Accessing Next Generation Wisdom

Norbert Schwarz
Norbert Schwarz

The senior generation of a family business was in the process of developing an employment policy for family members wanting to apply for a position. They interviewed next generation family members for their input and found some very interesting suggestions. Many of the suggestions coming from the next generation were surprisingly similar to those suggested by the senior generation. There was one comment that was unique to the next generation. Many of them thought that any family member being considered for employment in the family business should have the trust of his/her cousins. This input led to some very interesting discussion among the generations. What constitutes trust? How do you know when it is there? If it is not present, how can it be gained? Some of the results of the subsequent conversation on this very important subject are worth sharing.

Trust is one of those fundamental notions that is claimed to be understood by everyone, yet it is hard to explain or precisely define.  Trust starts with the individual. Character captures a number of concepts inherent in the basic values of integrity, honesty, and credibility; being perceived as a “good” person. Trust is a level of comfort that someone is being genuine. It was also suggested that trust and vulnerability are partners; hence confidentiality might be an element of trust. Both generations agreed that it was of paramount importance that anyone employed in the business must have demonstrated the skills required for the position. Therefore competence is a critical element of trust. Competence includes skills, expertise, and performance as well as sound judgment and decision-making abilities. There was also agreement regarding the need for a family members’ commitment to the values, vision and mission of the family and the business in order to warrant trust. Such a commitment would also include a willingness to set individual wants aside for the benefit of the group. In a word, by caring for others. Trust is something you earn by giving.

This family is well on its way to understanding and practicing one of the very important foundations of any policy or relationship. Trust is the centerpiece of the family business system. Where it is present, the family and the business are well equipped to meet any challenge. Without it, conflict often overshadows opportunity.

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