Success strategies for NextGens
A NextGen’s entry into the family business is a joyous occasion for most families. It symbolizes family closeness and — at least potentially — continuity of the family enterprise. NextGens bring pride in the family and passion for the business that were inherited from their elders. They also bring fresh ideas and new perspectives they acquired during higher education and work experience outside the family firm.
This issue of Family Business presents numerous examples of how NextGens can revitalize their family companies. Contributor Hedda Schupak profiles successors at three family businesses who introduced innovative marketing strategies and took their companies in high-potential new directions. And our “NextGens to Watch” special section recognizes exceptional successor-generation family business members ages 35 and under who are making an impact in their family companies.
The path to success isn’t always smooth, however. The senior generation may continue to view NextGens as “the kids” and may dismiss their fresh ideas as youthful folly. Elders who have focused narrowly on existing products or markets may not recognize the need for a new strategy or a different leadership style. Beneath the surface, a parent may be reluctant to let go of the reins out of fear of mortality or irrelevance.
NextGens, for their part, may take the wrong tone in presenting their plans to elders or longtime employees. They may try to change too much or move too quickly. They may not realize the value of the constructive criticism they receive, which is based on decades of experience.
Over the years at our Transitions conferences, NextGen speakers have offered tips to their peers on gaining support from the senior generation. Here are some of their suggestions:
• Demonstrate your competence and your willingness to learn. Go above and beyond to prove yourself and earn respect. Pay attention to the feedback you receive. Make sure you’re not coming off as arrogant or taking advantage of your last name.
• Understand the senior generation’s point of view. If they object to your proposals, gather as much information as you can on the factors behind their reasoning. Be empathetic.
• Clarify roles. Don’t assume more authority than you have been granted. On the other hand, be sure to take full responsibility for the duties you’ve been assigned.
• Back up your recommendations with data. Prove that your ideas are based on sound reasoning.
• Build trust through small wins. Concentrate on problem solving. Establish a track record of success.
• Recognize that change takes time — and not everything needs to be changed. Be careful not to propose a reinvention of the wheel.
NextGens must earn credibility not only with non-family employees, but also with family members working in the business. Ambition must be tempered with patience.
Gaining broad acceptance of a bold proposal for change within the family business requires finesse. That’s a skill that will serve NextGens well as potential future leaders of the company or the family.
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