Thanks to Luke Simmering of the Legasus Group for this slightly tongue-in-cheek addition to the family enterprise consulting lexicon! See below for an introduction, explanation and some suggestions on how to use “fownergement” in your conversations with clients serving various roles across generations.
The complexity of family-owned businesses has been examined, dissected, and discussed in many ways. A major contributing factor to this complexity relates to the ambiguous role family owners can find themselves in. Specifically, if their role and/or identity falls across multiple classifications (i.e., family member, business owner, and leader in the business) some obstructive behaviors may ensue.
At Legasus Group, we refer to this as ‘Fownergement.’ This term is an easy way to describe an individual who is juggling the role of being a family owner in the business (fowner) who is also part of the management team (gement). Though slightly tongue in cheek, using this term seems to resonate with family owners and provides a helpful framework to discuss the complexities of serving in multiple capacities.
For a more functional definition and description we use the following:
Fownergement: (family, ownership, management)
The condition of undifferentiated role clarity as a family member, business owner and business manager within the family enterprise. This condition arises in the normal and progressive course of family business growth and evolution. The condition will move through stages of mild, moderate, to severe and will eventually impede the capacity of the family business to continue to flourish.
Moderate to acute symptoms of this condition MAY include the following:
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Sleep disturbance
- Decreased open and direct communication within the system
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Increased external locus of control, decreased internal locus of control
- Marriage and family relations become increasingly symptomatic
- Impaired decision making
- Increase in compulsive behaviors: alcohol, food, spending
- Prolonged stressor response
Evidence-based best practices for intervention:
- Individual and family coaching/counseling: regain emotional regulation, clarify boundaries, health and wellness practices
- Individual and family education: family and business systems learning, family and business governance learning and development, transition and change models, strategic thinking and planning processes, goal setting and decision making
Typical course and duration of fownergement conditions:
- Mild to moderate conditions of fownergement may manifest itself in subtle forms for many years, often as long as a generation within a family enterprise system.
Yes, the description framework above resembles language from a medical journal. However, it helps organize the precursors and potential outcomes of experiencing symptoms of fownergement. As with many things, the most important step to dealing with potential barriers to success is first gaining awareness. Providing a lexicon around this phenomenon helps family business owners realize that they may be caught in this limbo across multiple responsibilities. Though negativity seems to surround this new term (fownergement), once family owners gain an appreciation of these dynamics they can learn to navigate their various responsibilities in a more effective manner. This can ultimately become a competitive advantage for the business.
About the contributor
Luke Simmering is a family business advisor with Legasus Group LC in Wichita, KS. He brings knowledge and experience working with business leaders to unearth both individual and organizational capabilities. His previous Practitioner blog, “The Driving Force of Family Businesses,” can be read here. Luke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.