Helping Family Businesses
Prosper Across Generations®


Values Dilemmas

Drafting a Values Statement for the family business and, especially, the family, is a worthwhile and ever more popular activity. (See the "sidebar" below for suggestions on how to do so.) While most families find surprisingly easy consensus on their values, sometimes important differences of perspective may arise. Then there can be a "values dilemma": two ideas that are in conflict, often between first versus second generation points of view and priorities.

Consider the following:

First Generation

  • "Hard work" was essential to the success of our business. It's great that it's become part of our business' culture. We thrive on it!
  • The increasing intensity of competition and change makes the intensity of work all the more important. Besides, if we take the pressure off, we'll begin to rot as an organization.

Second Generation

  • The family is working too hard! There's too much stress and pressure. There's no time for family life. We need a more "balanced life."
  • I understand. But if we transmit all this stress and pressure to the grandchildren maybe none of them will be interested in the business. Maybe even our own generation will have family problems because of no balance in the quality of life.

Founders often thrive on the work, the pressure and the stress. It's part of their entrepreneurial nature. The time and emotional requirements for the second generation can even be higher to the extent that they are also investing in their sibling relationships, their ownership education and young children, as well as their careers.

Acknowledging this dilemma is important to both generations, even if it isn't completely resolved. Conflicting perspectives on values are more likely to surface if the in-laws feel they can openly and candidly participate in the articulation and search for the family's values.

More on this dilemma in next month's issue, when we'll propose two more common generational Values Differences and suggest some ways to address them.


Asking family members what they believe are the family's values often fails to get to the heart of the matter. Values are often subtle. Their richness may be better observed from the outside. The following devices may enrich your family's search for its values:

  • Ask family members to tell their favorite family stories. Discuss the "morals" of the stories.
  • Interview outsiders--employees, retired executives, professional advisors -- ask them about their perceptions of your family's values.
  • Have a consultant study company documents (e.g., newsletters, employee manuals, ceremonial speeches, etc.) and report findings to a family meeting.
  • Study what's emphasized in company practices and policies (e.g., board reporting information, employee evaluation forms, distribution of financial information, etc.).



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