Innovating the Family Business: Helping Older Generations Embrace Technology

Posting by Geoffrey D. Brown, CPA

As the baby boomer generation ages, and younger generations step in to take over certain leadership responsibilities within the family business, conflicts can arise when it comes to managing and innovating the business — usually due to the older generation’s hesitance toward change.  Today we have an overabundance of business amenities – many of which weren’t even in existence just a decade ago.  While baby boomers often have irreplaceable experience and insight into the business, they may find it difficult to adapt to new technology, tools and systems that are better for the business.

It’s been said that change is inevitable – whether we like it or not, nothing stays the same forever.  You’ve also likely heard that “change is good.”  When it comes to the family business, this rings true.  If a business is to stay competitive and thrive in today’s market, then it cannot risk being stymied because of employees’ resistance to progress and innovation. If left unaddressed, such unwillingness to change and other generational conflicts could lead to bigger issues, hindering productivity and performance, precipitating frustration and low employee morale.

While generational differences in the workplace may seem difficult to manage, they can be approached by focusing on certain behaviors to encourage teamwork and enable employees to function more efficiently.  This will also help more seasoned employees to overcome fear and resistance to change.

Consider the following tips to inspire the older generation to embrace technological change:

Highlight the advantages of new technology.  When the older generation has doubt, show them how new technology and new processes can have a positive impact on the business and improve their work efficiency.  Talk about the bottom-line impact, demonstrate the advantages, and provide real-life success stories of other companies that are actively using new tools and innovations. It’s important for them to relate to these changes so they can understand how this will affect them, their work, and the company.

Provide cross-generational mentoring.  Create mentoring and training programs for older and younger generations, so they can learn from each other’s knowledge and strengths.  This way, the critical skill sets and job knowledge are transferred between generations.  For instance, older employees can mentor younger workers on business skills gained from their years of experience, and the younger generation can train the older on using innovative technology and tools to enhance their skills.

Arrange team-building activities.  Help your team members build on each generation’s strengths.  Older generations possess large amounts of institutional knowledge and business finesse, while Generation Xers are considered to be the “risk-takers” and Generation Yers are up on the latest technology channels and efficiencies.  With team-building activities you can create comfortable situations in which employees of different generations can work together successfully.

Create a support system.  Aside from mentoring and team-building programs, provide ongoing support to help guide employees toward using technology to achieve common business goals.   Consider using online demonstrations and tutorials, or perhaps designate a team of experts at your company who can serve as the go-to sources when additional help is needed.

Be respectful and communicate clearly.  Everyone should be treated with fairness and respect, from the newest team member to the most seasoned employee.  No matter what their comfort level with new innovations and technology, motivate your employees to do their best, and recognize when they are having difficulties and may need to talk.  Communicate business goals, the direction the company is heading, and how they can play an important role in the big picture.  This will help employees feel like they can be a part of the forward-moving strategy, rather than hindering the business’s progress and holding it back.

Keep in mind that your employees’ professional growth and ability to adapt is directly related to your company’s growth and ability to succeed in the dynamic business environment. Family businesses can benefit from understanding each generation’s different work styles, their cultural preferences and values, and concerns about change.  By taking a team approach, providing support and mentoring programs, and communicating the benefits of the impending changes, whether they be related to new technology or some other innovation, you can head off any conflicts and avoid problems when it comes to refreshing and innovating your business.

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