In this edition of faculty spotlight Dr. Anthony Klotz, Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at Oregon State University, shares his insights growing up in a family business, and how his experience informs his research and teaching at OSU.
Can you share a little about your personal experience with family business?
Sure, I grew up immersed in my family’s business – a company that now centers around petroleum distribution and a chain of truck stops based in Omaha, Nebraska. I am third generation, the company was started by my grandfather and his three brothers. When I was growing up, we had a large truck dealership, and I spent most of my time in that business. We sold the dealerships when I was in high school, but the rest of the business continues to perform well. My dad is one of the presidents of the company, and speak with him weekly about the company, so I still feel very involved, albeit in more of an informal consulting capacity.
After college and spending five years working for General Mills as a manager in their manufacturing plants, I returned to Omaha and joined an existing family business run by my best friend, whose dad has started the business but recently passed away. It was in the auto collision repair industry, and my friend and his brothers wanted to continue to work IN the business, and I was brought on board to work ON the business and expand it, which we did. Of course, it is a totally different experience being an outsider in a family business than a family member, and I’m glad that I have been able to experience both sides of it.
What research are you currently working on?
One of my main streams of research seeks to understand the negative consequences of pushing employees to go above and beyond the call of duty. Because, as humans, we have a tendency to balance out our good deeds with subsequent bad behavior, such as laziness, I try to figure out how managers can motivate employees to be good soldiers while avoiding the downsides of doing so.
I am also interested in team conflict, which is a tricky subject because teams that are able to engage in conflict tend to perform better, UNLESS they let it go too far, and then it is quite destructive. So, I continue to work on understanding the conditions under which conflict helps team performance as opposed to harming it.
Finally, I am also working on some projects that are more related to HR Management. Specifically, I study the resignation process – what happens after employees have decided to quit, but before they’ve walked out the door for the final time. My research suggests that employees resign in seven distinct ways, but I am still working on understanding how managers should respond when employees resign (e.g., let them work through their notice period versus paying them out and letting them go immediately) and whether or not exit interviews yield any useful information (many employees do not tell the truth as to why they are quitting).
Are there insights from your research that you think might be of interest to family business owners or family members?
Sure, and I’ll keep them related to the three research areas I mentioned above. First, when it comes to motivating your employees to go the extra mile, try to match what you ask them to do with their intrinsic interests. For example, if, once you get to know an employee, you find out that she is a night owl and doesn’t mind responding to emails in the evening, you can lean on her for those sorts of demands instead of an employee who would rather forget about work as soon as he clocks out. Also, never forget to provide a bit of sincere gratitude to employees after they’ve gone above and beyond – it will help mitigate any feelings they have that they are entitled to a bit of slacking off later.
When it comes to team conflict (or family conflict), learn the difference between relationship conflict and task conflict. If two family members are arguing about the best way to get the job done, that’s task conflict, and as long as they are being respectful about it, that type of conflict should lead to higher performance. However, if the conflict has a relational component, and you sense that there is some animosity or personal insults involved, shut it down right away. Although reality TV glamorizes relationship conflict in family businesses, it is quite harmful.
Finally, when an employee turns in his or her resignation, realize that he or she may not be comfortable telling you the real reason that he or she is quitting. If you want to make sure the turnover does not spread to his or her coworkers, instead of just interviewing the departing employee, talk to that person’s coworkers, subordinates, and manager, and get a 360-degree perspective on how that group is functioning. You may find out the real reason that the departing employee is leaving, and you will hopefully be able to make adjustments to make sure no one else jumps ship.
What advice would you give to a college student who is contemplating a return to the family business after graduation?
Oh boy this is a tough one. This is what I tell all of my students, and I believe it is particularly true in family businesses. It’s not about the salary, the promotions, or any fancy benefits. Whether or not you will be happy and fulfilled by your work largely depends on (1) whether or not you intrinsically enjoy the job itself, (2) whether or not you have a supervisor who respects you, and (3) whether or not you like your coworkers and feel that they are dedicated to doing a good job. In a family business, all three of these things are amplified – you may have worked in the business since you were young, your boss may be a relative, and your coworkers may view you as “the boss’s kid” and so it can be tough to connect with them. However, the closest relationships I’ve seen between managers and employees, and between coworkers, have been in family businesses. In sum, when students ask me about working for a big company versus working for their family, I tell them to think about these three things, and pay less attention to the frills – vacation time, promotions, pay, etc.
Dr. Anthony C. Klotz is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at Oregon State University where he teaches classes in Organizational Behavior, HR Management, and Leadership at the undergraduate, MBA, and Ph.D. levels. Anthony received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the University of Oklahoma in May 2013.
His primary research involves studying how and why employees balance their good deeds and bad deeds at work, investigating the different ways that employees resign and the causes and effects of different resignation styles, and exploring the conditions under which team conflict benefits team performance. His research has been published in the Academy of Management Review, the Academy of Management Journal, the Journal of Applied Psychology, the Journal of Management, and the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Anthony's research has also been featured in the Harvard Business Review.