Why the Next Generation should get their licence to operate now

In my previous ViewPoint, I highlighted the crucial test that the COVID-19 crisis poses for the values and purpose of business-owning families. I went on to explain why it’s one they must pass to secure the future continuity and success of their business.

In this follow-up, I shift the focus to the next generation – and examine another outcome of the crisis: the opportunity to bring the family together and bridge the gap between the current generation of owners and the next.  

I believe now is the time to start handing that licence to operate over to the younger generation and let them help to drive the business through this crisis

Now is the time to turn to your next generation for their leadership skills in the digital age. The younger generation has a huge role to play both in the business and in the family – not least because they’ve grown in a world where digital technologies and social media are an integral part of life and learning. 

For any family business, the digital savviness of the next generation can make the difference between falling behind and staying ahead. This goes beyond setting up virtual family council meetings; they can bring a greater understanding on how to properly implement remote working and other digital solutions that will be of key importance in weathering this crisis and emerging stronger from it. 

The next generation has a golden opportunity to prove that in a testing environment they’re well-equipped to navigate through a crisis. 

In other words, they’re poised to make their mark on the business. In PwC’s latest Global NextGen Survey, they told us they feel ready to do this, especially when it comes to transforming the business for the digital age. But many of them added that they didn’t feel they currently had the licence to operate that would allow them to put their ideas fully into effect. 

It’s a generational divide that we see in all too many family businesses. It’s characterised by the younger generation straining to make a real contribution to the business’s future success. And they feel a sense of frustration that the current generation is failing to recognise what they could bring to the table.  

As the coronavirus crisis continues to play out, the incumbent generation needs to recognise the great resource that their business has in the younger family members. One obvious imperative, beyond using their digital expertise, is emergency planning: at a time when nobody is safe from the virus, and older people especially exposed to its effects, it’s vital to have plans in place for who will take up the reins should leaders fall ill.

But above and beyond this need, I believe now is the time to start handing that licence to operate over to the younger generation and let them help to drive the business through this crisis. Yielding power in this way in areas where they have more expertise than their elders is all the more important given the crucial importance of social media. Having a clear and confident voice in this sphere is a necessity that digital natives can manage and deliver on effectively.

Nobody wanted this crisis, and we all want it over as soon as possible. But it’s here. And for business-owning families, it truly presents an opportunity to bridge the generation gap and build a stronger future. In my view, it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

In my next ViewPoint I will focus on governance and decision making. 

Peter Englisch is global family business leader for PwC


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