Fortunately, most family businesses do look for input from nonfamily employees, says Tom Kaplan, assistant professor of entrepreneurial studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. Small and midsized family firms typically do it informally. Nonfamily employees working side by side with family managers talk about their concerns throughout the day or over lunch. "The exchanges aren't planned, but they work," says Kaplan, "and over time, people feel comfortable talking about the little things and getting them straightened out before they become big issues."
Given the nature of their business, the Mosers of Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers in Auburn, Maine, have to listen especially carefully to employee comments, suggestions and criticism. "We handcraft furniture, and each person working on a piece has to have a high level of pride in workmanship and in the company," says David Moser, son of the founder, Thomas, and head of designs for the company. "Morale is incredibly important to us, and we're on the pulse of it all the time."
Although no formal system is in place other than the weekly operational meeting of senior managers and supervisors, "our 167 employees know it's incumbent upon them to come forward with criticisms and suggestions," Moser says. One of the ways the company reinforces that tacit policy is by giving recognition in the form of kudos, gift certificates and bonuses to people whose suggestions are implemented or whose critical observations lead to positive change.