The unique challenge of introducing digital technology to family businesses

“No one wants to be the last generation of a family business,” says Professor Steve Kempster of Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).

It’s a statement that will speak straight to the heart of anyone at the helm of a family enterprise, especially those who, due to the pandemic, find themselves steering a generations-old business through a process of digital transformation.

“The pandemic has made clear that if we don’t shape the digitalisation of our businesses, it will shape us,” says Steve, who is professor of leadership, learning and development in LUMS, “and yet, how do you determine where technology can unlock potential within a business, and where it risks being a costly mistake?”

Steve has designed Evolve Digital, a fully-funded programme that supports the leaders of small, family enterprises to identify how new technologies can enhance their business. LUMS has been selected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK to deliver the programme, which is part of a national research study. The outcomes will inform UK government policy on the needs of small, family businesses.

Warrington Guardian:

Professor Kempster continues: “Change of any sort within a family business presents unique emotional and practical challenges, like ‘who has the power to make the final decision?’ and ‘is it riskier to make a change or stick with the status quo?’.  These are big issues and the repercussions of making the ‘wrong’ decision can feel overwhelming.”

The key to successfully implementing new technology, says Steve, is in leaders first knowing themselves and their business. He continues: “Evolve Digital is about first building leadership skills –courage, conviction and strength of character – in our participants and then supporting them to think strategically about their business objectives.

“This grounding in knowing themselves and their business provides a solid foundation for assessing new digital technologies – or indeed any future change – gaining buy in and leading implementation.

“It leaves business leaders with the confidence and the practical tools to future-proof their businesses and drive the change that will deliver competitive advantage.”

Warrington Guardian:

Evolve Digital is open to all small family-run SMEs in the North West who employ between two and 50 people. Places are fully-funded by BEIS.

There are new cohorts starting on February 10, 2021 and at the end of April. The sessions will be delivered online over three months, for around 15 hours per month.

For more information, eligibility criteria, and to register interest in joining the programme, go to