Creating, building, and maintaining a business is difficult. It’s even more difficult when that business is created, built, and maintained by one family. Effective communication lies at the heart of successful family-owned businesses, which are likely to span several members across different generations.

Establishing successful communication amongst family members isn’t always easy; in fact, it can be a leading cause of discord and failure for many family businesses. I’d like to share some ways that we at THP have been able to cultivate effective communication, which has contributed to our sustained success.

Creating and Respecting Boundaries

When my family’s company was first established, there were no boundaries at all. We literally lived in the factory. My father’s office was also the family living room. These days we live in an apartment above the factory and try to eat together twice a day. This is when we swap information and ideas. No one tries to hoard information. It keeps the lines of communication open and strong.

But when we are at work, we only refer to each other as Dr. Thanh, Madam Nụ, Miss Bích and Miss Phương. It is how we try to maintain good boundaries and make them clear to all our colleagues. For example, in the workplace, I need to respect my father as my boss, but he also needs to respect my professional opinion even if it differs from his. He talks to me as a valued colleague, not as a father talking to a daughter.

Communicating Generation to Generation

Successful multi-generational family businesses take very specific steps to transfer family values from one generation to the next. For us, this has included:

  • Expectation of Achievement and Rejection of Entitlement. Younger members need clear standards for behavior and achievement. Joining the family business should not be viewed as an automatic right. It is something which should be earned, not inherited.
  • Respect for Elders. Respect for elders is a very Asian value, but it is key to success in any culture. After all, the senior members take responsibility for setting the “tone at the top.” All corporate cultures start from the top.
  • Understanding the Second Generation. Second generation family members will have grown up in different circumstances, so it is important that the first generation understands what motivates them.
  • Respect for Stories. This is how successful companies communicate their core values and mission. It helps all family members to understand and remember what makes their family unique.

These stories require inter-generational conversations and making these conversations a priority. Most of these conversations are informal, happening over dinner and casual meetings. But formal conversations can also work. Some families schedule time, or a formal meeting every month or every quarter so that family members can sit together and have conversations that span all generations. The important thing is that they happen.