Very few enterprising families focus on building an owner’s mindset among their family members. Rather, they put their efforts into working and growing their enterprises. But neglecting to both formally and informally develop rising family members to contribute to the enterprise risks much more than the financial losses that could arise — it risks the devastating loss of the family itself and the relationships within it.
From childhood, intentional steps taken that assist young members to know their extended family, adopt family values and build healthy relationships with money will help set the stage for involvement in the family enterprise. However, paying careful attention to ownership development during adolescence—a time of great transformation—is essential. More than in other stages, adolescents need to feel invited into development activities rather than having them imposed upon them.
Importantly, in high-achieving entrepreneurial families, owner expectations can create stress and discord, and result in emotional distance. Strive to strike a balance between individual and collective development. On the individual level, focus on understanding who your adolescent children naturally are and meeting them where they are. Bring the support and resources they need for their individual development. At the collective level, help adolescents develop strong interpersonal skills and comfort with wide-ranging relationships.
Be proactive about including teens in business updates, internships, extended family reunions and philanthropic efforts. Provide structure for dialogue and interaction, while modeling good behavior in family relationships.
Use these tips to nurture an owner’s mindset during the adolescent years:
1. Support identity development. Help adolescents explore who they are and what they want to be without imposing enterprise-related obligations or ideas. Support their sense of self related to interests, preferences, and passion.
2. Encourage understanding of how the “real world” works. Beyond talking regularly about the broader world — such as the challenges those without resources face — foster experiences that offer windows into a wide range of realities. Aim for broad exposure through volunteering, travel to other countries, and/or part-time employment.
3. Develop a family code of conduct. As adolescents push boundaries, it’s crucial to set expectations build on the family’s articulated values. Develop the code of conduct together, or if you already have one, take the time to review and update it for this stage of life.
4. Introduce them to the business. Help them understand what the business and industry do with fun visits to the office or facilities. In engaging ways, describe industry trends or share stories about business decisions to expand a product line, get new clients, or change a particular technology for example. Later, create active participation through summer internships or special projects.
5. Promote financial responsibility. Learning at this stage includes understanding the connection between work and money. Encourage teens to prepare a monthly budget and fund it with proceeds from part-time work. Helping teens follow through on a goal like saving for a car or paying for their own cell phone plan builds important financial awareness and skills.
6. Form a “future owners” council. Invite family members in their teens to work on issues together, such as charitable giving, reunion planning, or resolving a business challenge. This allows strong relationship building among sibling groups and cousin branches who will likely be making ownership decisions together in the future. Find a facilitator who works well with adolescents to assist the group, and have them present their ideas to the ownership council for consideration.
7. Provide an understanding of the basics of ownership. Encourage regular attendance at business update meetings. Work to provide adolescent family members basic ownership knowledge, including the value and benefit of business ownership, an understanding of risk management, the different roles and responsibilities of managers and owners, and so on. With financial information, it’s useful to expose teens to the concepts illustrated in financial reports. Numbers without context may create a sense of entitlement and false expectations around lifestyle.
There is no one best way to develop positive connections to the family enterprise, but the idea is to proactively create engaging experiences. Also, it’s not about the number of efforts, but their quality. Development goals for this stage are about becoming healthy, functioning young adults with positive connections to family and the enterprise.