Honoring the Contributions of Next-Generation Leaders
The call came from out of the blue. The young man’s voice, on the other end of the phone, was tentative and quiet. “Can you help me?” he said.
His story is one I hear repeated over and over. Ali is the third-generation, the oldest boy in a traditional, culturally tight-knit family. He is just 30 years old and has been groomed to take over the family’s unique, ethnic bakery business since he was a young boy. He works each day with his father and grandfather in a busy environment, struggling to keep up with their growing customer base.
Ali’s parents and grandparents adhere to their traditional practices, building the business through their vast network of friends and family. They are comfortable with the daily routine and move through each week in a rote fashion – producing the goods, filling orders and counting money. Ali, born and raised in the US, returned to the business after completing his business degree. He was highly motivated, excited and filled with ideas.
In a matter of months after his return, Ali could feel the distinct bump between his personal vision of the future and what his father and grandfather wanted to do. This was most pronounced in the area of technology. Ali can see so much potential for the business. He wants to bring in a new ERP system and utilize social media for marketing. He wants to offer on-line coupons and search for new products to complement the existing line of baked goods. He wants to be valued for his knowledge and experience and given an opportunity to put his personal mark on the company. All to no avail. His family, who loves him dearly, cannot ‘see’ any of these advantages. They figuratively pat him on the head and tell him to stick to the traditional way of doing things.
Toward the end of our conversation, Ali’s voice broke and I felt so sad as I heard him choke back his tears. “I am going to leave the company… I just want your help to break it to my parents. They will never allow me the opportunity to do something important to change or grow this business and I don’t want to live my life feeling resentful. I just hope that they will forgive me.”
So, what can we, as advisors, do to help those business owners who fail to see that by ignoring the needs of the next generation to contribute to and change the business, they may be losing one of their greatest assets?
There are no easy answers. Insight can be difficult to achieve and the resulting need to change, even more challenging. Here are a few things that the Galliard team have been doing in an effort to raise awareness and heal the rifts that often occur between generations:
- Open the lines of communication about values and culture
We tend to ask a lot of questions about the desired reputation of the business, both now and in the future. We also like to encourage multiple generations in the business to recognize the strengths of the other. Here is an example of an exercise we use to begin to open up this type of conversation:
- Split the family into two groups: the Leading Generation and the Emerging Generation.
- Ask the Leading Generation (discreetly) to list the attributes of the Emerging Generation that they admire and the accomplishments of that group of which they feel most proud.
- Then, ask the Emerging Generation to complete the same exercise in regard to the Leading Generation.
- Ask each group to appoint a spokesperson to report back to the group at large.
- Have a box of tissues handy.
- Help the younger generation to develop a voice at the table
You might do this by:
- Engaging the older generation in a conversation about the future risks to the company and ensure that they are able to identify the loss of key successors.
- Facilitating a conversation with the younger generation about the drivers behind the older generation’s behavior – what might they fear? How might changes make them uncomfortable? What might be positive forces for change and forces for staying the same?
- Facilitating a group meeting and sharing the DREC model of change. Help all participants to realize that resistance to change is normal and that there are more positive ways to move through a change process.
- Coaching the younger generation in methods for creating a clear vision for change, including benefits and outcomes and asking for opportunities to experiment in a non-threatening and less risky way.
In the end, family businesses are in danger of losing the unique talent that they need to sustain them. Our younger generation brings energy, technological savvy, a fresh perspective and a totally different way of connecting with the world – the world of the future. Businesses must find a way to bridge this generation gap and as advisors, we will need to be ever vigilant to identify the problem and ready to facilitate powerful and challenging inter-generational conversations.