Rather than thinking of sustainability as continuing what is, it is important to think of it as adapting and evolving to change so that the family resources are preserved and perhaps even expanded. With the increased rate of change inherent in rapid information flow and economic fluidity, it is not only jobs, which are increasingly of short tenure but also complete industries that are either experiencing the same or changing greatly. Combine this with the fact that we are a matured culture with mature industries that struggle to keep market share, and one is left with a combination that is a real challenge for families.
It is usually the transition to a cousins group for which a new lens or viewpoint becomes important to the family’s ability to sustain itself. The family must shift from defining itself as a family who has a business to one, which seeks to develop a portfolio of assets. While it is important to reinvest in the family’s business, it is also important that the lens shift include the deliberate, systematic and objective examination of the use of resources. Then, if necessary, the family can go about building other assets, which hopefully will evolve from or fit the passions of the next generation.
On a practical level, this means that families must review with their boards the current state of their industry and their place in it. They must actively spend time visioning their future in terms of their economy. It is also important to utilize strategic planning methods, such as scenario planning, to simulate the alternative realities they envision. Too many families are continuing to put money into their businesses without considering the alternative ways to effectively divert and use their financial and human resources.