Questions about the future are intrinsic to families in business, running a foundation, or in a transition stage.
Specifically, younger generations appreciate the opportunities open to them but are plagued with intense questions about their future. There is an element of powerlessness in their role.
The desire exists to honor and respect their parents – or the founders’ generation – combined with a gnawing feeling that they cannot incorporate their dreams and goals into this complex relationship of a family enterprise.
Another crucial element is optimizing decisions about the future regardless of the family enterprise. Some younger generation members choose a different path from employment in the family business. Others are excluded from participation due to legal requirements controlling employment and/or ownership. Still others face family requirements for employment in the business that the family member chooses not to follow.
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A hallmark of a successful family enterprise system is how the family treats family members not involved in the family business or foundation. The goal is to prevent turf battles from emerging because family members view their future only as permanently connected to the family business or foundation.
The time-honored concept of honoring senior generations is paramount in the context of families balancing business, foundation and wealth transition. Ignoring the stability offered by honoring the senior generation results in distrust, lack of communication and an unplanned future. This compounds the problem facing the younger generation: How can we plan our future if the senior generation will not plan for the time of transition?
In spite of feelings of helplessness, younger generations and heirs can act intentionally and with purpose while simultaneously honoring their elders. The analysis of family planning for the future optimizes decisions regarding the future of all family members.
First, the issue of entitlement has to be addressed.
The Bible records the account of a man asking Jesus to make his brother divide the estate with him. Jesus did not comply but replied that everyone needs to be on guard about greed. Because hardly anyone recognizes when entitlement is present in his/her heart, feelings of entitlement are especially dangerous.
A pathway out of such dangers is to realistically evaluate your career and options. Everyone has options. If the senior generation does not want to discuss the future, the younger generation must consider options, not to weaken the family and family enterprise, but to increase the opportunity for family harmony.
One option may be to evaluate what additional skills and education can add to your strengths in helping the family business now and in the future.
Another option is to determine what adds to your marketability to other businesses. Remaining in the same situation is never the only option.
Second, always seek to strengthen communication, trust and preparation for the future. Don’t have hidden agendas in your pursuits. Determine where lack of knowledge and misunderstandings are dominating the discussions. Strive to express the position of the senior generation and other family members in the best way so they agree you are stating what they are trying to express. Move from putting others on the defensive; affirm you want the best for everyone even if agreement seems elusive.
Third, a courteous and frank conversation with the senior generation can occur after steps one and two have been followed. If distrust and lack of communication continue to describe family communication, an independent third party may need to be involved. This involves an overarching statement of respect and honor for the senior generation’s position of authority in decisions about the family and business.
Respectfully describe the difficulty in knowing how to optimize your actions to strengthen the family and business in line with the direction set out by the senior generation while simultaneously planning for the future. I like to use the analogy of a sports team. A team that doesn’t know the goals of the coach, doesn’t practice together and doesn’t know the plays is a team on a road to certain demise.
Finally, no one wants to be a “Stepford wife,” unable to voice disagreement. Inherent in every meaningful relationship is the freedom to challenge each other. This challenge is not to destroy but to ensure understanding even if there is disagreement. The best businesses, like the best marriages, always leave room for disagreement, and thereby, growth.
Grant Goodvin is founder and owner of Family Legacy Consultant Group, a family business consulting firm in Wichita. Reach him at email@example.com, 316-650-6736 or www.efamilylegacy.com.