How to engage the next generation

Showing children what the family business is about, and getting them involved in different aspects, are important early steps in the succession process.

So you’d really like to keep the business in the family, but are wondering how to enlist the next generation? At what age? Transmitting what message?

One of the challenges that leaders of family businesses face is: how do I encourage the next generation to become involved in the business and yet let them choose the career that corresponds to their dreams and abilities?”

We believe that it’s important to show children what the business is all about, and at the same time, to encourage them to develop their own talents. Too many family businesses have been run -- and sometimes run down -- by unmotivated and at times incompetent individuals who felt they’d no other choice than to join the business. On the other hand, talented and motivated family members have often given new momentum to such businesses.

If you wish to engage the next generation, an important step is to show them the business, and to give them the opportunity to listen to employees talking about their jobs (whether family or non-family). This can be done very early on and at the various premises.

In parallel, don’t forget to organise family activities, fun moments together, discovering family history and its personalities, etc.

Later on, you may share with the next generation the fact that they can contribute in different ways to the sustainability of the family business: as employees, board members, owners, family members, family council or owners’ council members, initiators of charitable activities, etc. Discovering that one can contribute to the family business in diverse ways (even if one doesn’t work in the business) often comes as a relief to family members.

Ask them which roles would appeal to them -- with the understanding that what they will say now will not be set in stone forever. Listening to them can give you interesting insights: be aware of the risk of pre-conceived ideas about the next generation’s interests; we often assume that certain people are -- or are not -- interested, but actually asking them may result in some surprises!

With time, you may wish to go deeper, and encourage them to think about the rights and responsibilities, competencies and desired behaviour related to each role in the business, ownership, and family.

You can also organise training sessions: in finance, governance, communication, visits to other family businesses … and by doing so, demonstrate the importance you place on the development of individuals within the family.

Later on, a few talented members may take leadership roles in the business; some will certainly be in a position to join the board of directors and exercise roles as responsible owners. Others will wish to take active roles within the family, organising events, fostering cohesion and anticipating conflicts.

Setting up a vibrant next generation may be one of the legacies you will be most proud of!

This article was first published in KPMG Family Business. Christine Blondel is adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at the Wendel International Centre for Family Enterprise at INSEAD.