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The Sense of Belonging - What We Can Learn from Family Businesses

Being proud to work for a company, feeling useful, part of a cohesive group, being loyal; these are the values that many companies expect from their employees. It's up to managers and HR to ensure they don't make a misstep in their motivation strategies. Could the sense of belonging to one's company be a motivating factor for managers lacking inspiration? The answer might lie in what family businesses have unique in their governance.

In Europe, there are approximately 700 large family businesses operating in economic landscapes as diverse as the professions themselves; such as the automotive industry (Porsche), hospitality (Oetker Collection), or even leather goods (Goyard, Hermès...), and more. In France, 83% of SMEs and mid-sized enterprises are family-owned, and 40% of large companies fall into the same category. To name just a few; Bonduelle, ERAM, Cristal d'Arques, Bénéteau, Andros, Pasquier, CEMOI, Burma, Goyard...

The enduring success of these companies stems from their long-term strategies, efficient intergenerational dialogue, sound governance, and prudent management. Let's not forget that family heritage and company finances are often intertwined. Involvement is crucial because the company's success depends on the investment of family members. However, 85% of managers are recruited from outside the family, allowing for the acquisition or development of skills, maintaining professionalism without losing family control. Family = belonging = responsibility.

What I gather is that including individuals in the process of long-term "local" strategy deliberations, allowing their opinions to be heard and discussed, enhances their value. Especially within a highly hierarchical structure, appealing to each person's ego and the sense of pride (which means a legitimate sense of self-satisfaction) nurtures this sentiment. Thus, in line with recognizing well-done work and taken responsibility, a sense of pride is echoed, as one's labor has resulted in a valued outcome. This sets the foundation for belonging.

Whether in small commercial entities or large corporations, from maintenance staff to executives, the sense of belonging is the glue that fosters employee loyalty and goodwill.

The history of the industry provides a major example of the sense of belonging: Michelin. A highly paternalistic company from the early 20th century to the 1980s, Michelin aimed to foster a sense of common interest between employers and employees. This led to the creation of a medical center, a food cooperative, a workers' city, and more, so that each person could be free from external constraints and increase productivity. Many employees speak highly of the company, satisfied with their progress and fulfilling careers.

This sense of belonging is strong, enduring, shown through involvement in the company's success, high productivity, and genuine pride. While this corporate social model might seem outdated, a trip across the Atlantic to a well-known company like Google reveals otherwise. Thinking about employee well-being is thinking about success at Google. Similar to Michelin's initial ethos, Google strives to ensure each employee is comfortable in their workplace (childcare, restaurants, relaxation areas, etc.).

I'm not describing an ideal scheme, as Michelin's policies couldn't completely prevent significant social movements. The aim is not to extol large companies with the means for extensive social contemplation, but to extract the essence of their intentions and intrinsic values. So, what we can gather is that the sense of belonging is a proven driver, as demonstrated by many family businesses. From this sentiment arise strong companies with enduring employee commitment. It's a reminder that every manager should strive to be the connection between employees and the company.


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