Are Business Families Receptive to Learning?


For some families, adopting a strategic learning path could mean the difference between business continuity and generational friction.

Canadians are a highly educated bunch. About 62% of 25 to 34-year-olds hold a tertiary qualification compared with 44% on average across OECD countries.

When we look at learning within Canadian family enterprises, which generate almost half of Canada’s private-sector GDP, the picture tells a different story.

That portrait is drawn from 206 family enterprises that have taken part in Family Enterprise Foundation’s Family Learning Discovery – Phase 1, a tool that helps business families to identify their strengths and weaknesses and sets them on a family learning path.

The stats are fascinating because they offer a glimpse into the attitudes of entrepreneurial families towards family learning.

Arguably, the most remarkable finding is that 25.2% of respondents believe their families’ attitudes towards learning “should change now” because they need to stay competitive.

Crack open a book? 

And yet 26.2% of respondents state that their families encourage learning though it’s “not a central pillar” to their business strategy. Why?

It might come down to the fact that almost one in three respondents have no learning champions in their family enterprise.

There are bright spots when it comes to family learning. As for respondents in business clans that embrace family learning, a robust 41.3% consider their families to be “eager” or “moderately interested” in a family approach to gaining new knowledge.

Yet there are cohorts seen to be reluctant when it comes to family learning. Some 22.3% of the senior generation is hesitant, respondents believe.

Almost two-thirds of families dedicate funds towards learning

Regardless, a major portion of respondents are prepared to pay their way to success. Almost two-thirds of entrepreneurial families dedicate funds towards family learning, with close to three in four participating in business learning programs and events at least once a year.

Encouragingly, few families (26.2%) state that they never partake in learning programs.

Spend to learn or learn to spend?

In terms of business families that dedicate funds towards learning programs, a significant segment of respondents set healthy budgets. About 8% set aside a high amount of annual funds while 28.2% of families allocate a moderate amount of capital.

So just how beneficial is it for entrepreneurial families to embark upon learning paths? Organizational psychology consultant Isabelle Tremblay notes that enterprises that define themselves as “learning organizations” not only acquire, generate and create new knowledge, they can integrate that knowledge to adapt to the environment.

In our shape-shifting economy, a nimble enterprise is akin to gold dust. New knowledge is new power, Tremblay says. “You never know when the next snippet of information is going to lead you to the big change and a greater impact in your organization.”

Know it all?

Surprisingly 25.7% of FLD respondents believe the “learning component” to their family’s strategic plan is “non-existent.” Worse, 24.3% agree that a strategic plan learning component is “urgently needed.”

The glimmer of hope? Roughly 10% of respondents report that the learning component to their strategic plan is well documented and funded. Put another way, one in ten business families are on a learning path, know why they’re on it, and are prepared to pay to stay on it.

This dovetails with the frequency of respondents’ monthly gatherings for group learning: Some 15% of those surveyed state that their families learn together “often” or “always” each month.

As for the others? The respected Ivan Lansberg of the Kellogg School of Management warns against complacency in learning, especially when it comes to very successful families.

The problem, he says, is that many end up believing that they themselves, and they alone, have the answers to their own future because they have been able to demonstrate that they can do a lot of things. “So, who is going to teach me anything?” Lansberg asks rhetorically.

Perhaps the answer is each other. Is your family on a learning path?

Start your learning journey today with the Family Learning Discovery tool. 

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