Lise Stewart: Light the flame and carry the torch to retain your family business’ culture Featured

2:34am EDT December 20, 2013
Lise Stewart, Columnist Lise Stewart, Columnist

Many people ask me how the new generation of leadership can honor the family legacy and tradition while still putting its own “stamp” on the company culture. This can be particularly difficult today when we have so many generations working in the same place. However, history and tradition form a strong foundation for the company culture and provide stability and help to build loyalty.

Below are some techniques that I often share with clients that have a desire to preserve and honor the best of the past while evolving the company culture to support the generations of the future. 

Interview the elders

First, if you are in the new generation of leadership, you might consider interviewing members of your founding generation. Consider asking them about the values that were most important to them as they grew their business.

If your founding leaders are no longer alive or able, you could consider interviewing the oldest employees, or thinking back to some of your earliest memories of your parents, grandparents and others who worked in the company.

The next step is to answer those same questions yourself. In particular, how would you like to be similar to or different from the leaders of the past? Compare and contrast the values that you hold most dear, and the attributes of the people that you like to be surrounded with and consider as leaders.

Take the time to write it down. Think about ways to distinctly describe the traditional culture that was developed by your forebears. Once you’ve decided which aspects of that culture you wish to preserve and what you would like to change, rewrite a description of your company culture and values.  

Hold an encounter

Several years ago I was working with a large family business. During our first family governance meeting, I divided the room in half, with parents and grandparents on one side of the room, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the other side. I gave each side a large piece of paper and asked them to write down the most appreciated values and characteristics that the other team brought to the company.

I asked the older generation to report first, and it was magical to watch the faces of the younger generation as they heard their parents and grandparents describe the value of their energy, fresh ideas, connectivity and sense of wonder.

The most touching moment, however, came as the children rolled out an exhaustive list of attributes they valued in their parents and grandparents. It was a wonderful way to develop a foundation for their family governance.

Expand the presence of the culture

Another important step in both honoring tradition and developing one’s own company culture is to utilize the cultural description of the company in policies, procedures, plans and professional development materials. Some questions to ask:

  • How does your strategic plan reflect and support your company culture?
  • What behaviors do you recognize, reinforce and reward in your organization? Do they support your company culture, or do they work to undermine that culture?
  • Are you able to translate the language in your company culture and values into specific behaviors that you would like to see demonstrated by employees?
  • What are five things that you as a leader do daily to support and nurture your company culture and the values you hold dearly?

Our country’s small businesses have a unique capacity to provide this legacy, honoring the best of the past and valuing new opportunities for the future.

Lisë Stewart founded Galliard Group in 2004 to serve the unique needs of family-owned and closely-held businesses. For more information, visit www.galliardinc.com.