Next Generation Family Business Members Seek Greater Involvement

Family bosses encouraged to embrace next generation’s enthusiasm by creating space and more opportunities to learn.

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Next generation family leaders are preparing for their future roles by calling for increased involvement, greater responsibility and more spaces to learn within their family businesses.

New research from the Institute for Family Business (IFB) Research Foundation has revealed that an overwhelming proportion of millennials have a strong desire and thirst for knowledge when it comes to their family firms – with many keen to play a much bigger role in its development and success.

The research – which canvassed the views of more than 2,000 family business owners from the current and next generation – paints a positive picture for both the family business sector and the wider economy, with figures showing a significant number of next gens are already strongly engaged with their organisations.

The findings show future owners have a real sense of duty and care towards the family business, legacy, employees and community. Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed stated they want to be involved with their family firm because they care about its future success and development – the most common reason cited by respondents. A further three quarters (70%) stated a desire to learn the ropes was extremely important to them, as well as having the chance to influence the future of the business.

This sense of investment in the family organisation demonstrates a clear affinity between millennials and their family’s heritage and ethos, as well as a commitment to building on the ethos of responsible business which family firms epitomise.

This also translates into an appetite for learning. Encouragingly the report revealed that four out of five (80%) of next gens had already embarked on some form of learning experience within their family firm – with just under half (46%) having shadowed a senior family member and a similar number (40%) having completed some form of business training.

However, a certain number of millennials did admit they had somewhat hazy or unformed plans about the extent of their role within the family firm, with almost two fifths (39%) stating an important reason they would be involved is simply because they felt a certain amount of pressure from the family. This suggests a need for family firms to open their communication lines with the next gen as early as possible so they are able to get a firmer grasp on how they can contribute to the business, the roles that are available to them and the steps they can take in order to reach their goals.

Elizabeth Bagger, executive director at the Institute for Family Business, said: “What we see from this research is the real passion, dedication and motivation present in the next generation of family business members and it is clear that families need to harness this enthusiasm by making space for millennials to learn, contribute and develop in their role.

“Opening the dialogue early is extremely important – it allows all generations to discuss together how to start the integration process and how all members of the family can form a mutually beneficial relationship.”

The report also indicates that a great opportunity lies in harnessing the creativity the next generation can bring to a business. Their fresh perspective is often vital in helping firms remain innovative, ultimately resulting in a positive effect on the business’ bottom line. Likewise, pursuing next gen’s ideas can be a great training tool and clearly demonstrates to them how they are able to add value to the family firm.

However, it’s important for family firms to recognise these ideas and encourage their next gens to continue offering them. The report showed that a number of respondents admitted they felt their ideas were not always recognised or taken seriously by their senior management team. Furthermore, some current generations members indicated they were not always sure how best to go about harnessing ideas suggested by their newer team members.

When it came to learning about their family firm and their inclusion in significant business discussions, over 80% of millennials said their involvement mainly takes place at home or outside of the formal business structure. While this holds many benefits, including allowing next gens to slowly integrate themselves into the day-to-day running of the organisation, it also suggests that there’s a great opportunity for the current generation to start involving next gens through more official arenas so they’re able to develop their experience in both.

Similarly, by focusing business-related discussions across numerous different platforms, rather than limiting them to just one environment, means many next gens will also have the opportunity to forge their own distinct ‘breathing space’ where they can digest information, form their own ideas and explore their creative development.

Elizabeth Bagger continues: “It’s apparent that creating a safe support structure is incredibly important to next gens, and this support structure can come in many different forms. Be it in formal business settings, through work experience opportunities or simply getting involved in family discussions over Sunday lunch – having a variety of forums where they’re able to learn and contribute is extremely beneficial and gives next gens the opportunities to learn at their own pace and in ways they feel most comfortable with.

“While there’s no ‘one-size-fits all’ approach for establishing a seamless induction into the business for next gens, there are lots of simple steps firms can take to help ease the process. Our role at the IFB is to help people take some of those steps and we are here to support all generations of a family business. Whether this is helping the current generation find ways to engage younger family members or supporting the next generation in gaining the vital skills and knowledge needed for their future roles, we want to help firms establish a safe space where all members of the family can grow and learn.”

The report can be accessed here, with free user registration.