This is how you create entrepreneurship (5 pieces of advice)

20 December 2017

20 December 2017

The core of a family business is, not surprisingly, the family. Family members own the culture and color the identity. Equally important, however, are the employees. They do not carry the family name, but they are indispensable in the route to success and often feel very involved. But how do you achieve employee ownership as well?

In many family businesses, employees are seen as part of the family. Yet employees are far from feeling the same way about terms like ownership and entrepreneurship. Sometimes they even exhibit opposite behaviors. Now what? Conducting with a gentle hand (coaching) in the right direction? Or using a hard hand to put all noses in the same direction?

Making family values explicit

What can work very well is to make family values explicit. This is useful in determining strategy, but also in guiding employee behavior. Family values describe what the family business values; they are the translation of the family’s history and the strength that lies therein. Family values largely determine the success of the company. This makes them important anchor points for shaping attitudes and behaviors.

An example

Suppose a family business has entrepreneurship as a key value. By having employees translate this value into behavior, the value becomes concrete. Like being allowed to make mistakes or take initiatives independently. With those behaviors in mind, you can then coach (or, at an earlier stage: select) employees. It also provides additional support. If employees make the translation themselves, they will adopt the behavior much more naturally.

Deed to the word

Formulating behaviors not only requires an investment by the employees themselves. It also requires a commitment from the family and management, which is uncomfortable for everyone at first. For example, that it actually allows its employees to make mistakes and accepts that there are several roads that lead to Rome. The behavior thus becomes an explicit agreement and thus a solid basis for a this is how we do it here feeling.

Practical Tips

Making family business values concrete is part of the solution. The following five tips will help:

  1. Make the values and associated behaviors negotiable. So don’t just lay out very specifically what you expect from each other and how you will interact, but make sure that a representative group is allowed to have a say in it.
  2. Involve employees in the development of your company’s strategy. This often yields not only surprising and useful insights, but it also ensures that employees carry this further within the organization.
  3. Create frameworks for employees, but also give them room to move within those frameworks. Mistakes are inevitable, so accept them, but at the same time make them the subject of conversation to learn from them.
  4. Prevent employees from constantly seeking approval from the family. The first question from the family toward the staff member might be: what would you do yourself?
  5. If the company is facing a (major) change, be specific to your employees. What will change? What remains the same? What do you expect from employees? How do you help them in the change process? In particular, employees who are concerned about the change (whether they fit into the future scenario) would benefit from clarity, guidance and perhaps a more appropriate challenge.


Dirk Harm Eijssen & Anneke Veldink