Posting by Joel Susco, CPA, Principal at Bond Beebe Accountants & Advisors
For years, the mantra for many family businesses was simple. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For many family businesses, innovation drives the early years of the family business. Then, the following generations often tend to be “minders of the store” rather than innovators. Maybe they are nervous about making changes to tradition, maybe they don’t know how, or a combination of both.
I recently had a discussion with a family business client who spoke at length about the spirit of tradition in their organization: what it means to the owners, how it motivates and inspires them, and most importantly, how vital it is as a leader to be able to keep traditions alive — as the vision and the world around us change. I started to think about how tradition plays a big part in our everyday life, both personally and professionally. I know many people who deeply value tradition in their personal lives, from their religious backgrounds, to the sports teams they root for, to how they raise their children, and even to the foods they eat. As our lives are molded and changed, some of these traditions may fade and be lost over time, but others will stay with us for many years.
I also see how this relates to businesses, which are constantly in the process of change. To be successful, a business needs to be forever renewing itself, thinking of new innovations and adapting to the world around us. Often, it may seem that we are changing ingrained traditions to something that is radically different though in reality, our tradition has a major role in the success and growth of the business as we change.
We often see tradition thriving in modern business specifically through family-owned businesses. For instance, my client has owned and operated a very successful retail store in the heart of a neighborhood shopping center for many years. They compete against the big box stores such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, Target and Sears. My client’s focus, however, is on a demographic that allows them to thrive where the big stores can’t. As they emphasize, there are many advantages to owning their own business, especially when it comes to employee loyalty, customer appreciation and cost stability. Their store has been in the same location for the past 30 years. Tradition has translated into a reliable reputation for customer service, family-oriented employee culture, product consistency and long-term customer relationships.
A great way to maintain the balance between allowing change and holding on to tradition in your business is to make sure you stay focused on the core values that helped you establish that business in the beginning. Tradition is not something that needs to be fed and cared for, and it does not have to be a burden. However, you must always remember to value the traditions that were put in place. A tradition means that you hold on to a sense of yourself while you continually innovate and make yourself better.
Having a culture that accepts change doesn’t mean you can’t have one that values tradition. Realizing how tradition can enable your business’s long-term success and complement your core values can optimize its role in your vision for the future.