Bridging the Generation Gap in Small Business: An Overview
By Glenn E. Thompson, MBA, CSM, LGA
What Happened to the “Good Old Days”?
You know, that period of high morals, values, and exceptionally profitable opportunities that always seems to have occurred at least two generations prior to the one we are currently in. Two generations from now, will these be the “Good Old Days” of that future?
Family = Oil Business=Vinegar
Operating a family business can often be somewhat analogous to assembling a salad …a union of dissimilar elements that have the capability, with enough applied energy and effort, to be turned into a cohesive, viable result. In a family business, that needed energy and effort can only be obtained by maintaining a constant flow of sincere communication and ensuring that a sustained separation of family and business is maintained. As simple as it may sound, this is undoubtedly the most demanding aspect of conducting a family business.
How Technology Can Widen the Generational Gap
Generational differences have always been a part of intra-family conflicts, and the growth of family enterprises over the centuries has enlarged the potential battlefield.
As we have advanced scientifically and technologically, the expectations and differences between ensuing generations have grown exponentially. These same advances however, are an integral part of the younger generations’ daily lives. It may be wiser for older generations to sometimes bow to the younger generations’ greater familiarity and experience with newer technology. They can be very helpful when assessing the potential business impact of oncoming technology and products.
Do You See What I See?
In addition to on-going dialogue between all family members, another ingredient in the salad of family business is flexibility. Being flexible lessens the impact of great changes that come with new ideas. Out of necessity, we are constantly changing our paths in life and business. The trick is not to lose sight of our goals and being able to adapt to new things because we are flexible.
The dreams and goals that lead someone to start a family business must be shared with all participants and contributors. If the dreams of the new generation differ from the founding generation, it is usually not feasible to proceed unless there is a shared vision for the business’ future. Also, sometimes, offspring or other family members may choose not to be in the family business. This choice may result in hurt feelings and the family elders may regard it as the end of the family dynasty. Discussing this issue should help both sides to understand that every individual has the right to choose how to live her/his life. Perhaps hiring a dynamic non-family member to run the business might be the solution.
Many family businesses fail specifically because the two entities: family and business are too deeply intertwined both emotionally and financially. As difficult as it may seem, there must be a separation between these two creatures, lest they tear each other apart. To succeed in the long haul, the goals and values of each must be shared by both parties, but the emotional baggage held by all family members must stay where it belongs.
Glenn E. Thompson is a published author and small business entrepreneur. At present, he is also an adjunct professor of Economics at Cleary University.