Governing emotions in a family business setting
Giorgia D’Allura, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Business Economics and Management at the University of Catania (Italy). In the course of her doctoral studies and her Post-Doctoral Fellowship, she was Visiting Scholar at the Warrington College of Business and Administration at the University of Florida, where she researched with Professor Amir Erez how individuals influence group performance and the power distribution within group dynamics. Her current research on family business focuses on the roles of governance structures in the business development patterns and strategy and the family influence on the adoption of ethical codes in the family business. She serves also Co-Guest Editor of the Special Issue of Entrepreneurship Research Journal together with Rania Labaki, Head of the EDHEC Family Business Centre, "A Governance Approach of Emotions in Entrepreneurial and Family Businesses".
As a visiting researcher at the EDHEC Family Business Centre (EFBC) for a one-month period, what were your main expectations and contributions?
I got first interested in EDHEC Business School because I had the opportunity to meet the director of the Centre Prof. Rania Labaki at the IFERA conference and start with her a project on the role that emotions play in family business governance. Both of us are family business scholars with, let me say, an emotional inclination. So my first aim was developing my work on the topic with Prof. Labaki. Second, I wanted to take this opportunity to meet all the other colleagues that are members of the Centre in order to share research ideas and exchange about our mutual interests. Third, I was excited about the idea of being in a Centre that provides training programs for family members, especially for the next generation. As such, my experience as a visiting researcher provided a holistic atmosphere that is valuable for a scholar interested in both family business research and education.
The governance of emotions in the family business is one of your main research interests. What motivated you to study this topic and how did you proceed?
Organizations are containers of emotions. This statement, rooted in recent organizational studies and my own observation, triggered my first interest in the topic. This led me to question how translating it to family businesses would add to our understanding on the way these emotions operate. As a strategic management professor with a focus on family business, I am increasingly interested in introducing emotions into the picture. Since my PhD, which I held at the University of Catania, I always searched for the best theoretical perspective that allows us to understand the impact of the family (as a social unit) on the family behavior and results. For instance, in my PhD Dissertation and in my work with Prof Amir Erez (University of Florida), I applied group theory in order to understand how the family evolves over time and how the family as an ad hoc group manages the internal process and the decision-making. Now, I am working with Prof. Labaki to develop new insights on governance and emotions. We organized two Professional Development Workshops on the topic at the Academy of Management Conference in 2016 and 2017. The Special Issue of Entrepreneurship Research Journal, which I am co-editing with her, is another step forward as it addresses the interface between family and business systems. It aims at exploring how and to what extent governance may contribute to fueling and shaping different types of emotions towards better individual, family, organizational and societal outcomes.
Which challenges are you facing while researching this topic?
The information disclosure of the business families is the main issue. These families know that we are in the right path, but it is very difficult for them to talk about emotional issues. For this reason, I created a tool that help individuals open this black box, starting with my students. The tool is “the business theater”, which is an original pedagogical format created with a professional actor in Catania, and with whom I co-founded a spin-off to help family businesses address this topic.
What are the most significant findings of your research works in family business? To what extent did you expect them?
Family is the central focus of the strategic process. We need to take care of this unit of analysis in order to understand the family business behavior and to help improving their performance. Every scholar who studies family business should consider the family variable. What I never expected when I started this research was the difficulties of grasping the family essence inside the business, whether in terms of tools or methods.
You initiated a course using a new pedagogical method labelled the family business theatre. Could you share with us a few lessons that would help family business members better deal with their emotions at work?
Our course includes both individual and group work. At an individual level, we make participants aware of their limitations and emotional issues. At a group level, we guide them in creating harmony with others, making progress over the identified obstacles and delivering value to the group. The lessons to family business members are two-fold. First, you need to take off the hat of your role in the business while at the same time, taking off the hat of your role as a family member. The key, perhaps, lies in listening with your heart at “who” is talking. No matter who s/he is in the family: your parent, daughter or your grandson. And not matter who s/he is in the business, your marketing manager or administrative staff. Consider them as if they are individuals expressing (or trying to express) their self. By listening to them as such, you will increase their self-esteem and make them evaluate the situation and choose the right thing to do. Otherwise, it will be an infinite story of love or conflict, leading to an increase in the level conflict over time or to a partial evaluation of the real issues. You should listen to the beauty that is in front of you and try to support the best part of that individual in the business and the family.