In my last article I spoke about the disconnects often present when the younger generation attempts to introduce change into the family business while the older generation is still in charge. Specifically, I spoke about the challenging dynamics between fathers and sons, but what I said is applicable to relationships between members of the incumbent and upcoming generations in general.
So how to bridge these disconnects and transform the nature of these dynamics from challenging to productive? The process requires time, patience, strategy, tact, and a practice of ongoing conversations.
Open, honest conversations are needed to uncover the possibilities for the business under the leadership of the next generation; needed too as a forum for older-generation members to express their concerns and objections. And necessary as well are conversations involving areas in the business where the next generation can be given uninterrupted ownership and control. These help the rising generation develop experience and gain their parents’ trust.
Conversations help the family identify problems and find solutions together. With this aim in mind, the best conversations seek understanding and agreement among multiple stakeholders and concentrate initially on the solutions easier to sell, with measurable actions.
And to conduct perhaps the most fruitful of conversations…, In Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses, the authors write: “Take a walk. Father-son struggles can be reduced, loyalties strengthened, and succession completed on the walk they take together.” No doubt this applies to fathers and mothers and daughters too.
The importance of constructive conversations cannot be overstated. It’s true of course that some families are better at it than others. But with careful guidance—optimally by trusted outside advisors—these conversations can lead to understanding, respect and trust.
 Edward Pyles, and Thomas Pyles, Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses. 2016. Westbow Press, p. 177