Saturday, September 21, 2019
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Developing Your Family Business Narrative

Many family businesses take the time to develop formal vision and mission statements that explain its values and preserves them for future generations. However, relatively few family businesses go a step further to develop a family business story or narrative. Because family businesses are especially vulnerable to having ownership transition out of the family in later generations, it’s critical to document the important founding values and the family story for the sake of the business’s legacy and future. 

The reason a family business narrative is so important is because it outlines expectations as to the founder’s vision and the values that bring all employees together to work toward a greater goal. A family business narrative also helps preserve a sense of identity for younger generations. In this way, it can also free the family business leaders to look outside the family as needed for valuable skillsets and further enhance the business offerings.

In an effective family business narrative, founders are presented more in the context of their values, rather than their positions. That’s because those values will, in theory, live on long after the founders leave the business.

Generally speaking, there are two unique kinds of family business narratives. One captures the essence of where the family business has been and where it is, and one describes where it is going in the future.

The first is the obvious storytelling of your family and the history of the family business. In this kind of narrative, the goal is to craft a story that encapsulates the important events that came together to inspire the family business at its founding, along with the events that happened since its founding that further contribute to its set of core values.

The second is called a springboard narrative, a brief story that is based on an idea, vision or goal and that inspires future action. Rather than attempting to be comprehensive, this kind of narrative seeks to inspire rather than inform. A springboard narrative may be the telling of a simple story that conveys a sense of purpose for the business and may be based on “what if” scenarios that get people thinking about the future of the family business and how they can contribute.

As you develop your family business narrative, keep these tips in mind:

  • Construct your family business narrative in the context of a larger story, such as the narrative of a community, cause or industry.
  • Include people, places and dates that provide personal interest and inspiration for the business values.
  • Avoid building your family business narrative simply as the documentation of historical events and a list of bragging rights. Instead, make the story mean something by only including details pertinent to the family and family business values and goals. That may mean not including every honor bestowed upon a founder but rather including a story of how he or she made a difference to someone else in a very simple way.
  • Include details in the narrative that help explain how the family roles tie in with their family business roles so that you present the family business in the context of the family.
  • Tell the story of failures as well as successes, because failures often provide the most powerful lessons for future generations.
  • Craft the story in a manner that is consistent with your brand. Make your family business narrative strengthen your brand and vice versa.

    Aside from telling a story, your family business narrative can provide several additional beneficial outcomes:

    • A family business narrative can help guide succession plans and other legal documents because the narrative will help establish or document processes and roles.
    • The narrative can inspire gratitude and adoption of the family business values in younger generations.
    • The narrative can provide a meaningful groundwork and inspiration for a family business foundation and philanthropy.
    • The narrative can help the family business preserve its identity, values and purpose even through ownership transitions to non-family entities.
    • Perhaps most important, the family narrative can instill a sense of stability and permanency for the family business.

    No matter what stage of its lifecycle your family business is in, it’s never too late to develop a family business narrative. If your family business already has a formal statement of its vision and mission, use these to shape your stories. If not, then you have the perfect opportunity as you investigate and document your family business’s story to also develop a mission and vision that reflect your family business values and lay the groundwork for future storytelling.

    Contributing Sources: Grant D.Goodvin J.D., Narrative and Story in the Family Business; http://www.stevedenning.com/slides/masteringbusinessnarrative-final-oct2-05.pdf

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