Next Gen is where it is all at in the world of family business. Is the Next Gen prepared? How do you develop Next Gen leaders? When is the Next Gen ready to take over? With such emphasis on what’s next for the Next Gen, are we losing sight of what it means to prepare the Sen Gen (short for Senior Generation)?
My father passed away recently. With the passing of my mother and her husband just five years earlier, suddenly I find myself as the Sen Gen. Mind you, I do not own a business to pass along to any family members. Yet this series of events has shifted my thinking and brought the marking of time to the forefront.
With the passing of my father, mother and her husband, there are still lingering or imminent estate issues to be resolved, legally and emotionally. Family relationships not tended to are often amplified under stressful situations. Years of cutoff or physical distance take their toll on all. I witnessed my sister doing her best to manage various relationships in our clan. I am thankful there was not a business to sustain nor significant sums of wealth to distribute. Nonetheless, these issues need to be resolved.
In the family businesses that I have dealt with, the successful enterprises institute certain practices which will invariably help when certain life events inevitably occur, elevating the Next Sen to Sen Gen status.
- Buy/sell agreements – These often help the family members to make rational decisions without emotions clouding judgments. These can be as simple as who has authority to make certain decisions to how shares might be sold or distributed. Other family documents and policies should be considered, such as a family constitution, or rules for entry/employment, etc. Your lawyer should be prepared and qualified to guide you in this process.
- Family meetings – Aside from management meetings or Board of Directors/Advisors, a family meeting or council is an effective forum for communication of important family issues that may or may not be related to the business. Held regularly, family meetings will allow all voices to be heard and will serve to bring the family closer when times of need arise.
- Continuity plan – As the business owner, have you helped others understand what will happen in your absence? I had the opportunity to learn from one business owner that she and her husband had actually crafted a 10 point plan in the event of one of them passing. Shortly thereafter, her husband and business partner died suddenly. The continuity plan allowed her and her family to grieve and recover properly while others in the business knew exactly how to carry out the daily functions. The result; employees felt empowered, customers felt confident and the family healed properly.
- Revisit or craft your own will – Admittedly, I am lacking in this department. I have already made a call to a good lawyer to begin the process. Ask yourself, who is the best person to decide how you wish to be remembered? Don’t let others attempt to guess what was in your mind. At the very least, write it down, notarize it and share with those that need to know. Your family will thank you.
- Begin with the end in mind – One of the most lasting takeaways from one of the many Stephen Covey workshops I have participated in over the years was “Begin with the end in mind.” To help illustrate this, imagine your own funeral. What would you like for those closest to you to say about you when you are gone? Now, what will it take between now and then to allow them to share such sentiments? Chances are, more time at the office will not prompt them to share how freely you gave of your time or talents to loved ones and your community. Time is our most precious asset.
Death is never easy. When loved ones pass, there is a void to fill. Regardless of how strong the emotional bond is, space and time are valuable resources in the necessary healing process. Having complicated business or family issues clutter that space may only serve to cause even greater pain or confusion. As a member of the Sen Gen, the burden is on you to set the example that you hope the Next Gen will one day employ as well.