Media companies across the U.S. have faced a myriad of challenges over the past 10 years—declining circulation, reduced advertising, online competition—the list goes on and on. As media companies were grappling with this changing landscape, along came a recession that hit them particularly hard. In the face of this, many organizations have worked tirelessly to reduce costs, improve their balance sheets, and develop new strategies to improve digital readership and revenue as traditional print revenue declined.
For family-owned media companies, there is an additional hurdle: engaging the next generation. As the industry continues to experience economic and growth challenges, many family-owned companies are unsure of who will take the reins into the future, as the next generation has remained somewhat disengaged from what it sees as a rocky future.
For these companies, it is imperative that the current leadership finds a way to engage future leaders. This engagement can take the form of employment or participation with the board of directors and shareholder meetings.
In our experience, the best way to foster this involvement is to establish a clear pathway forward by creating policies that establish criteria for family members to ascend to leadership. It is important that policies are flexible enough to entice the next generation to get involved with the company, but at the same time create a standard and level of expectation that allows each individual to engage with the company at a high level. When dealing with next generation members from different family lines, company policies can have the effect of leveling the playing field and can eliminate favoritism.
Organizations should develop criteria and guidelines that allow for family members to work at the business in a manner that puts the company’s best interest first. Criteria may distinguish between working in general positions versus working in key management and executive positions within the organization. Here are some guidelines we have seen through our work with our clients:
- A future leader must obtain a higher education degree. Some companies require an advanced degree (i.e. MBA or law degree) in order to advance to executive positions within the company.
- A future leader must work at another organization in the same or similar industry before they can work at the company. This allows an individual to develop skills in the same industry of the family business but without the influence of the family.
- A future leader must work at different positions and departments at the business in order to gain a complete understanding of the internal workings. It also allows the individual to work with different employees at the company and learn the inter-workings of each department.
By requiring a high level skillset, the next generation of family members can contribute to the business in many different ways. For media companies, this is more important than ever before. Successor generations may be better equipped to understand evolving issues such as news content and delivery of news to Millennials.
As the next generation becomes more involved and entrenched in the daily operations of their organizations, generational transition and succession planning come to the forefront. Having successor generations who are equipped to run a business and understand the audience they are delivering their products to helps media companies be better prepared to deal with industry challenges.
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