The British comic Vic Reeves once said that 88.2% of all statistics are made up. Generally, scepticism about stats is healthy, but not always. For example, a survey of HR professionals published in a recent book* found that 97% of recruiters said that having the right “mindset” is more important than having the right skills. Such near-consensus demands that you take notice. And it’s fantastic news for family businesses.
Mindset is an ugly, slippery bit of jargon that really means no more than “attitude” or “outlook”. Having the right mindset must mean something like understanding an organisation and working in a way that means you fit in. Businesses with strong cultures – as many family businesses have – might well feel that they want to hire people who share their attitude, outlook or mindset so the successful culture is reinforced and perpetuated.
That makes sense, although there are some problems with the theory. It’s generally accepted that diversity is a good thing, and recruiting people with the same mindset will create homogeneity and groupthink. Having a strong mindset could make someone resistant to cultural change. In a happy camp that might protect a successful culture, but in a troubled firm it might equally perpetuate problems. Recruiting in your own image is a widespread problem, and the idea that hiring those who share your outlook is positive might well help people rationalise it.
However, assuming that in some form mindset is as valuable as 97% of recruiters believe it is, then family businesses potentially have an incredible resource: family members – who have often absorbed the ethos that made the business so successful. Even if older family members might not recognise it, they have an astonishing latent quality that makes them superb assets.
I’m reminded of my days teaching English overseas: the most valuable asset you had was being a native English speaker, something that you didn’t have to learn. It was just there. It’s the same with younger family members and mindset: they just instinctively get the business in a way that outsiders can’t. It’s easy to overlook these innate advantages.
Family members, whether in a management or shareholder role, are therefore gold dust. Parents, of course, don’t always see it that way and are sometimes liable to wonder whether their children have the skills or experience to play a role the family business. They might not – yet – but it seems that they perhaps have something more valuable, although less visible, and which can’t be synthesised by the best MBA course in the world.
That’s not to say that they can be plonked in the chief executive’s chair with no training. Obviously they still need to learn skills (just as the English teacher has to learn how to plan and deliver a lesson), but once they have, then the combination of their mindset and their education should make the next generation into an extraordinary bunch of potential hires, with vital qualities that can’t be found anywhere else. Parents: appreciate your children. Recruiters would give their eye teeth for candidates like them.