and negative) from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree'.

You may want to consider interviewing senior staff, giving them the opportunity to answer open questions and discuss their views. This could include both family and non-family members. Ideally you would ask somebody outside the business to help facilitate this.

How to use what you find to your advantage?

The results of your staff surveys will allow you to gauge the internal perception of the culture in your family business. Not all of it may suit your purposes or match your aspirations, but it will help you decide the 'values' you want to focus on and develop over time to strengthen the business.

Developing value statements

It may be difficult to define 'culture' but you can define 'values', and you may wish to codify those that are fundamental to the business (usually between three and six) into a 'value statement'.

If the values are effective and if they really do accord with the actual culture of the business, your staff should believe in them and help to enforce them across the business. If you can achieve this, you will have embedded a powerful competitive advantage in your business.

To give you an example, in 2010 my own firm came up with three 'core values':

  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Client at the centre of the firm
  • Commercial approach
The definition of your family business' values is also likely to form an important part in the development of your Family Charter. You can read about why this is an important document for all family businesses to have in our 'Put it in writing!' article.

In the third and final article of this series we will examine how you can use the newly defined culture in your family business to gain a competitive advantage.
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