[We’re pleased to welcome author Albert E. James of Dalhousie University, Canada. James recently published an article in the Family Business Review entitled “Is It Better to Govern Managers via Agency or Stewardship? Examining Asymmetries by Family Versus Nonfamily Affiliation,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, James reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
The research is based upon the first author’s dissertation. It is the result of his effort to understand the many different behaviours and outcomes that he witnessed during his 20-year career working as a non-family employee for various family firms—particularly his desire to understand why and how some families’ businesses seem to be more successful than others. It is also the result of a PhD supervisor’s determination to see her student succeed as an academic and her willingness to let him follow his passion and research questions.
The most challenging aspect of this process has been finding the way to tell the story of the research project. What is published here is the result of many re-writes, iterations, and direction changes. It was challenging to adapt concepts and measures to the particularities of the family business field. And it was challenging to make full use of the reviewers’ and editor’s advice. All in all, though, the challenges were an opportunity for a new academic to learn many things about rigorous research and publishing. Without the patient work, extensive knowledge and leadership of the co-authors, none of the challenges would have been overcome.
One of the study’s most surprising findings is the high level of positive work outcomes exhibited by both the family and non-family managers in the sample. Sometimes family business managers—of either type—are portrayed with at least a hint of negativity. Those in our sample, however, tended to score highly on behaviours and attitudes that are normally considered beneficial to organizations (i.e., job performance, organizational identification and affective commitment). As for the anticipated impact of our research, we hope that it will become known for providing empirical evidence that challenges commonly held assumptions regarding the attitudes and behaviours exhibited by non-family versus family managers and the mechanisms by which each group should be governed.
The advice I would give new scholars is to be willing to re-work the story you wanted to tell to your chosen audience. No matter how interesting you believe your research to be, you have to be willing to find the right way to tell the story. You need to tell the story in a way that fits your audience’s conversations. It is not easy to let go of parts of your research that were highly motivational for you. As hard as it is upon a first read, don’t take the reviewer and editor comments personally. Instead, take your time with the comments, let your reactions cool, and then find the nuggets and gems within them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This research started off as a study of non-family manager turnover intentions and became a story of the governance mechanisms used in family businesses. It is important to keep your eye on your end goal. If you can’t tell the entire story this time around, tell what you can, save the rest, add what you learned from the current round, and mix it into your next project.