Invariably at one point or another owners of Family Businesses often ask me “How can I get my son or daughter to be more committed and better prepared at leading the family business in the future?” It seems that present family business owners are all seriously concerned on the continuation of the family legacy through the family business on one hand, whilst also wanting that their son/s or daughter/s are successful as individuals .
I do not possess scientific full proof answer to this questions but I somehow rely on my observations. What I have seen is the more parents push their children to be more involved, disciplined and committed to the family business, the contrary is likely to happen. What I am saying is that the next generation seem to be more influenced by other things than what their parents desire for them. Next generation seem to be more influenced by their own personal experiences i.e. when they did something they liked or sorted a problem they where suddenly faced with on their own.
It seems that the best role parents could have is to create opportunities for the next generation from which they could derive a learning experience, even from their own mistakes. These opportunities are much more effective that any preaching or prodding from parents. This does not mean that all experiences will lead to the same kind and level of learning and it could also be the case that some experiences can cause more harm than good. However the most formative of such learning experience are those that help the next generation build their skills and confidence that they can keep control over things and mostly over their own emotions, even when faced with the greatest of difficulties. Below are some pointers of how this could be possible:-
- Let the next generation experiment: Next generation members should have the opportunity and capacity to learn through active experimentation. It is likely that present family business leadership, thanks to its experience, will be able to predict the outcome, but saving next generation members from the “trouble” of finding out on their own will only inhibit them from being able to learn and increase their skills of how to keep control on things around them and their emotions.
- Look at Failure as an Opportunity: How can the next generation become resilient and learn how to keep control over things if every obstacle ahead of them is removed? The best learning experience the next generation will ever get is in learning how to best react when failure happens.
- Do not micromanage: If the next generation is to learn from experience they cannot do some if the present family business leadership gives them no space to do so. This means that family businesses need a good level of structuring to balance the need for the next generation to have their own space whilst still having a structure to which to report too. Parents who promote tight control over every aspect of the business processes will mean that once they decide to call it day, their next generation are ill prepared at doing so. Instead, parents should focus on the desired outcome by providing clear direction to the next generation regarding expected results, but allowing them to use their own skills to figure out how to get there.
Parents and present family business owners & leaders often feel at a loss as how to ensure that the next generation are well prepared to lead the family business. I hope the message is clear that it is not the preaching and prodding that will help parents achieve this. It is likely that the real life experiences that parents provide or allow the next generation to do, will be truly important & influencing experiences that will help the next generation be better prepared at leading the family business. This is why I am so in favour of having the next generation gain and do their first work experiences away from the family business. Yet when I see the present family business leadership at a loss and I start to dig into why, the common findings are that the next generation have never done any real work experience that allowed them to build their skills and confidence or that the present family leadership micromanaged the next generation not allowing them to make any mistake and do any decision for which they will have to carry the responsibility of that decision.
So my advice to parents is to reduce your speaking and preaching and allow the next generation to do their fair share of learning experiences…..and mistakes.