The best way to avoid potential inter family conflict is to get the next generation engaged in family business discussions at an early age. Most of the families I talk to are concerned about making sure the next gen understands and appreciates the values and work ethic it has taken to make the family business successful. When the family can start talking about that at an early age it starts to set the right path for making good choices about involvement in the family business.
What NOT TO DO: Too often families come to us when one of the next gen drops out of college and suddenly decides the family business looks like a good avenue for employment. The problem is if you’ve never discussed what is required in terms of education and preparation to join the business (i.e. employment policy), you are set up to surprise and disappoint the family member not to mention cause stress in the whole family system.
Once kids reach junior and senior year in high school everything gets moving fast in terms of college choices and applications. It’s hard to carve out the time to start talking about the family business, yet they are about to start making choices about their career path.
What to DO: Successful families use a variety of ways to engage the next generation. Examples of ways to get them learning are summer internships, family meetings or informal mentoring relationships with Aunts and Uncles.
Kids nowadays have too many things pulling at their attention. They have endless choices of entertainment and distraction. Many of these might not be focusing them on the things that will bring them long term happiness and success. It’s incumbent on the current leading generation to create ways to engage them in meaningful dialogue about their future. This happens through a consistent and well mapped out program of interaction and education. The programs have to be interesting and multifaceted to capture and keep their attention.
When the family starts engaging the next gen in a thoughtful and planned way they can lay out concepts like:
- Working outside the family business before joining the firm
- Making career choices that are aligned with inherent skills and passions
- Distinguishing the difference between being a role player and leader in the business
- Understanding how to be a strong professional in any career you choose
- Making it ok to choose a career outside the family business
What NOT TO DO: Families walk a dangerous tight rope deciding when and how to get the dialogue started. Too often they do nothing because they are afraid they aren’t going to do it right. Many times siblings and their spouses can’t reach consensus about how and when to engage the kids.
What to DO: Smart families realize the value of learning from others and not trying to reinvent the wheel. Find out what has worked with other families – consider getting a facilitator to be the voice to neutralize the big personality at the table and help the family find a balanced and fair approach.
The next generation is perhaps the most important resource the family business needs for long term success. Don’t be passive and don’t wait too long get a plan of action. Summer schedules fill up quickly – get a date on the calendar and plan an event for this summer to get everyone engaged in the dialogue. You can do this!!