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Originally published: 01.01.17 by Deb Houden, Ph.D
The universal truth is the next generation always surpasses the preceding one. That is the nature of evolution. It is the responsibility of each generation to prepare the next to exceed them. In enterprising families, there are many facets to preparation: leadership, ownership, independence and stewardship. Skill development starts early with a very young child and continues on.
Continuity in the family business is dependent upon the next generation. Because there are many facets to that continuity, the best place to start is with education.
Preparation with the next generation should start early. The biggest impact in preparation for the next generation is development of a positive attitude. The way that employment, ownership, interpersonal interaction and self-sufficiency are talked about in the family home sets up an underlying attitude that can be sustainable during the next generation’s lifetime.
If employment is discussed at home as an opportunity for self fulfilment, problems to solve, goals to achieve, relationships to enjoy and responsibilities to honor, then children look forward to employment in any business. On the other hand, if employment in the family enterprise is discussed as a stressful, boring and stagnant duty with relationships with relatives
As children grow through their teenage and young adult years, more tangible introductions to employment can be made. Often times, children of entrepreneurs have an intimate knowledge of the family enterprise as they grow up. They spend time there playing or exploring while accompanying their parents on the weekend.
In later generations (especially generation three and later), the opportunity for teenage exposure to the business dwindles. The limited contact with the business may hinder the knowledge and perceived opportunity for that child. The innate understanding of exactly how the company is run or how products or services are rendered does not develop in the same way it does when children are around the business more often. Therefore, more explicit structures for exposing children to the business may be needed.
Some potential ways for children to become involved with the family enterprise are after-school and summertime employment in appropriate areas. Employment education should include:
Introducing ownership at an adolescent stage is as easy as inclusion in the family meetings. Family meetings are an opportunity for education and learned responsibility of the family enterprise. Parents can develop a culture of ownership by carving out time to create, attend and participate in their own family meetings.
To increase interest and participation, invite the teenagers to develop a part of the agenda. Their involvement underscores the importance the family places on each individual’s involvement in the family business.
Finally, storytelling at family meetings by older senior generation members is a good way to capture the attention and educate younger members. Stories of the early days, of mistakes made and small triumphs achieved, help younger members understand that nothing was ever perfect, that sometimes there were failures, but the family endured.
Those stories create a sense of hope and wonderment. The family with the young cousin also had a session where each senior member shared their worst mistake made early in their career with the whole family. The senior generation enjoyed laughing at and sharing their past mistakes, and the youngest member was inspired that those elders, whom he held in such esteem, were once as green as him. This particular family modeled a culture of attendance, involvement flexibility and inclusion — the exact skills needed for effective ownership. The youngest cousin, now college aged, is present at each meeting.
If teens and young adults can develop a healthy attitude of opportunity in the family business, many of the other preparation steps fall into place. When introducing employment and ownership, including the teens in the operations of the business builds knowledge of the company and pride in involvement. Family meeting attendance and engagement help develop a commitment to being an effective owner. Preparing the next generation takes time and energy, but the rewards are immeasurable — both for the family and the enterprise.
Deb Houden, Ph.D is a consultant with The Family Business Consulting Group, Inc., a leading management consulting firm serving the unique needs of multi-generational family businesses worldwide. Learn more at thefbcg.com.
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