Over the last years, I have encountered many Family Businesses with conflict between generations, often between a father and his son or sons.
If I had to narrow the conflict down to one painful comment from each generation, it would sound like this:
Father: My son just doesn’t understand the business or isn’t good enough.
Son: Dad just can’t let go of the decision making or see what needs to change.
Why does the incumbent generation feel that their children are not ready or do not value what has been created and is therefore hesitant to hand over the reins?
And why does the next generation feel that they cannot get the parents to see what they can bring to the business? There is a theory that looks at the lack of a new life-plan for the parents to move towards and that is certainly one part of the problem.
However, another emotional block, which provides significant pain for a patriarch and founder, is the feeling that the next generation does not understand all the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations or the tears and triumphs that are embodied in the business and have provided the foundation of the business as it stands today.
Equally, it is difficult to expect the children to intimately understand the business history, why the past has been so important and what fundamental values are at the basis of the business culture and success, without regularly sharing in a structured way.
What makes these struggles so painful to watch is that realistically, all members of the family want the same – the best for the family and the business.
A key to helping Families to move beyond this divide is to acknowledge and celebrate where the business is today, create a platform built on this legacy for the entire Family to stand on and to start giving each generation and Family Member an equal voice.
One important foundation piece is to build a framework to Educate and Empower the Next Generation to allow them to be the best future leaders possible:
With all the Family Businesses I work with, we focus on providing a rounded education framework that provides knowledge in three areas:
1. Understanding their own Family Business, its history, where it is today and the vision for the future.
2. Personal development and growth plans for each individual Family Member to allow them understand their own values, vision and purpose.
3. Professional development aimed at improving general business knowledge, such as financial education, governance and strategy.
Of importance is that the Family Members grow and explore areas of required knowledge together and that they support each other in the learning and application of this knowledge.
Rather than letting the differences in experience and knowledge create a divide between generations, it is much better to acknowledge what each generation and family member brings to a conversation, be it about Family or Business matters.
The experience and legacy the incumbent generation brings is equally as important as the recognition for new ways and energy the next generation can provide.
Facilitated properly, these conversations will empower the next generation to feel that they can add value to the Family and Family Business, whilst also retaining the valuable legacy and knowledge provided by previous generations.
The incumbent generation’s role as mentors and patient guides in this process is a vital part of this process.
It breaks my heart to think that families cannot find a common ground for their future when they have such a strong history to build on and a wonderful opportunity ahead.
Starting the conversation to create positive change is always difficult, but that is why there are great Family Advisors, who can assist.
If your Family, or a Family in Business you know, is struggling with a similar intergenerational conflict, please share this article.