Harnessing the NextGen in the FamBiz

 

Twin sisters riding horses in the sunset by the sea on the island of Ada Bojana, Montenegro

While attending the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute in Miami, one of of the breakout sessions contained a kind of A-Ha moment for me.

It was not a “knock your socks off” A-Ha, but enough to stimulate a blog post, which may not be a very high hurdle, considering I write one of these posts every week. Alas, it contained a “juicy tidbit” that struck me as worth pursuing here.

Now an FFI conference will always feature several well-known family business experts sharing their thoughts, but my little A-Ha occurred during a session where the presenter was relatively unknown, as he was not a FamBiz guy, but a branding expert.

It was Paul Bay, an L.A. Dodgers fan from London (!), which I learned at the opening cocktail the evening before his presentation. His typical get-up includes a three-piece suit and a pair of sneakers. I guess that’s part of his brand, and it was working for him.

 

A Branding A-Ha?

If you’re hoping my A-Ha had to do with branding, you’ll be disappointed, because that wasn’t it. It was all about the harness. The harness? Well actually, the verb, “(to) harness”.

As I write this, I am trying to recall how the slide with the word “harness” at the top actually fit into his branding talk, and I am at a loss. I did, however, take a picture of the slide in response to my internal A-Ha.

Down the left side of the Powerpoint slide were the words “Guide, Direct, Govern, Constrain, Control, Hold Back”.

On the right-hand side were “Involve, Collaborate, Gain, Be Guided, Be Inspired, Be Directed”.

This was the first time that I ever thought about the fact that there are two sides to the harness coin. (Insert “A-Ha” here)

 

Harnessing in the FamBiz

When you think about the “NextGen” in a family business, the way the family looks at what they are harnessing, and why they are trying to harness it, you can easily see that it can go both ways. How they harness it becomes key.

The positive side of harnessing, “involving, collaborating, gaining, etc.” looks at ways that the family can take the talents and inputs of the rising generation and put them to positive use, to grow the family capital and the strengths of the business.

On the other end of the spectrum, “constrain, control, hold back, etc.” you have a host of actions that unfortunately also occur in too many family businesses.

 

Wild Horses on my Mind

So I began thinking about wild horses and what it must have been like when the first brave souls came upon them and were motivated to try to harness them.

Horses, even wild ones, do not seem the type of animal that would need to be harnessed to dampen any negatives of their behaviour. I can only imagine that the power and strength they exhibited was seen as worth the trouble and danger of attempting to harness them in the first place.

So if you have a business family, and there is a rising generation that is coming of age, how are you looking at harnessing what they can bring to the table?

 

Horses with Potential and Passion

Some horses are easier to harness than others, and I can only imagine that those who are identified as having great potential will often be those for whom the time and effort are the most worthwhile.

Few of us have the skills of a Dr. Doolittle, to actually speak “horse” to find out just what a particular equine has a passion for (Math? 2 + 1 = Clop, clop, clop! Good girl, here’s a carrot.)

 

Questions and Conversations

Every parent actually speaks a language that their children understand, but not enough of them will take the time and make the effort to have the conversations (plural) necessary to ask the important questions, like:

  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the business?
  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the family?
  • What human capital do you already have, and what are you prepared to develop, to contribute?
  • Is there a “harness” that fits you so comfortably that you will feel happy and motivated to wear it proudly?

THEIR passion is the key to good harnessing.