I run Multi-Generational Peer Review Groups — and boy do we have fun discussing many issues inherent with family businesses — especially ones where the younger sons/daughters work for the older parents. And the parents have one foot out the door into retirement, yet they feel they need to keep active and still make decisions. Or they are still working 60-70 hours a week and never delegate key responsibilities to their sons/daughters (I'm going to use the term 'kids' for brevity). Here are some mistakes (and possible solutions) I see frequently:
1. Bad Communication.
Number one mistake made in multi-gen businesses. The parent is un-moveable, disruptive, or sticking to their guns and the kids give up on any sort of constructive communication.
Solution: "You're not going to teach an old dog new tricks." It's the kids job to stay patient (and professional) and encourage healthy communication first. Try to bridge the gap and work with your parent and if needed, wear your heart on your sleeve when speaking with them. It's also the job of the parent to also open their heart and mind to their kids' overtures.
2. Loss of Self-Esteem.
If the kids are constantly reprimanded or berated when they do something wrong by the parent, not only do they shut down and get resentful, they begin to lose faith in their abilities.
Solution: The parent needs to understand that there is a difference between motivational instruction and berating mistakes. They need to acknowledge that you will make mistakes along the way and they are their not only to catch you, but to encourage you to succeed. The kids need to understand that what took their parents 30-40 years to perfect cannot be learned in 2-3 years. In addition, your parents might not be the best teachers, so you sometimes need to pull information, techniques, and practices out of them for you to grow. It will take time.
3. Allocation of Responsibilities.
As the parent slowly relinquishes certain responsibilities to their kids (hopefully!), how the kids perform their new duties might be different than what the parent expects. So the parent begins to hold back the allocation and then adverse situations result. This especially happens when the kids try a new direction for an old problem (i.e., growing their web presence and killing all phone book advertising) and the parent doesn't understand.
Solution: The parent needs to understand that the kids SHOULD be encouraged to do things differently or at least understand WHY their kids are taking a different tack to solve a problem. The kids need to move slowly and continuously bring their parents up to speed on the whys, whats, and hows of their strategy. You just cannot say 'trust me' - it will only inflame the situation.
Bottom line, they are not going anywhere anytime soon — so assess the problem, come up with solutions, and take action. Making believe that it will go away on its own is dangerous.
If you have any questions or issues with a multi-generational business, feel free to call me (203.500.2421) - would love to discuss and help you find a solution.