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
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.