Let's Get Together*
by Jane Hilburt-Davis
This is not an article about being a
better family business consultant, a more successful family business or even a
more respected family researcher. Rather this is an article challenging some of
our assumptions and appealing for increased collaboration between researchers
and practitioners. Despite years of consulting to family businesses, our
knowledge of what really works in practice is in the elemental stages and we
all need to be aware of our own assumptions, biases, orthodoxies and not
mistake them for facts. Our ‘best practices’ have generally been borrowed from
other professions such as management, family therapy, and organization
development. Some widely believed ‘facts’ are as yet unsupported by data: (1)
family councils improve family relationships; (2) outside directors improve
firm performance; (3) it’s always healthy to express and vent emotions; (4)
earlier experiences have a greater influence on personality than adult events;
and (5) empathy is always a good thing. (*See footnotes below)
Yet we practitioners continue to use
the term ‘best practices’ and offer advice freely without even a nod to what
data exists. Likewise researchers are more often than not driven by holes in
the existing research, academic-career concerns rather than practical questions
or needs. This gap is costly to our clients.
In the May 2011 Smithsonian Magazine
James Gleick discusses memes (first described by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene), units of information
or ideas, not necessarily factual but assumed true, that spread like viruses,
infiltrating the metaphorical DNA of our perspectives and discourses. Many of
our own memes float in and out of our conferences, publications and
conferences. A perfect example of
one of our most persistent memes has been ‘shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in
three generations’ which was recently challenged by the Joe Goodman longevity study. (Hats off to Joe Goodman and the
researchers at the STEP project at Babson College.)
long as practitioners see research as largely inaccessible, impractical or
irrelevant and researchers assume that practitioners ignore their work or worse
consider them to be only concerned about getting clients, this will continue.
But there are some examples of collaboration beginning: (1) In 2005 FFI formed
the Family Advisory Committee to “provide advice and commentary to the FFI
Board and management and to challenge and respond to objectives brought forward
by FFI from the family business owners’ point of view. (2) Family business
forums invite consultants to present and be challenged by their members; and
(3) Research forums like FERC and IFERA welcome practitioners. But there is still a huge gap in
effective collaborations and much to be done. I offer a few suggestions here.
(Some of these came from the participants at Pramodita Sharma and my
presentation at the 25th FFI Annual Conference in Boston this year,
“Persistent 5@ 25”):
- Keep up with
- Appreciate the
practical applications of the research and use it in practice directly or
indirectly by letting clients know how this is important.
- Participate in research conferences, communicating ideas and
questions for future research
- Collect hard
data on your own practices, both successes and failures
- Keep up with
practitioners’ experiences and their latest ideas
- Having ongoing
conversations with practitioners regarding what’s relevant to them and
questions they have.
- Attend practitioners’ conference and participate actively,
speaking up and sharing what’s supported by research and what’s not.
research projects that challenge the myths, memes, and assumptions in the
conclusion, in order to narrow the gap between practitioners and researchers,
we need to begin to talk to one another on a consistent basis. We need to
comment on each others’ work, give objective and critical feedback, and take
time to understand each others’ challenges. If we believe that the gap is
costly in the long run to family businesses, then, it’s time we all took a more
active role in understanding and supporting each other in this most challenging
meetings can improve family relations and build cohesion, but the jury is still
out on Family Councils.
directors improve board performance but there are inconclusive results with
relationship between outside directors and firm performance.
chronic suppression of feelings is unhealthy but whether or not it is healthy
to express emotions depends on many factors: the situation, the people
involved, and how the emotions are expressed. In fact, the ‘venting’ may at
times make things worse since old trauma sits in the limbic area of the brain
and words are not enough.
the new findings of neuroscience, the brain we’re born with is not the brain we
die with. Throughout our lives, due to the brain’s plasticity, it changes
constantly as a result of conversations, experiences, and relationships.
key is knowing when empathy is called for and when it is detrimental, that is,
when gets in way of cognitive problem solving. We need balance especially when
working as professionals with our clients. (There is some evidence that
building empathy helps with conflict management.)
published in Family Business WIKI
< Return to Resources