the BERINGER group Newsletter

Cross Generational Translation



by Jeffrey Beringer

Many experts in the family business realm suggest that quality of relationships within the family, and specifically the ability of family members to communicate healthily and productively, is perhaps the single most important factor in determining whether or not a family business survives the succession to the second generation and beyond.1

Clearly, based on the numbers, most family based businesses lack the communication skills necessary for longevity.  Only thirty percent of successful family businesses survive the succession to the second generation.  Only 12 percent make it to the third.  And only 3 percent make it to the fourth or further.2

The question that undoubtedly arises from these numbers is "What skill do these three percent of family businesses have, that the rest do not?"

The answer, perhaps in part, is that they know how to deal better with "generational stack-up" than the rest.

Mark Green, in his book "Inside the Multi-Generational Family Business: Nine Symptoms of Generational Stack-Up and How to Cure Them (Family Business Publications, 2011) defines generational stack-up as "the tendency for family members from different generations to clash due to their discrepant values, mindsets, and approaches."3

He explains that with life expectancies longer than ever before, and more people working beyond traditional retiring age than ever before, more generations are coming together simultaneously than ever before to collaborate in family based organizations.  It is not unheard of for as many as four generations being in a boardroom at the same time.  This creates unprecedented communication needs.

According to Green, understanding the generational values of each family member, and becoming a "cross-generational translator," will help families appreciate the unique contributions each family member brings to the table, and make disagreements more productive, or at least less damaging.

Following is a chart which outlines some of the unique characteristics of the four generations that might be active in a family business or family enterprise.  Familiarizing yourself with it is great first step toward fostering mutual respect between the generations and capitalizing on some of the unique gifts and perspectives that each group brings to the table.









Baby Boomers 

Generation X  

Generation Y

Birth Years






Great Depression, New Deal, World Wars and Korean war, Corporate culture.

Civil Rights, Vietnam War, Sexual Revolution, Space Program, Cold War, Watergate, Woodstock, Feminist Movement

Dual Income families and single parents, Reaganomics, Fall of Berlin Wall, Corporate Downsizing, Internet

Cell phones, Texting, Social Networking sites, Reality TV,  9/11, Digital media


Work Attitudes


Respect authority

Pay your dues

Company comes first

Minimize risk, even at expense of profits



Work long hours to establish self worth and identity

Reject traditional authority and hierarchy

Strong Materialism

More comfortable with risk



Work smarter and with greater output, instead of longer hours.

Eliminate unnecessary tasks


Value independence in the workplace and informality.

Time to pursue other interests is a priority


Work should be meaningful and fulfilling.

What's next?


Focused on collaboration and a team oriented workplace.

Informal and fun, but willing to turn to authority figures for direction.

Family Attitudes

Traditional nuclear family.

Extreme loyalty

Preserve family relationships at all costs


Civic minded

See family as part of the larger community

Challenged parents models of stable family

Highest rates of divorce and multiple families

Long hours at work skewed work/family balance

Identity strongly sourced from their work.

"I work extemely hard...If I retire, who am I?

First generation of Dual income families and latch key kids.

Because parents were boomer workaholics, make family and other interests a higher priority.

Comfortable with career changes and sourcing identity from multiple factors besides work.

Merged families

Children coddled and given unprecedented say in family decisions

Used to mom and dad doing it for them

Highly value a balance between work, family, community involvement and self development

Messages that resonate

No news is good news. 

Your experience is respected.

Motivated by a job well done.

You are valued.  You are needed.

Money and title are effective motivators.

Do it your way.  Forget the rules.

Autonomy and freedom of time are strong motivators.

Motivated by working with other talented people on meaningful work.

Appreciate frequent feedback and quick results.










3.  Green, Mark (2011-04-26). Inside the Multi-Generational Family Business: Nine Symptoms of Generational Stack-Up and How to Cure Them (Family Business Publications) (Kindle Locations 61-62). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

4.  Table 1 was assembled from the following two sources:

"Generational Differences Chart"  ( (Accessed June 6, 2012)

"Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees" by Greg Hammill.  FDU Magazine Online, Winter/Spring 2005. ( (Accessed June 6, 2012)


Copyright 2012.  The BERINGER Group