Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Family Business, Identity Conflict, and an Expedited Entrepreneurial Process: A Process of Resolving Identity Conflict

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Family Business, Identity Conflict, and an Expedited Entrepreneurial Process: A Process of Resolving Identity Conflict

Article excerpt

Drawing on Identity Control Theory (ICT) and the literature on social identity, we offer a model of the dynamics associated with competing family and business identities brought into conflict by "family-business" events. We introduce the notion of the family-business role as a distinct identity functioning at the intersection of family and business identities. This meta-level identity "manages" conflict between the family and the business identities, and is formulated and transformed within the family structure. To illustrate the dynamics of the family-business meta-identity, in this article we focus on entrepreneurial opportunities as potentially identity conflict-triggering events and illustrate how and with what impact the meta-identity works to resolve identity conflict at the intersection of family and business so as to expedite the entrepreneurial process. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our model.

"Other things may change us, but we start and end with family."

--Anthony Brandt


"The family business is a business governed and/or managed with the intention to shape and pursue the vision of the business held by a dominant coalition controlled by members of the same family or a small number of families in a manner that is potentially sustainable across generations of the family or families" (Chua, Chrisman, & Sharma, 1999). Although there is some debate over the precise definition of a family business, most revolve around the kinship of family members owning and running a venture (Heck & Trent, 1999; Rogoff & Heck, 2003; Wortman, 1994). Indeed, it is the intersection between family members, the family, and the business that is believed to represent the unique set of features that explain performance differences between family and nonfamily businesses (Habbershon, Williams, & MacMillan, 2003). This intersection also represents a source of conflict within the family and within the business (Daily & Dollinger, 1993; Harvey & Evans, 1994; Kellermanns & Eddleston, 2004). Conflict within the family may arise as a result of business issues such as disagreements over growth targets, succession, product offerings, or even from seemingly mundane issues like hours of operation. Conflict within the business may also be driven by family issues such as time spent away from the home, marital differences, or inattention to important family events. In either case, the origins of these conflicts are often the direct result of the close and repeated interaction between family members, the family, and the business.

Central to understanding the implications of role conflict on family business is understanding the behavioral expectations associated with the identity of family member and also of business owner. (1) Identity can be defined as an internalized set of behavioral expectations associated with a particular role, where a role represents a social category such as parent, teacher, or entrepreneur (Cantor & Mischel, 1979; Stryker, 1968). In this regard, family business represents a situation where the boundaries between those competing identities blur and are often ill-defined (Danes & Olson, 2003). Importantly, the behavioral expectations associated with each role--when considered independently from each other (family and business owner)--are defined by cues from the broader social context; that is, the social context sets an "identity standard" as to the behaviors appropriate for these distinct identities (Burke, 2003). While these socially ascribed standards may not be shared universally (and certainly may vary across cultures [Austers, 2002; Choi, Nisbett, & Smith, 1997]), social categories provide a comparator for behaviors and actions appropriate to a given identity. Identity conflict results when one internalizes a specific identity (i.e., family, business owner, etc.) and subsequently acts in a way inconsistent with the expectations for that role. …

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