When Different Generations Aren’t on the Same Page in a Family Business – Fostering Alignment

Difalignmentfering generational perspectives abound.

Last week we worked with a group of several families on the succession of their businesses.  With the senior generation in one room and the younger generation in another room, each was asked to talk about desires, concerns and expectations around the process of transitioning ownership and leadership.  In addition, we asked each group what they thought the other was talking about.

While there was much feedback in common, some clear generational differences surfaced.  The seniors, for example, thought their kids (in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s) were focused on making more money and having what their parents have and having it “yesterday.”  Yet the topic of money never surfaced in meeting alone with the younger generation.  In discussions with their peers, the younger generation was focused primarily on the desire for “a plan.”  While their families have had sporadic discussions around the future, plans were not clear; transparency was absent and that was among their biggest concerns.

Other obvious differences between the generations abound in the use of technology.  From iPhones to iPad Minis and beyond, many seniors resist what their children crave.  It’s about dealing with “change” and teaching old dogs new tricks.

The desire to achieve a balance between work and family life is another difference.  Several years ago, we witnessed what is now a common discussion between a father and his son:

Dad:  “I’m not sure you’re so committed to the business.  You show up at 9:30 in a sport shirt and jeans and leave early.  I’m here at 7:30 in a suit and tie and am the last one out.”

Son:  “I’m totally committed to our business, but I also need the balance between my family and my career.  I take my son to pre-school before work and pick him up at the end of the day and you don’t see me at midnight in my shorts at home cranking out spreadsheets.”

So, what’s new?  While the content today may be different than in the past, generational differences have always existed and there’s still only one way to manage them.  It’s all about communication and both generation‘s ability to raise and respectfully discuss those differences.  In doing so, maybe each will see they are not really so far apart.

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