A Family-Business Crisis Of Perception

Family businesses are subject to a range of crisis that are unique to them; not encountered by non-family businesses. Here’s a common and potentially excruciating one:

The incumbent leadership of a family business may or may not be confident that the upcoming generation has the competence to lead the family business going forward. Members of the upcoming generation, on their own part, feel entirely confident that they have what it takes to successfully lead the business into the future. It’s a crisis of perception.

To bypass this perceptual disconnect, long-lasting multigenerational family businesses have structures in place that foster family and generational coherence:

  • Avenues for good communication: Perhaps the most important trait of successful family businesses. It seems easy but we all know it isn’t. Opportunities for family members to share stories about goals, plans, hopes, aspirations, dreams, challenges and even failures can foster a cohesiveness that avoids conflicting perceptions of confidence and competence.
  • Established values: Descriptors of ‘what’s important to us.’ Families who know and respect one another’s values are better able to sustain a vision for the family and the business that crosses generations.
  • Respect for the past: With an eye on the future. Successful multigenerational family enterprises know that each generation needs to determine a vision for the business under their leadership, while remembering and genuinely valuing what preceding generations accomplished. A place to begin engendering this respect may be writing the story of the family’s founder and telling it to all generations that follow.

These structures help to create a shared perception of what is real with regard to the readiness and competence of the family’s next generation to lead; and they also help build this competence long before the doubts and disconnects have a chance to arise.