Sustaining an Entrepreneurial Spirit in Your Family Business – HBR.org Daily

by | Sep 23, 2022 | Business

The idea of generational decline in family businesses is nothing new. The old adage “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” seems to exist in one form or another in many cultures and languages. The common assumption is that the decline is driven by a generation gap of sorts, where successive generations become less motivated, and less capable of leading the business. But a decline in the entrepreneurial activity of a family business across generations is not inevitable. Rather than focus on significant issues (gaps) between generations, families should focus on correcting misalignments in expectations and needs. An emphasis on increasing the entrepreneurial ability of the next generation combined with efforts to provide opportunities for the next generation to act entrepreneurially will increase the willingness of the next generation to take action. There are many differences between each consecutive generation, but an entrepreneurial spirit does not need to be one of them.

During the height of the pandemic, I conducted some research to understand how business families were reacting to the pressures caused by some of the drastic changes in market conditions. While the full analysis of that research is not complete, one statistic stood out to me as being particularly interesting. In an effort to better understand how business families were using entrepreneurship as a tool to address pandemic related changes, I asked family business leaders what percent of th …

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