[We’re pleased to welcome Nadine Kammerlander of University of St. Gallen. Dr. Kammerlander recently published an article in the December 2015 issue of Family Business Review with co-authors Cinzi Dessi, Miriam Bird, Michela Floris, and Alessandra Murru, entitled “The Impact of Shared Stories on Family Firm Innovation: A Multicase Study.”]
- What inspired you to be interested in this topic?
Over the last years, researchers have dedicated a lot of effort to understand how organizations should be set up and managed to foster innovation – also in the family business context. But hardly anyone has taken a closer look at the family side. This is a pity, because there is so much anecdotal evidence that, especially in small family firms, a lot of informal stuff is going on. Spouses, kids, and other family members are, for instance, asked before important strategic decisions are taken – but this never gets recorded in any official document. So we wondered how the “informal dinner conversations” might influence firm behavior (and in particular firm innovation, which is the core research area of my co-authors and myself). We felt that the Sardinian winery context is a perfect research setting because there are many small and traditional family-owned and –managed countries that recently faced the pressure to innovate. Conducting in-depth interviews with two thirds of all Sardinian family-owned wineries allowed us to not only get deep insights into their innovation behavior but also their family dynamics.
- Were there findings that were surprising to you?
Of course we expected that the private conversations of family members might influence firm innovation – that was why we started out this research project. We were very much surprised, however, that really all our interviewed families put a lot of emphasis on sharing stories about the family firm with their children. We were even more surprised to see two clear categories: Those families that shared “myths” about a referenced founder had traditionally run family firms that were reluctant to change. Those families, however, whose stories focused on the family itself and the positive values and emotions associated with the family were much more open to innovation and introduced new products and processes.
- How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?
First, we believe that the findings of our study are highly influential for practice. For advisors trying to help family businesses and making them “fit for future” one of the questions to ask is: What do you tell your children about your family firm? And also family firm owners and managers should reflect about their dinner conversations. Sharing stories about family firms can be great – those stories increase the family members’ interest in and commitment to the family firm. But it is the content that matters! Only if the content of the stories leaves the children with flexibility to act, innovation will occur.
With respect to future research, we hope that studies will continue to take a deeper look into what is happening within the family. We also hope that the topic of “how values and beliefs are shared across generations” gains more attention of researchers worldwide.
Innovation is a key determinant of long-term success for family firms. We apply a multiple case study research design to investigate the relationship between stories that are shared among family members across generations and the family firms’ innovations. We derive a set of four propositions suggesting that founder focus in stories is negatively and family focus is positively associated with innovation. We further propose that these relationships are mediated by the scope of decision-making options, the distribution of decision-making power between generations, and the role of conflict in the families.
You can read “The Impact of Shared Stories on Family Firm Innovation: A Multicase Study” from Family Business Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. You can also listen to a podcast interview with co-author Nadine Kammerlander and Family Business Review assistant editor Karen Vinton by clicking here.
Nadine Kammerlander is an assistant professor of management at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. She received her PhD in management from the University of Bamberg, Germany, and holds a master’s degree in physics from the Technical University, Munich. Prior to joining academia, she worked as a senior consultant for an international consulting firm. She has published articles in leading journals (e.g., Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal). Her research interests include innovation and entrepreneurship in family firms, governance, and succession.
Cinzia Dessì is an assistant professor of management in the Department of Economic Sciences and Business Administration, University of Cagliari, Italy. She received her PhD in management and holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Cagliari. Prior to joining academia, she worked as manager in the business of her family. Her current research interest is in the areas of entrepreneurship and family firms, and focuses on growth, innovation, governance, and succession.
Miriam Bird is postdoctoral researcher in management at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. She received her PhD in business administration from the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden. Prior to joining academia, she was involved in several ventures in the tourism industry as well as in multiple projects with the International Labour Organization (United Nations) in Geneva. She has published articles in leading journals (e.g., Journal of Business Venturing, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice) and is particularly interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, and family business research.
Michela Floris is an assistant professor of management in the Department of Economic Sciences and Business Administration, University of Cagliari, Italy. She received her PhD in management and holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Cagliari. She has been teaching family business management for several years. Her main interest of research focuses on organizational goals and goal-driven behaviors in family firms, including entrepreneurship, marketing, innovation, and growth.
Alessandra Murru is a PhD candidate in management in the Department of Economic Sciences and Business Administration, University of Cagliari, Italy. She received her master’s degree in economics from the same university. Her research interests concern entrepreneurship and governance with a special focus on family firm.