A brief review of “Intentions in the Family Business: the Role of Family Norms” by Malin Brännback and Alan L. Carsrud.

The study says that despite its increasing importance, intentions in family business are largely un-researched. The intentions of family members to enter, not to enter or even exit the family business, as well as the intentions of the founders on the succession have not been completely understood, so far.

The model applied by the majority of researchers is the so called Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) although some other study prefer to relay on the Theory of Trying (TOT). In doing so, they argue that TPB only applies to volitional behavior, while TOT "allows for the inclusion of unforeseen events in the process, such as illness or death".

Brännback and Carsrud state two main reasons why the Theory of Trying should be more suitable to this kind of studies. First of all they say that "succession in a family business appears by far more nonvolitional", secondly they point out that intentions in a family business are far more complex than those of a simple business venture.

Moreover, they propose the concept of "Family norms", a narrower concept in respect to "social norms", which they suggest should be studied by means of empirical observation.


Rick is the eldest son of a family that owns a successful agricultural business. The business has been in the family for five generations and it is run at present by Rick's mother, Elisabeth. Rick's parents have six children, three males and three females. Rick and his sister Jill are the only two involved in the family business, but while Jill loves working there, Rick doesn't. He'd rather prefer to start a business in the music field, his true passion. When Rick's father becomes very ill, Elisabeth asks his eldest son to take over her duty in the firm and she wants Jill to move out with her, her husband and the younger siblings in order to help out.

  • It's time to take important decisions in this family.
  • Rick has never given up the idea of running a music business, but everyone in his community thinks that he should carry on the family business,
  • Jill wants to run herself the family business.
  • Elisabeth expects Rick to run the business and Jill to become a second mother for her younger siblings.

The TPB assumes that an intention is volitional which means that there is no obstacle between intention and action.
In Theory of Trying, intentions are non-volitional, meaning that something can get in the way between intention and action, such as conflict, for example, as in the mini case above.

"Intentionality studies represent a research approach for predicting various behaviors". While it is difficult, predicting human behavior is a primary interest for many researchers. Family firms present a context where understanding intentions is crucial, especially regarding the succession process. The basic model  (Entrepreneurial Intentions Model) combines social norms as well as some individual centered factors as shown in the schematic below.

To the basic model, Brännback and Carsrud added family norms which potentially interact with any and every other part of the model itself. The authors suggest that within the context of family business social norms and family norms are distinct concepts. 

The authors say that a research to understand intentions and decisions making process in the family is needed. This research should involve both social and family norms, as well as self-efficacy (i.e. one's sense of competence) in order to explain how intentions get inacted.

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