The Benefit of Sharing with Other Families

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

Recently, I have noticed a trend towards more benchmarking across family businesses.  A number of clients have requested that we introduce them to families with similar issues.  While they value consultant expertise, they really enjoy meeting one on one with other families to learn what has worked and not worked for them in building the infrastructure to perpetuate their business across generations.  This type of interaction is why university-based family business groups have been so successful.  They create a place where families can get to know each other and share their successes and failures.

Yet, the real opportunity may lie in reaching out to another family on a specific issue you are trying to address.  On the topic of family business boards, for example, there are a number of areas a family might want to learn more about: how to educate next generation board members, how to develop a board that oversees multiple family owned entities, how to select family members to serve on the board, how to communicate findings and actions from board meetings to the family, to name just a few. 

You may already know a family with similar structure to yours who could serve as a good benchmarking partner.  Or, you can use a consultant or advisor to your business to help identify a benchmark candidate.  Three keys to success – clearly define what you want to study, pick the appropriate benchmark partner and look at both successes and failures. 

Make sure you know what you want to learn and have written a set of questions before you embark on finding a study partner.  This will help you to define the types of partners you want and will ensure that everyone involved in the process has agreed on the output. Then select a partner or partners that are similar to you on relevant dimensions.  If you want to study next generation board education, finding a family that has the same level of board formality, similar generational structure and similar board structure will be helpful.  What business they are in may not be so important. With a clearly defined topic to consider and a willing partner similar to you, the last key is to remember that you can learn as much from success as failure.  Ask your study partner what they did that worked as well as what didn’t work.  If they had to do it over again, what would they do differently?  Armed with this information, you will make better decisions for your family and business.

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