Is Social Responsibility the Family Business Roundtable?

Once a leading criminal defence lawyer; Shawn Askinosie is now an award-winning chocolatier, who runs Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri. In something of a conversion, not unlike cocoa to its agreeable upshot that we love so much; what started his success story? The short article below highlights his valuable insights about social responsibility in the context of family business.
– David Harland – Managing Director

Social Responsibility Starts with Personal Values

He says, “If I were to treat cocoa farmers like business partners—with fairness, dignity, and respect, while making sure they receive their fair share of the income—I’d be one of the only people doing that, too.” This led to some creative R&D – from home kitchen cooking, to his wife Carol helping him conduct “taste testing parties”, to meeting and working with farmers and communities from four continents, with his daughter and son-in-law, to develop his unique supply chain.

Paul Klein, in his article for Forbes, says of Askinosie, that he “put social change at the heart of the company”, and that his “personal purpose is interwoven with his company’s social purpose.” He then makes the following observations:

  • The social purpose of a business should embody the purpose of its leadership and its leadership should embody the social purpose of the business.
  • The social purpose of a business is based on the belief that social change is good for business and business is good for social change.

Why Value, Values and Communication?

Two separate studies on multi-generational family businesses concluded:

What distinguished successful family businesses, according to research by PwC in their 2018 Global Family Business Survey, was that they took the time to communicate and educate and remind themselves, and the next generation, early and often about the value of values.

The key finding of KPMG’s recent survey, “was that good communication, and even healthy conflict, between family members is vital to boost the sustainability of the business and wellbeing of the family.”

It’s clear that both the value and communication systems of family businesses are integral to their success and longevity, and a central purpose of the leadership is to uphold these.

Social Responsibility Promotes Value-Based Communication

Social responsibility reflects how a business values society and its actions speak to its purpose in aiding it.

In PwC’s survey their research showed family businesses that made their values and purpose explicit and measurable, and incorporated them into their strategic plans, saw better returns and greater longevity.

The message of social responsibility requires authenticity, and for that there needs to be consistency between the leadership and the businesses values.

This reinforces the need for the family business leadership to discuss and revisit its value system.

Principles for Family Leadership Discussions

  1. The number one source of conflict in family business, between the younger and older generation, per KPMG, was the “difference in style of communication”.
    Advice to overcome this:
    • Do not be afraid of conflict (as it can lead to better outcomes)
    • Acknowledge each other’s different communication styles, then
    • Move onto healthy debate
  2. Proper communication requires:
    • Talking regularly
    • Listening to each other, and
    • Bringing issues into the open.
  3. Where families in business openly discussed information, they were better equipped to:
    • identify potential successors
    • promote their development, and
    • address difficult issues as they arose.

As you face the subject of social responsibility, consider how valuable this opportunity may be, to start that conversation within your family business, that can find commonality of purpose and values, and bridge any gaps in your family team.

After all, to quote our master chocolate maker, the purpose of social responsibility is “to build relationships of mutual understanding and appreciation, which makes our chocolate better and our business better”.