Assessing Espoused Goals in Private Family Firms Using Content Analysis

Aaron F. McKenny, Jeremy C. Short, Miles A. Zachary and G. Tyge Payne published “Assessing Espoused Goals in Private Family Firms Using Content Analysis” on September 9th, 2011 in Family Business Review. Mr. McKenny kindly provided the following responses to the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

Our article provides a research method with which researchers can assess the importance of espoused goals in private family businesses using content analysis. So the primary target of this article is the family business research community. Nevertheless, the process outlined in this article might also be adapted for use by a family business consultant in preparing to start an engagement with a family business with whom they have not worked before.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

Our author team is composed of scholars interested in strategy, entrepreneurship, and family business research. Further, this team has been working with content analysis recently. When we heard that a special issue was being published about assessing the performance of private family firms, it seemed like a great opportunity to leverage our interests and experience with content analysis. In thinking about the issue, it just clicked that we could use content analysis to identify the goals of private family firms instead of sending out surveys to find out what the salient goals are, then send out a second survey to assess their current performance against those goals.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Since this was a primarily research method-oriented piece, we wouldn’t characterize the findings of our illustrative example as surprising. However, we certainly thought the results from our example were interesting. The family business literature has long understood that family businesses pursue economic/utilitarian and non-economic/normative goals, and our study showed that in a sample of private family businesses. However, we also identified that most of the companies either placed more emphasis on one type or another or conveyed relatively few goals. Few firms emphasized both economic/utilitarian and non-economic/normative goals as equally salient. Certainly, more research needs to be conducted to replicate these findings, and if they hold, to find out why this is the case; whether it’s a function of cognitive capacity, a result of goal/identity conflict between the two types of goals, or perhaps something idiosyncratic to family business (as distinct from other dual-identity organizations such as social ventures).

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Family business research has asserted that family businesses a) have both economic/utilitarian and non-economic goals, b) pursue both at the same time, and c) may change their goals over time.  As researchers looking at family businesses, this presents a challenge in terms of collecting performance data, in that collecting just financial indicators of performance may not paint the entire picture of family business performance. However, survey response rates in the organizational studies tend to be low to begin with, so to survey a sample of family businesses to identify what the dominant goals of that sample are at the time, then proceed to send a second survey to measure the sampled firms’ performance on the salient goals may be problematic.  As such, we see our content analytic process eliminating the need to interact directly with the family firms to identify the salient espoused goals in the sample, which may lead to a larger usable sample size with which to actually test hypotheses.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

As we mentioned above, our author team has been doing research at the intersection of family business and strategy, and has been using content analysis over the past few years. This paper is a natural extension of each of these areas.

How did your paper change during the review process?

We were fortunate to have several rounds of thoughtful feedback from a number of reviewers. Last October we presented our initial draft of the paper at the Family Business Review special issue conference hosted at Concordia University, where other scholars, Gary Johns (our discussant), and the special issue editors offered insight into how to better frame and position our paper. After the conference we had three reviewers and worked with Pramodita Sharma in several areas including expanding our contribution and making our existing contributions more explicit and clear. Thus, while the main thrust of our paper has not changed dramatically during the review process, we do feel that our paper has grown in its impact to the family business literature markedly.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

Given the scope of the special issue, we are pretty happy with the paper as-is; however, one reviewer highlighted that it would be interesting to compare the espoused goals of publicly-traded family businesses to those of privately-held family businesses. We agree, and believe that the process outlined in this paper could be employed to conduct such a study.

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