New survey research lays the framework for a new Stewardship Climate Scale that, in one of its first applications, reveals that stewardship is more likely (and more potent) in family firms than in non-family firms.
Stewardship describes the deeply felt commitment of managers and employees to the success of the company above their own individual interests. A stewardship climate is one in which stewardship is modeled and rewarded by leaders and shared by employees in the company.
Past research has identified six dimensions of stewardship.
Building on these six dimensions, a team of researchers developed and tested a Stewardship Climate Scale based on these six dimensions. After beginning with 81 measurement items that could describe the six dimensions, the researchers winnowed down the list to three items for each of the dimensions — a total of 18 items.
For example, to measure organizational identification, the Stewardship Climate Scale would ask respondents, “To what extent do the following statements reflect the beliefs of the employees of your company?
The team then tested their new scale through surveys from more than 600 respondents in more than 200 companies in the U.S. and Australia. The respondents for each company included one leader and 2-3 lower-level employees or managers. Using statistical analyses software packages, the surveys confirmed the strength of six dimensions in companies with a high stewardship climate. In other words, a stewardship climate model based on these six dimensions fit the data. Furthermore, when separating the respondent companies into family and nonfamily firms, the survey confirmed that family firms were more likely to have a stewardship climate than nonfamily firms. All of these results were confirmed through the same survey collected from 373 employees in 133 Australian companies.
The team then focused its analyses on the relationships between three factors: stewardship climate (as defined by the Stewardship Climate Scale), innovativeness (using a 6-item measurement instrument) and business performance (as defined by a variety of performance indications, including return on sales, return on assets and market share growth).
The analysis revealed that:
In short, stewardship climate is 1) more likely to exist in family firms, and 2) more likely to improve the business performance of family firms than nonfamily firms, although through the median of innovativeness.
This example proves that by offering concrete metrics, the Stewardship Climate Scale is a valuable tool for future researchers who wish to study the many potential factors related to stewardship.
As noted above, academic researchers will be able to use the Stewardship Climate Scale as a tool to research various relationships among potential or confirmed stewardship-related factors.
For business owners and executives — whether in family firms or nonfamily firms — the confirmation of the six dimensions as indicators of stewardship offers a rigorous framework for:
For example, organizational leaders may not realize the impact of high power distance on employee motivation or firm innovation. Family members may assume that they are entitled to make all of the important decisions or monopolize the important tasks. The Stewardship Climate Scale measurement items related to power distance are revealing. If a survey team asked your employees the following three questions, how would they respond?
If your employees are likely to respond affirmatively to these statements, you may have discovered one of the underlying reasons for your firm’s lack of innovation.
And this is just one measure.
Stewardship Climate Scale: An Assessment of Reliability and Validity. Donald O. Neubaum, Christopher H. Thomas, Clay Dibrell & Justin B. Craig. Family Business Review (January 2017).
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