CRASH COURSE TO BECOMING A CROSS GENERATIONAL TRANSLATOR
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.