Business Advice

The importance of values and communication at the family business roundtable

David Harland /

Once a leading criminal defence lawyer, Shawn Askinosie is now an award-winning chocolatier who runs Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri. His career leap is something of a conversion, not unlike cocoa to its agreeable upshot that we love so much.

But what started his success story?

According to Askinosie, “if I were to treat cocoa farmers like business partners — with fairness, dignity, and respect, while making sure they receive their fair share of the income — I’d be one of the only people doing that”.

This led to some creative R&D — from home-kitchen cooking, to his wife Carol helping him conduct “taste-testing parties”, to meeting and working with farmers and communities from four continents, with his daughter and son-in-law, to develop his unique supply chain.

Paul Klein, in his article for Forbes, said Askinosie “put social change at the heart of the company”, and that his “personal purpose is interwoven with his company’s social purpose”. He then makes the following observations:

  • The social purpose of a business should embody the purpose of its leadership, just as its leadership should embody the social purpose of the business.
  • The social purpose of a business should be based on the belief that social change is good for business and business is good for social change.

Why value values and communication?

What distinguishes successful family businesses, according to research by PwC, is the time taken to communicate, educate and remind themselves, and the next generation, early and often about the value of values.

Similarly, the key finding of KPMG’s recent survey “was that good communication, and even healthy conflict, between family members, is vital to boost the sustainability of the business and wellbeing of the family”.

It’s clear both the value and communication systems of family businesses are integral to success and longevity, and a central purpose of leadership is to uphold these.

Social responsibility promotes value-based communication

Social responsibility reflects how a business values society, and its actions speak to its purpose in aiding it.

PwC’s survey shows family businesses that made their values and purpose explicit and measurable and incorporated them into their strategic plans saw better returns and greater longevity.

The message of social responsibility requires authenticity, and for that, there needs to be consistency between the leadership and the business’ values.

This reinforces the need for the family business leadership team to discuss and revisit its value system.

Principles for family leadership discussions

According to KPMG, the number one source of conflict in family businesses, between younger and older generations, was the “difference in style of communication”.

To overcome this:

  • Don’t be afraid of conflict (as it can lead to better outcomes);
  • Acknowledge each other’s different communication styles; and then
  • Move onto healthy debate.

Proper communication requires:

  • Talking regularly;
  • Listening to each other; and
  • Bringing issues into the open.

Where families in business openly discussed information, they were better equipped to:

  • Identify potential successors;
  • Promote their development; and
  • Address difficult issues as they arose.

As you face the subject of social responsibility, consider how valuable the opportunity to start a conversation within your family business may be. By communicating, you can find a commonality of purpose and values, and bridge any gaps in your family team.

After all, to quote our master chocolate maker, the purpose of social responsibility is “to build relationships of mutual understanding and appreciation, which makes our chocolate better and our business better”.

NOW READ: Details, details, details: When communication fails, peoples’ experience is the casualty

NOW READ: Bleeding-edge advice: To communicate effectively you’ve got to ditch the jargon

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David Harland

David Harland is the managing director of FINH and works exclusively with multigenerational family businesses. He holds both national and international accreditation in the field of family advising and family wealth.

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