What are some examples of ecological succession

Careful design of corporate succession - the role of systemic succession coaching in entrepreneurial families using the example of the **** Hotel Alpenglüßen


Entrepreneurial families are complex systems characterized by mutual influences and feedback in the two subsystems, family and company. Business succession represents a major challenge, to which too little attention is paid in many companies and which should be accompanied by systemic succession coaching. The following article therefore describes the peculiarities of entrepreneurial families and business succession as a central challenge and then presents a case study. In the present case, the discussion formats used there - one-on-one, couple conversations and family workshops - as well as the coaching methods used - target work and ecology check, vision work, succession map - are described, condensed into working hypotheses and a procedural model derived from them for systemic follow-up coaching convicted.


Entrepreneurial families are complex systems, characterized by mutual influences and reactions of both systems — family and business. One essential challenge is business succession, which receives little attention in many family firms and would need systemic succession coaching along the process. This paper thus describes peculiarities of entrepreneurial families and the challenge of business succession. By means of a case study and in applied conversation formats — single coaching, pair coaching and family workshops — as well as coaching methods — goal setting and ecology check, visionalizing, succession map — working hypotheses and a process model for systemic succession coaching are introduced .


Family businesses come in different sizes and organizational forms, from small, medium-sized businesses to multinational corporations (Klein 2000, 2004). “Family businesses are first and foremost companies. This means that they have to submit to the rules and logic of the economy ”(Lippmann 2013, p. 5). Families, however, function according to different principles than companies. Entrepreneurial families are “not companies, but neither are they just and exclusively families. They are families in whose vicinity a company is permanently located ”(von Schlippe et al. 2017, p. 99). Systems theory serves as an analytical frame of reference for a better understanding of the complexity of an entrepreneurial family and the effects on the two subsystems family and company (Luhmann 1995; Tagiuri & Davis 1996; Simon 2009). It is important to consider system relationships, mutual influences and feedback within an entrepreneurial family.

The handover or succession is a critical phase for family businesses (Cabrera-Suárez et al. 2001; Lee et al. 2003; Spelsberg and Weber 2012). Only a small number of companies manage handover within the family over several generations (Kets de Vries 1993; Davis and Harveston 1999; Scholes et al. 2008; Klein et al. 2010). According to studies, only up to 66% of companies make the leap into the second generation. When it is passed on to the third generation, the percentage even drops to 10–37% (Hennerkes et al. 2007). According to studies, there are around 610,000 companies across Europe facing the challenges of succession (Halter 2009; Klein et al. 2010; Halter and Schröder 2011;); however, too little attention is paid to company handover in many companies (Zellweger et al. 2012).

With regard to the coaching of family businesses, the question arises whether their particularities are also reflected in the follow-up coaching, which, according to Shams (2011), still represents a research gap. "Despite the high percentage of family businesses among all businesses in the world, there is still a lack of consolidated literature on family business coaching practices, which may well be because family business coaching has been taken for granted and the need to develop a solid theoretical base with practical applications, on which family business coaching can be grounded, has not been sufficiently appreciated ”(Shams 2011, p. 6). Since there is currently no coaching model for entrepreneurial families, this article attempts to set up a procedural model for systemic succession coaching of entrepreneurial families, including coaching methods and instruments, and thus to close the following research gaps: "Therefore, increasing attention should be focused on the development of generic and specific family business coaching skills ... A collective effort from academics, practitioners, coaches, and businesses can ensure continuity in delivering good coaching practices for family businesses ... "(Shams 2011, p. 10). Since the family and company systems merge so strongly in family businesses, the question of how systemic business coaching can be used sensibly in the process of handing over the business arises, especially when it comes to succession.

The article therefore first describes the special features of entrepreneurial families as well as company succession as a separate challenge and then presents a case study. Case studies are particularly popular and necessary in research in the area of ​​family businesses due to the heterogeneity of the individual companies (Pounder 2015; Goel and Jones 2016; Leppa et al. 2016). The documented case is a traditional family tourism business. In the present case, the discussion formats used there - individual discussions with the six family members, couple discussions with the three couples, including one transferring couple and two accepting couples, and a family workshop with all family members - are described and condensed into working hypotheses. After an introduction to the case study, the findings and key experiences are described in the individual discussion formats and, at the end, the procedural model derived from this for systemic follow-up coaching is presented. In summary, the following research questions are investigated:

  1. 1.

    What special features have to be taken into account when making an intergenerational change in family businesses?

  2. 2.

    How can a systemic succession coaching process for entrepreneurial families be structured?

  3. 3.

    Which functional discussion formats can be used in succession coaching for entrepreneurial families?

The entrepreneurial family as a system

An essential feature of entrepreneurial families lies in the close interlinking of family, business and property, whereby "each of these social structures [...] has its own characteristic dynamic, which is, however, shaped by the others without losing their own logic" (Wimmer et al. 2009, p. 102). In terms of system theory, entrepreneurial families can be described as “social systems of different types” (Simon 2009, p. 19), which can only be maintained and demarcated from each other through communication (Simon 2007, p. 88) rules takes place. Family communication is usually very person-oriented, direct and spontaneous, not very formalized and flexible. The focus is on relationship, loyalty and appreciation, creating meaning, security and trust. Membership in the family cannot be terminated, roles can change in the course of life. In the company, on the other hand, the focus is on performance and output with the aim of ensuring smooth and person-independent procedures and processes and thus the survival of the company. The mostly written communication is therefore highly relevant and formalized. Money serves as the central currency. Membership in the company is contractually based and can be terminated at any time if necessary (Simon et al. 2005; Simon 2005, 2009; Leiß and Zehrer 2018b).

The classic role analysis and subsequently the development of role theory create the opportunity to explain and describe social issues. Based on the systems psychological role theory according to Mead and Linton (Stadler and Kern 2010), in entrepreneurial families, each member assumes different roles in these three subsystems with difficult to reconcile attributions and expectations, so that decisions are guided equally by factual and emotional motives (Rüsen 2009). Role behavior encompasses decisions and actions of individual role bearers (Jackson 1972). Research in this area creates the prerequisite for grasping these facts more clearly, more realistically and / or more appropriately descriptively (Wiswede 1977). A certain role behavior is expected from each individual. If the role bearer does not meet these expectations and does not comply with the rules, rejection and rejection can result (Sipos 2012). The analysis of role conflicts is one of the central topics of role theory (Wiswede 1977). Since the boundary between family and business is in most cases blurred, there is a constant mixing of roles with corresponding communication paradoxes such as "Be a caring father and a responsible entrepreneur at the same time!" Or "Be fair in both systems at the same time!" Schlippe et al. 2008, p. 24 ff.). The irreconcilable incompatibility of mutually exclusive values ​​and goals and the resulting conflicts are among the central challenges for everyone involved. In practice, there are various coping strategies in dealing with these highly explosive, slowly filling "nitroglycerin bottles" (von Schlippe 2009, p. 43), which range from tabooing to reflective balancing.

Succession as a special challenge for entrepreneurial families

The proportion of family businesses and thus their economic contribution is enormous (Harvey and Evans 1995, 1994): an estimated 80% of all companies in the EU are family-owned and together provide around 60% of jobs in the private sector (EU 2015). The change from one generation to the next is considered a particularly critical phase (Cater & Justis 2009; Nordqvist et al. 2013), which is of central importance for the viability of family businesses and is also of great importance for the economy as a whole.

Lansberg (1988) and Harveston et al. (1997) with the problem of company transfer - the focus of the elaborations is always on the handover (Handler 1994), whereas current research is increasingly concerned with the successor (De Massis et al. 2008; Brückner 2011; Collins 2011; Prügl and Hauck 2012 ). On the successor side, skills include knowledge (De Massis et al. 2008; Humphreys 2013), but also values, personality traits and leadership styles (De Massis et al. 2008; Ghee et al. 2015; Miller et al. 2003; Mussolino and Calabro 2014). Factors such as willingness, awareness, power and role relationships also play a special role (De Massis et al. 2008; Humphreys 2013; Sund et al. 2015). These can lead to intergenerational differences between the transferor and the transferee (Burböck and Krenn 2014; Davis and Harveston 1998; Schlepphorst and Moog 2014). Positive or negative effects can also arise from the communication behavior, the distribution of roles as well as possible gaps between the requirements and abilities of the successor (De Massis et al. 2008).

Family relationships also have an impact on succession (Collins 2011; Davis and Harveston 1998). Both the relationship between the transferor and the transferee or the parent-child relationship (De Massis et al. 2008; Muskat and Zehrer 2017) as well as relationships with the rest of the family (De Massis et al. 2008; Ghee et al. 2015; Zhou et al. 2016) included. Within family relationships, factors such as cohesion, control (Zhou et al. 2016), participation, helpfulness, cooperation (Steier and Miller 2010), dependencies (Miller et al. 2003) or family culture and the related harmony and communication play an important role (Sund et al. 2015).

Furthermore, the planning of the handover has moved to the fore of the investigations (Sharma et al. 2003; Chrisman et al. 2005). Getz and Petersen (2004) mainly deal with handover processes in family businesses and the resulting and frequently occurring intra-family conflicts, because the communicative exchange between the subsystems (i.e. relationship between parents, children, father-daughter, mother-son, mother-children, etc.) is based on learned and regular behavior of the family members (Oberlechner 2008). Zehrer and Haslwanter (2010) show reasons for a failed succession process, whereas Spelsberg and Weber (2012) present success factors for a succession process within the family. The importance of co-evolution in changing entrepreneurial families, the interdependent development of actors, relationship systems and structures is highlighted by Leiß and Zehrer (2018a). Zellweger et al. (2012) focus on entrepreneurship and how it can generate higher value in family businesses.

Dyer (2003), Lansberg and Astrachan (1994) or Miller et al. (2003) primarily underpin the emotional factors of the handover-successor relationship and the complex social relationships associated with it in family businesses. The change of generations also presents many family businesses with the major problem that no suitable successor can be found or that there are too many successors for a position (Huber and Sterr-Kölln 2006; Baumgartner 2009; Mueller-Harju 2013). Since a generation change does not take place overnight, it should be seen as a dynamic process that begins as a gradual development and requires detailed planning. Ideally, the follow-up process is deliberately managed over a longer period of time (Dyck et al. 2002; Sharma 2004; Riedel 2011). Succession planning thus becomes an essential success factor for the long-term survival and growth of family businesses (Martin et al. 2002).

Another point of influence arises within the company context through so-called context factors. These include, for example, changes in market and business development (De Massis et al. 2008), potential or existing corporate crises (Miller et al. 2003), changes in the competitive environment (Miller et al. 2003; Collins 2011), in the area of ​​key customers / en (Davis and Harveston 1998; De Massis et al. 2008; Collins 2011) or other stakeholders (Sund et al. 2015), in company performance (Miller et al. 2003) as well as in the organization, values ​​or culture in the company ( Davis and Harveston 1998; Miller et al. 2003; Lang-von Wins and Kaschube 2007; Collins 2011). External framework conditions and thus indirect factors such as social changes, new developments, values ​​or skills (Ahrens et al. 2015; Breuninger 1998) as well as new technologies to support the company, also within the follow-up process, e.g. in the transfer of knowledge (Bracci and Vagnoni 2011 ). Klages (Klages 1984; Klages and Gensicke 2006a, 2006b) speaks of the problem of changing social values ​​and describes the development of values ​​of duty and acceptance (conventionalism such as discipline, obedience, fulfillment of duty, loyalty, diligence, modesty) to values ​​for self-development (idealism such as Emancipation, democracy, autonomy; hedonism: enjoyment, adventure, variety), which makes people less and less willing to accept outside demands made authoritatively. This also has an impact on the succession problem.

Against the background of the considerations so far, the focus of follow-up coaching must be on raising awareness and developing reflective competence of the actors, because only in intergenerational dialogue will it be possible to use the strategic advantages and strengths of the entrepreneurial family as best as possible (Habbershon and Williams 1999; Habbershon et al. 2003; Kraus et al. 2011; Mühlebach 2012; Weismeier-Sammer et al. 2013).

The case study of the **** Hotel Alpenglow

Family businesses are formative in some industries, including tourism. With around 5.2% of the total workforce in Europe and around 9.7 million jobs, the tourism industry is the third largest socio-economic factor in the European Union (EU Business 2009). The success of the handover process therefore not only influences the development of the family business but also the development of the tourism destinations in which these businesses are embedded (Russell and Murphy 2005). Due to their history, family businesses in tourist destinations are authentic hosts who stand for the identity and history of the destination and can convey this to the guest (Arnoff and Ward 2011; Kaslow 2012). They often show a deep connection with the place; The solidarity with the locals can also be felt. In this sense, family businesses see themselves as a link between the locals and guests and see themselves jointly responsible for maintaining the destination as a living space (Beritelli et al. 2007). Their continued existence is therefore not insignificant for the future of tourism (Zehrer 2017).

This family business was founded in 1965 by Adolf and Johanna Hofer as a country inn with agriculture in the middle of the Alps.The first generation passed the business on to their only daughter Patrizia in 1998, who took over the country inn with six employees together with her husband Paul Hörmann, whom she met at a hotel management school. Together they develop the business into a well-established 4-star hotel that specializes in families. In 2017, the company generated sales of € 14 million and now employs 134 people, including five department heads. The employee turnover is below 20%, which is considerable for the industry (AMS 2016). The tourist destination in which the family business is based is now a successful year-round destination in the heart of the Tyrolean Alps. The hotel's main source market is Germany, followed by Austria, Switzerland and Great Britain. Additions and conversions characterize the operation, the last investment with a total of € 13 million will be made between 2016 and 2017 in a new wellness area and in the renovation of the rooms.

Patrizia and Paul have two children, Kurt and Peter, who, together with their spouses Susanne and Olivia, show an interest in taking over the family business within the next five years. Kurt, 33, attends a renowned hotel management school in Switzerland, where he also meets his wife, Susanne, 32. Susanne also has a lot of experience in tourism. You already have two young children, aged one and three years. Both have been working in the family business for five years now. Kurt is in charge of operational management, while Susanne mainly works at reception and takes care of personnel matters. When Kurt and Susanne celebrate their wedding in town, the father announces to the assembled community that he will now hand over the business to his son. Kurt and his wife, however, lose faith in the announced handover, as this has not happened for five years. Kurt has had a number of conflicts with his father over the past few years, as he repeatedly criticizes his work and does not trust him. Paul and his son Kurt also have different ideas when it comes to running the company. While the father practices a very authoritarian leadership style, Kurt wants to lead the employees in a participatory manner and attaches great importance to the opinion of the department heads. Kurt also criticizes the lack of regulation of responsibilities in the company, v. a. With regard to the skills that he and his wife bring with them due to their in-depth training and the constant interference of his father in the management of the company. For Susanne, too, the missing distribution of tasks and job descriptions are difficult to handle; from their point of view, there is a lack of professionalism with regard to the large number of employees in the company. She feels overwhelmed and not valued. Due to the numerous conflicts, the two generations communicate with each other almost exclusively via email; the personal communication between father and son has greatly decreased, which is a very great emotional burden for mother Patrizia, and also puts Kurt and Susanne's marriage to a severe test.

The second son, Peter, 27, is studying financial management in the USA and works for international companies, where he also meets his 30-year-old wife Olivia, a South American who works in a leading marketing position in a large corporation. Both have not yet been integrated into the family business, and since Peter went to school and studied abroad, he only knows the hotel from annual skiing holidays and other visits to family events. Olivia is herself the daughter of a family business, but has made a conscious decision not to join the family business; Therefore, the integration into the family business of her husband Peter is now a great challenge, which she meets with respect, knowing what it means to work in a family business. Peter and Olivia get married in September 2017 and move to the small alpine town, which is a culture shock for Olivia, as she has only ever lived in big cities and now lives in a community of 1000 souls. In addition, she hardly speaks any German, which is also a challenge.

The two sons develop completely different professionally, both go to different boarding schools and therefore do not grow up together. Therefore, both are very distant from each other. Kurt and Peter are also very different characters, while Kurt is very socially committed (he is a member of the voluntary fire brigade and other clubs in the village), Peter is a sports enthusiast and a very self-centered person. Since Peter already suffers from rheumatism as a toddler, he is always preferred by his parents in Kurt's eyes; that's why Kurt always envied his younger brother. In Kurt's eyes, Peter is his father's favorite son; while he has a strained relationship with his father, Peter and Paul get on very well. Since both sons want to take over the business, Kurt fears that his younger brother will be favored.

The starting position already shows that there are some challenges to be overcome in the family business, which will be exacerbated by the upcoming generation change. The main issues include the lack of intergenerational communication or culture of discussion in the company as well as a lack of control mechanisms (organizational chart, clear delimitation of responsibilities) but also a lack of family governance (e.g. a family constitution, a family council, etc.) in the company.

Systemic succession coaching in family businesses

Business coaching is described as a dyadic process between client and coach with the aim of dealing with work-related issues (Feldman and Lankau 2005; Theeboom et al. 2014; Schermuly and Graßmann 2016; Schulz 2016). Coaching of entrepreneurial families is basically similar to classic business coaching, but the special features of the family business must be taken into account. "Coaching practice in family businesses has distinct features because coaching practice is designed to include specific features of a functional family, such as family values, family ethics, traditions, interpersonal relations, emotions, communication patterns, and leadership style. No other coaching type has such a diverse range of issues to deal with in a coaching intervention "(Shams 2011, p. 9). The art in coaching entrepreneurial families therefore lies in giving all family members the appropriate attention. Coaching is only effective if the coach is aware of the complex situation in business families and understands the dynamics of a family business (Lippmann 2013).

The difficulty in coaching is also to focus not only on the family, but also on the family at the interface to the company, i. H. Coaching must relate to both systems - the family system and the company system. This turns the coaching of business families into a complex task that requires the establishment of new communication formats in the interaction of the subsystems (Schreyögg 2011; Schwertl 2016). "As family businesses tend to give priority to socio-emotional issues (Gómez-Mejía et al. 2007), we can expect that their coaching processes will differ from those of non-family firms" (Utrilla and Torraleja 2013). Based on the business coaching approach and due to the special features of a family company, the systemic coaching of entrepreneurial families must take into account both family and entrepreneurial issues.

“The practice of systemic organizational consulting means interdisciplinarity. It requires the integration of different scientific directions in the construction of an appropriate theory of one's own actions ”(Wimmer 1992, p. 82). In the process support of a family company, two coaches should be represented in parallel for all of the discussion formats outlined below, in all discussions with individual family members and with the entire family. Through a coaching dyad, “the content conveyed in the discussions is subject to a special form of control” (Kühl 2009, p. 68). It is important to emphasize the special security of a dyad while maintaining confidentiality (Simmel 1917). Personal face-to-face communication by means of the dyad becomes many times more flexible and meaningful, as gestures and facial expressions enable both coaches to grasp and interpret certain facts and relationships more precisely. In the sense of a collegial validation, the results can be reflected on together (Steinke 1999). As far as the interdisciplinary composition of the dyad is concerned, it makes sense to have a coach with family therapy expertise and a business consultant who will accompany the entrepreneurial family through what is by far the most critical phase in their life cycle.

"Succession coaching is advice, mentoring and support related to the specific needs of one or more family members in decision-making and change situations in connection with corporate succession" (Mueller-Harju 2013, p. 129). With the exception of a few authors, however, the coaching of entrepreneurial families is rarely discussed in the literature and represents a research gap. This article attempts to put a procedure for succession coaching and applied coaching methods up for discussion on the basis of the case study described. The following procedural model aims to outline the contact, orientation and analysis phase (Rauen 2005) of systemic succession coaching in entrepreneurial families. The individual process steps are logically structured in terms of time and supplemented by the corresponding coaching methods and analysis methods. The procedural model is intended to serve as an organizational aid for coaching the successor to entrepreneurial families (Fig. 1). Three different coaching discussion formats are used here - one-on-one, couple discussions and family workshops - which are briefly explained theoretically below and in their exemplary practical implementation in Section 6.

Since every subsystem at the company level consists of individuals, the individual is primarily the fundamental object of analysis (Kast and Rosenzweig 1992; Riordan and Riordan 1993; Pieper and Klein 2007). First of all, therefore, it is necessary individual order clarification discussions