When dealing with next gen members, family office executives and senior family members often subconsciously look at them through the lens of the family office or family business and try to find a way that they can fit into that picture. However, if you do this it is likely that the next gens will fall short of the expectations imposed upon them.
Instead, you should be looking at them as individuals who have unique talents and interests. The path to helping create grounded, confident next gen members who can make a contribution back into the family starts with helping them find out who they are and what they want to do with their futures.
I recall a speech made by a next gen member of a prominent Canadian family who ended up going to France because there his family name was not well known. He felt he could finally be himself and prove his credentials without his family name getting in the way. It's a fundamental question of identity.
Consequently, I think it's important for family offices to work with the next gen to establish a process to manage this. First, help the next gen to look at "what do I really want" by creating a structure where they can have a conversation about their professional and personal future.
Second, they need to understand "where am I now?" One of the biggest problems is that next gens don't get honest feedback from anyone. Family office staff often treat them differently because they are the "child" of this family, while many parents don't know how to give constructive feedback. I would recommend performing a 360 assessment where next gens can get feedback from their peers and colleagues. Third, you need to help them to design a plan that outlines the steps they need to take to get to where they want to go. For example, do they need to take some communication skills courses or learn more about financial statements? There should be timelines and benchmarks as in a business development plan, but remain cogniscent that this is about their personal and professional development.
It is also vital that once the family office has developed the plan alongside the next gen member, it can assist in arranging regular meetings and updates so the process continues in a constructive way and progress can be monitored and any problems addressed. This is where family offices have an amazing infrastructure to help families by providing assistance to help them achieve their goals.
Siblings and cousins can be extremely helpful in providing an accountability structure for each other. By spending time together regularly to talk about where they are at in their plan and how they can help each other, they keep each other on track and build family relationships at the same time.
Next gens can feel powerless when it comes to making decisions about their future, especially those who have become "trapped" working in the family business. In this situation, next gens need someone who can help them define their options. Next gens often have a great deal of power as they can either step up to the plate and engage or walk away.
It's not easy to go from feeling trapped in a family dynasty but this is where an external, independent coach or mentor can be brought in to act as a sounding board and say "this is what I see happening in your situation".
Another option is to get them involved with philanthropy. This generation has been shaped by recent world events and feels the need to make a contribution. In many cases, today's next gen also have more choices than previous generations to become involved in philanthropy, rather than working full-time in the family business.
It is especially the case with next gens who are not involved in running the family business. It can be a great way for next gens to follow their passion, but also for parents to hand over a qualified opportunity to manage risk.
One of the biggest problems is that many families with significant assets are unwilling to let the next gens fail because they're seen as failing with the family's money. A philanthropic opportunity is therefore a great way of teaching the next gen in a way that lets them find their feet and make mistakes in a more controlled environment.
There is no guaranteed way to ensure next gens will ultimately fulfil their dreams, but by treating them as individuals you will help them better integrate and feel as though they are an important part of a successful family, whether they work in the business or not.