In Family Business Succession, Trust Plays Big Role

New study says family dynamics and unresolved emotional issues can affect succession

Passing down a family business is an emotional process, and key factors need to be in place in order for the transition to succeed, according to a new study published Thursday in Family Process, a peer-reviewed journal from Wiley-Blackwell.

The owner needs to trust other family members’ involvement in the long-term plan for the business, and nurture a healthy outlook and plan for his or her own retirement, Wiley said in a statement announcing the study, “‘Don’t Lock Me Out’: Life-Story Interviews of Family Business Owners Facing Succession.”

Researchers asked 10 active family business owners to recount their life stories in an effort to explore what constrains successful succession. Participants told the story of their business, focusing on pivotal chapters in its evolution.

“Narratives are critical to understanding the ‘letting go’ process because they reveal the owners’ dreams, challenges and how they handle both such that they ultimately can or cannot let go,” Dr. Alexandra Solomon, co-investigator with an eight member team, said in the statement. “As difficult as it may be to invite especially male family business owners to talk about ‘tender stuff,’ family therapists and family business consultants need to be willing to explore how and where the business ‘lives’ within the owner in order to free him up to pass the business along to the next generation.”

Beyond business-related decisions, such as managing organizational change, human factors play a role in the transfer of ownership to an adult heir or family member. The study found that the family business, in many cases, took on its own personality, and could almost be seen as a member of the family.

Thus, family dynamics and unresolved emotional concerns can affect succession. Internal influences, such as trust and worldview, and interpersonal influences, such as co-worker relationships, gender roles and marital quality, are powerful factors that can facilitate or constrain family business succession.

When family therapists are working with an individual, couple or family, and a family business is at stake, therapists are advised to explore the possible influence of the family business regardless of the nature of the presenting problem, the statement said.

“We want family business consultants to be aware of these findings because they speak to the importance of looking at succession problems through a systemic lens so that they can hypothesize about the facilitating or constraining impact of these key internal and interpersonal influences,” Solomon said.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.