It’s All About the Emotions

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Alexandra Bertschi-Michel of the University of Bern, Nadine Kammerlander of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, and Vanessa M. Strike of the University of British Columbia. They recently published an article in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice entitled “Unearthing and Alleviating Emotions in Family Business Successions,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the motivation and impact of their research.]

In Switzerland, where our cases are located, family businesses increasingly fail to solve their own succession challenges. This leads to the fact that frequently such domestic family businesses providing local jobs are sold to large foreign companies that then often just transfer the family businesses specific knowledge while integrating those into their existing business and closing down the local business areas. These external circumstances motivated us doing research on how family businesses can be supported and guided by an external source of advice throughout the succession process in order that they increasingly find internal solutions.

When then observing five family businesses in their succession processes, we initially focused mostly on technical challenges where an advisor can provide support, such as for example, the initiation of the process, the evaluation for a successor, the training of the successor or eventually, the handover of management and ownership responsibility. However, during the different process stages, repeatedly the emotions of the incumbent and successor emerged as the crucial factor determining how both actors feel and whether they continued the process or got stuck. Thus, we shifted our focus from a pure task oriented study to the emotional aspects laying in between. Thereby, we found that aspects related to emotions affect role adjustment appear of the two actors that ultimately fosters individual-level satisfaction. This encouraged us to further investigate how emotions emerge during the process as well as how they can be guided into a positive direction.

We thereby found that an advisor providing an external perspective plays a crucial role. In particular, the advisor needs at several points during the process to unearth latent emotions in order that both actors even become aware of and openly speak about them. In subsequent step, the advisor then has to engage in alleviating mechanisms in order to calm down the emotional tensions that the process can advance. Thus, this iterative process of emotion unearthing and alleviating speeds up role adjustment and fosters satisfaction.

In our opinion, with our research we address the interdisciplinary fields of both, family business research and psychology. We believe that such interdisciplinary studies hold a lot of potential for future research. Especially in the context of family businesses, emotions and thus aspects from psychology seem to be a driving factor explaining various behaviors and processes within family businesses. Hence we encourage researchers to follow up this study by conducting further studies on emotions and emotional processes in family businesses.

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