Cause #43 Personal, Family and Business Values


Values are personal internal motivators that encourage humans to do what they do, the way they do it, when they do it.  They’re a key component of character and personality, being created by a mixture of: genetics, intelligence, education, environmental upbringing and training (from home, social, ethnic and religious sources), lived experience, and (possibly) exposure to life-altering events.

Values take a while to mature and once set they’re not easily changed.  However circumstances, and/or opportunistic decisions, can encourage individuals, groups and organisations to act in ways that conflict with their declared values.  It’s the role of individual conscience, and organisational governance systems, to call out the resulting dissonance between what we believe we should be doing, what we say we’re doing, and what we’re actually doing.

When our actions align with our values, we feel good about ourselves.  Whenever our own conscience, or respected authority figures, tell us we’re acting wrongly and “out of character”, we should feel guilty, and unhappy – unless we’re exceedingly selfish, or psychopathic:

The urgings of conscience, and/or the requirements of good governance, often pit personal or group values against the actual or perceived actions of other individuals, family groups, or business practices.  This is a common cause of conflict in Family Business.

Why is this so?

In organisations, such as families and businesses, values are a key determinant of organisational culture:  how things really get done around here, as opposed to how we say, and like to think, they get done.

Many family businesses import, adapt and implement their owner/leader’s family values into their business operations – proudly proclaiming that the business operates according to good ol’ family values.  This can work well, but not always, because we know that, conceptually: Family Business makes no sense.  Most of the factors that make families great are diametrically opposed to the corresponding factors that make great businesses.

Business values need to be appropriate and matched to the commercial persona of the actual business, or they just don’t work.  Staff surveys often indicate that proclaimed corporate values are far from applied values.  This weakens management credibility and corrupts business cultures.

The old saying: “a rotting fish starts stinking from the head” is a metaphor for leadership.  Leaders with weak or toxic values are likely to infect their businesses with those values, thereby creating a weak or toxic organisational culture – and that’s not good for the business.

An exception occurs when employees develop and maintain their own culture, irrespective of their leader’s example, management’s efforts, and corporate policies.  This can happen when there’s a leadership vacuum and staff are strongly motivated towards self-preservation.  It also occurs when leaders fossilise on the job, after creating a strong business.  But it’s quite rare, and when it does happen it causes conflict between owners/leaders and almost everyone else.

Several “stalled successions” immediately come to mind!



Even highly conflicted individuals and families can usually be persuaded to agree (at least as a working proposition) that they all have more or less congruent core values.

Encouraging acceptance is a valid tactic in family mediations: de-demonising other family members (intellectual adjustment) helps to re-humanise the workout process (emotional relief).  When a family group allows itself to acknowledge that all of its members are actually driven by broadly similar values, a lot of anger and resentment seems to evaporate, and previously inconceivable conversations can be started.  It’s like plumbing – unblocking the drains to re-establish communication flows!

Efforts to resolve relationship conflicts benefit from getting everyone to reflect deeply on the values that are really driving them, rather than letting them dwell on the obvious presenting issues and problems.  Inward-looking, rather than outward-blaming, encourages people to focus on their personal needs and interests, rather than on whatever attitudes or actions others are using to threaten them, or inflict damage.

Unpick current thoughts and feelings through a retrospective narrative process that resembles “unpeeling the onion” of personal and family histories: what happened? who did what? why did they do it? and how and why did you respond – to get to where you are now?

As conflicted individuals obtain better understandings of whatever drove them, and the others involved, into their conflict, they begin to see that the vast majority of values in play, at least amongst members of their family, are basically consistent and, dare anybody say it – fundamentally compatible.

When serious values differences are called out (eg: declared generosity vs observed selfishness), deeper examination usually shows these apparent differences to be either: (a) misdiagnosed, (b) misconstrued, or more often (c) caused and influenced by unacknowledged circumstances.

If not, consider “On the Other Hand”, below.

Conflicted parties need help to maintain their dignity, and save face.  They have to surrender untenable positions, and related emotions, to be able to return to more natural and comfortable behaviours, and better relationships.  Rather than forcing an apparent and shameful compromise of personal needs and interests, try to get family members back on the same page, so they’re willing to face current and future challenges, together.

Similar workout processes apply to family and family business conflicts:

  1. Identify the personal values of individuals in the organisation (leaders, managers, employees and family members).
  2. Develop, or identify and agree, a set of collective family or business values.
  3. Assess whether the family, or the business, are actually living up to their claimed values. (Note: this can turn into a rather brutal reality check for family and business leaders, which may not improve conflicted environments).
  4. Avoid allocating blame to specific individuals for whatever’s going wrong by rationalising, or justifying, AND apologising for past actions. (Note that making “understandable circumstances”, rather than “bloody-minded individuals”  responsible may demand some sincere creativity)!
  5. Help everyone to visualise a more peaceful future where they’re all living the values they claim to espouse.
  6. Capture the essence of their shared values in Business or Family Values Statements.
  7. Change and/or develop new plans and policies, based on newly declared values.

On the Other Hand …

Serious and genuine, and totally baked-on values differences, are almost impossible to reconcile, because the people holding the values are driven by fundamentally different belief systems and motives – think religious conflicts.

Final Solution:  If seriously different values can’t be reconciled, because their owners are simply too far apart in their fundamental thoughts and beliefs to tolerate each other, you need to look for alternative solutions.

Within a family social unit, there’s not a lot that can be done to fix this.  The out-of-kilter individual is usually branded the “black sheep” of the family, and expectations for contact and relationships are lowered all round – acceptance of the unavoidable.

It’s interesting to note that placing a label on a problem seems to make them easier to live with!

Within a Family Business, unreconciled values between non-family employees and either the business itself, or family members in the business, usually result in departures from the business.  Most families protect their own.

If the busines is large enough, a temporary solution may be found in physical and operational separation of warring family members to preserve organisational peace. However, if this contrived situation is imposed by parents to deal with sibling clashes, the business needs a good plan for when they’re not around to maintain whatever cease fire they’ve established in their time, otherwise conflict will most certainly erupt during and after succession.

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