Generation gap communication a concern for family concerns

By Nam Anh   November 26, 2019 | 08:30 pm PT
The art of listening, professionalism and proving oneself are key factors that both founders and inheritors need to adopt in large family businesses.

This was a key takeaway from a talk VnExpress had with Tran Uyen Phuong, Deputy CEO of Tan Hiep Phat Group, focused in particular on interpersonal and internal communication in a family business.

Phuong acknowledged that the concept of strictly obeying the mature generation has the potential to create interpersonal and internal communication barriers in family business. She spoke of her own experiences in this regard, explaining how internal communication is kept effective within Tan Hiep Phat.

Tran Uyen Phuong, deputy CEO of Tan Hiep Phat, also the elders daughter of Tan Hiep Phats founder Tran Qui Thanh.

Tran Uyen Phuong, Deputy CEO and board member of Tan Hiep Phat, is the elder daughter of the group's founder Tran Qui Thanh.

What are differences between communication in a normal business and that in a family-owned business?

A family business integrates two somewhat separate concepts - "family" and "business". The intertwining of these two in an organization makes operations, especially internal communication between family members involved in management, much more complicated.

We have heard a lot about corporate internal communication, but rarely discuss family communication.

Growing up in a business family and joining the organization founded by my father, I understand the communication difficulties in a family-owned business. Family members have to deal with business, take care of the organization as well as thousands of employees, while keeping intact the family relationships that exist alongside. Communication in such a special setting needs more attention.

Can you elaborate on communication in a family business being more complicated but often overlooked?

East Asian cultures show high respect for elders, which means the communication between the two generations must pay close attention to the pecking order. Therefore, young people often express their opinions with caution. In many cases, the F2 generation is said to be "teaching your grandmother to suck eggs." Some are too impatient to prove their capacity and this can overwhelm communication channels.

Besides, executive board members sometimes think that family members who live under one roof and grow up together will find no difficulty in understanding and communicating with each other. This preconception hinders effective listening and communication within the organization. This preconception is also why we rarely discuss how to communicate internally within a family business.

What obstacles have you encountered in internal communication within the company?

At Tan Hiep Phat, we are fortunate that our family members respect and understand that both relationships exist in parallel – familial and work relationships. Everyone makes an effort to contribute to the general efficiency, not to pursue their own interests, or to show off themselves in competition with others.

However, we have also encountered communication barriers. I think it is common sense that this can happen when we interact with someone we think we understand and are familiar with. For example, when talking to brothers and sisters, we imagine that they will complain about this and that. Or when talking to children, parents are likely to adopt a position of imposition and punishment. At such times, conversations become stressful, and both sides can easily go into their shell and no longer be eager to share anything.

Thanks to a training session by two experts from the Talent Leadership Crucible, we had the opportunity to sit down, listen and speak openly with each other. Since then we have understood each other better in both personal, family and work aspects. I also hope that through such seminars, the audience - the company members, will find suitable answers for internal communication problems.

So, what are some key aspects of effective internal communication in a family concern?

To communicate and share effectively, we need to listen. This may sound like a platitude, but not everyone can do it, especially when talking to someone we think we know well. To listen to each other, both business owners - generation F1 and their children - generation F2, must practice and remind themselves constantly about this aspect. The ability to listen is like a muscle that needs daily exercise to remain firm.

At Tan Hiep Phat, we divide "family" and "business" into two separate concepts. For example, when I go to my dad for discussing work, I’ll tell him that right at the outset. If it is about personal matters, or something a daughter wants to share with her father, I will make that clear, express my concerns and ask him for advice. This makes us mentally well-prepared and ready to listen and discuss openly.

What are the challenges posed by expectations of different generations in a family business?

The generational transfer process in family businesses often faces many difficulties, mainly in just answering the question of of how the F2 generation can or should continue the F1 generation's achievements.

Excessive expectations from business owners can create pressure, not motivation. Once young people experience "forced responsibility," they are more likely to run away. On the other hand, the children of business owners are often too eager to prove themselves and believe that what they have learned abroad, for example, is right. This can easily lead to wrong decisions. Like myself. Fifteen years ago, after studying abroad, I was very confident even though I did not have deep knowledge and practical experience in management.

Tran Uyen Phuong was speaking at an event about brand building.

Tran Uyen Phuong speaks at an event about brand building.

How do succeeding generations persuade and create trust with the founders?

My solution is to listen, communicate openly and prove my words with action. In addition, each action and decision needs patience and contemplation. There are things that need experience and honed skills in order to be effective. It is not correct that just because you like to do something or you have learnt something at school, you will definitely succeed.

I also expect business owners to understand their children and the difference between pressure and motivation, and then find a way to encourage successors to develop effectively. In the United States or Israel, well known places for start-ups, the ability of a business owner is assessed on the basis of the number of failures. Therefore, the stumbling of young people should be seen in that light, as a motivation and experience to help them develop and succeed.

Which has a greater influence on the decision-making of a business executive board, the founder's experience or the youthfulness and commitment of the successor?

Every business, family, even a culture or a country will have different answers. At Tan Hiep Phat, we have invited international consultants to assist us with restructuring the business so that internal operations are effective and separate from the family.

Presently, Tan Hiep Phat is a big family of thousands of people, so it does not depend on any individual. Whenever we need to make a decision, we carefully discuss and consult with our experts before choosing the path on the basis of creating the greatest benefit for the highest number of people.

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