Family Communication and Innovativeness in Family Firms

By Sciascia, Salvatore; Clinton, Eric et al. | Family Relations, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Family Communication and Innovativeness in Family Firms


Sciascia, Salvatore, Clinton, Eric, Nason, Robert S., James, Albert E., Rivera-Algarin, Juan O., Family Relations


This conceptual article seeks to address the heterogeneity of family firms in terms of their innovativeness by investigating business family communication dynamics. We use the established family communication constructs of conversation and conformity orientations to develop a typology of family firms in terms of innovativeness. We provide empirically testable propositions and present possible operationalizations for future research. In particular, we argue that supportive business families (i.e., families characterized by high conversation orientation and moderate conformity orientation) are associated with the highest levels of innovativeness in the family-controlled firm. Through this article we hope to deepen our understanding of the relationship between family and firm levels of analysis, to develop a stronger bond between communication and innovative behavior, and to identify family-related antecedents of heterogeneity in family firm innovativeness.

Key Words: family communication, family firms, innovativeness.

Innovativeness reflects a firm's tendency to engage in and support new ideas, novelty, experimentation, and creative processes that may result in new products, services, or technological processes (Lumpkin & Dess, 1996). The study of innovativeness is a significant area of inquiry in family firm research (Stewart, Lumpkin, & Katz, 2010; Uhlaner, Kellermanns, Eddieston, & Hoy, 2012). By family firms we refer to companies in which a family (i.e., the "controlling family") possesses a significant ownership stake and in whose operations multiple family members are involved (Sirmon, Arregle, Hirt, & Webb, 2008).

Literature is polarized between studies claiming that family firms present a unique and favorable setting for innovativeness (Kellermanns, Eddieston, Barnett, & Pearson, 2008; Lumpkin, Brigham, & Moss, 2010; Rogoff & Heck, 2003) and others revealing that family firms are less likely to engage in innovation because of the overlap between owners and management (Block, 2012; Chrisman & Patel, 201 1; Munari, Orfani, & Sobrero, 2010; MunozBullon & Sánchez-Bueno, 2011). To further complicate the picture, research has shown that the level of innovativeness within firms may not remain constant and is likely to change over time (Zellweger & Sieger, 2012).

To untangle the factors causing variation in family firm innovativeness, we argue that family involvement in a firm does not necessarily positively or negatively influence innovating activity, but rather the nature of influence varies significantly depending on the characteristics of the family involved in the firm. In this conceptual article, we argue that family firms can be more or less innovative depending on the communication archetypes of the controlling family. We adopt a family communication perspective and specifically use the concepts of conversation and conformity orientation developed by Fitzpatrick and Ritchie (1994) as well as the typology of family communication archetypes developed by the same authors to explain the innovative behavior of firms in which the families are involved. We propose that the two family communication orientations affect innovativeness differently, thus determining variations in innovativeness among family firms.

We believe that our article has four valuable contributions to make to the literature. First, we offer a strong theoretical basis to differentiate within the family firm population in terms of innovativeness. One major criticism of family business scholarship is that family firms have been treated as a homogeneous population (Melin & Nordqvist, 2007). Many scholars implicitly acknowledge heterogeneity in family firms, but rarely study the phenomenon accordingly (Chrisman, Chua, & Sharma, 2003). We draw on two theoretical constructs from the family communication literature that we suggest helps to untangle differences in innovativeness between family firms: conversation and conformity orientations (Fitzpatrick & Ritchie, 1994). …

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