Shout Out About Family Values
16th July 2019
Image from McVitie's Sweeter Together advertising campaign, 2018
Did you hear the one about the grinning crane operator? Every morning he would climb into the cab and rise hundreds of feet into the sky to face 8 hours alone in a small cab, smiling and whistling as he went. Finally, concerned he may be going crazy from loneliness, his co-workers asked him why he was smiling. “Aye, it’s ok,” the crane driver responded. “My mother-in-law is staying with us. Being in the cab is the only peace and quiet I get!”
This story is so familiar that in 2018 McVitie Biscuits ran a TV advert using the scenario of the lonely crane driver - because it is based in fact. Male site workers in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male. Roofers, tilers and slaters faced the highest risk of all: in those trades, the risk of suicide is a 2.7 x higher than the UK average.
As someone helping businesses create work with purpose, employee wellbeing is critical to my mission. I have had many conversations with businesses about employee wellbeing, often to be brushed off with “But we provide our staff with gym membership and fruit. Any more than that is a cost we can’t justify.” Of course, free fruit does not address the root causes of poor wellbeing interrupting business and employee life, nor will it provide meaningful solutions. Proper wellbeing is in the interest of a business who is values-led; it is the strategic identification, measuring, and proactive management of wellbeing-related disruptions – emotional, mental, physical and cultural.
Delightfully, the conversation went very differently at the recent Institute of Family Business (IFB) annual conference, which had a focus on values and culture.
Two construction family business owners regaled me with their robust approach to wellbeing, including investing in mental health first aiders, changing shift patterns to reduce isolation, and developing a culture where wellbeing was openly discussed.
I asked them why they took this approach. Andrew Osborne, of Osborne, looked at me with surprise. “Because that is who we are. We are a family business; we care about our employees and we live our values. It is simply the right thing to do.”
This message of family values were repeatedly reinforced at the IFB conference, from Martin Thatcher (Thatchers Cider) and Andy Rubin (Pentland Brands) talking about values and culture from the top, to Neil Russel of PJ Care linking the culture of his business and retaining talent in the care sector.
That is a key difference, the uniqueness, of family businesses. You are likely to be a values-led organisation, with a culture stemming from the family values and an embedded pride in how you and the business behaves.
Time to find your voice
But family businesses tend to be reticent in communicating what you do. Modesty is all well and good, but as Jo Charles from Willmott Dixon pointed out at the conference whilst presenting their approach to community support, this is a missed opportunity. The difference she personally experiences because she works for a family business creates passion and engagement; this is rewarded back to the company with her loyalty, commitment, and championing of the business.
Non-family businesses tend to not be so reticent in communicating their values, from Google and Apple to John Lewis or M&S. When reading those business names I bet you instantly had an image of their values, which are communicated through their community and sustainability awards, story-telling, PR, and reporting.
The week after the IFB conference I took part in an IFB lunch conversation at the Houses of Parliament, to discuss family businesses in the communities. A key insight emerged – if family businesses are so integral and embedded in their local communities, why don’t MPs know about them? Why don’t they know the scale of impact, the stories of community support, the results to UK society of businesses having family values? Where is the family business voice and evidence of community impact? In the political world, evidence dictates action.
The IFB does well representing the family business voice. The stats it now has tell a powerful story. From the 4.8 million family firms in the UK, they employ 13.4 million people, generating 28% of UK GDP. The recent Small Business Community Impact Report states that 91% of small businesses (of which the majority are family owned businesses) believe they have a role to play in supporting community organisations (local charities, schools etc).
But we need more evidence. Where are the voices of family businesses themselves? The likes of Mars, Wates, Willmott Dixon, Warburtons and a handful of pathfinders share why family businesses, as values-led businesses, have a uniquely positive impact on UK communities. But the evidence of the collective impact of family businesses on communities is hard to find - very little statistics on local employment, community giving, local purchasing impact etc that we can share with those MPs. PLCs are very good at showing their total economic contributions and multiplier effect of being in a particular location – see the London Benchmarking Group, the Global Reporting Initiative, or the Business in the Community Index as examples of this. Where is the evidence for the collective impact of family businesses?
Family businesses have an important story to tell. The conversation needs to be framed for the uniqueness of family businesses, with a focus on impact. This is not just to attract talented employees like Jo Charles, but to have meaningful conversations with MPs on legislation and to better understand how your business can continue to live the family values meaningfully.
With over 15 years of experience of sustainability in consultancy and in-house - and a published author, lecturer, coach, and tutor - Nadine has extensive experience across a variety of industries and business types. Determined to offer high quality and impactful support for her clients, she set up her own consultancy Work with Purpose, which takes an innovative approach to creating lasting change by unleashing the power of your people.
Nadine has run both large-scale and bespoke change programmes across strategy, community, zero waste, governance and ethics, employee engagement, people & wellbeing, diversity, and embedding sustainability into the 6 Ps. After working with family owned businesses on sustainability, for the last few years Nadine has researched how sustainability can be better embraced and embedded because of the unique context of family businesses.