An image theory of strategic decision-making in family businesses


Purpose: Research suggests family businesses often pursue risky or aggressive strategies despite the desire to preserve socioemotional wealth (SEW), which is thought to lead to conservativism in family firm strategic decision making. The purpose of this paper is to resolve this apparent contradiction by presenting a model that describes the screening criteria used by family business decision-makers when evaluating strategic opportunities. Design/methodology/approach: The conceptual model relies on insights derived from image theory to resolve apparent contradictions inherent in the SEW perspective’s implications for family firms’ risky strategic decisions. Findings: The proposed model suggests new strategic opportunities in family firms are evaluated through an unconscious, schema-driven decision process and that the preservation of SEW does not preclude risky strategic directions, but instead serves as an unconscious screening criteria for strategic opportunities. Originality/value: This paper contributes to the literature by expanding the understanding of family-firm strategic decision-making to include considerations of the decision’s fit with the family’s principles, goals and strategic plan rather than solely to overall risk to SEW. Thus, the paper presents a detailed model of family-firm strategic decision-making that relies on insights from image theory.

Publication Title

Journal of Family Business Management