Would You Like to See the Menu, or the Recipe Book?

Advising family businesses is a growing field, as more people are recognizing what an important part they play in the economy, with all sorts of statistics being bandied about, from the percentage of GDP to the percentage of jobs that they are responsible for.

Still, the vast majority of those who advise these businesses continue to serve mostly the business circle, and not that many actually specialize in the issues that affect the family circle. I have spent about 95% of my life in the business circle, since I was raised to believe that it was the only one that mattered.

As a recent convert to the family circle, I can tell you that it is a very drastic change in perception, and not one that most people comprehend easily. I have committed myself to continue to “preach the gospel” about the importance of taking care of the family dynamics issues before they cause problems.

I had my A-Ha moment almost 2 years ago during the Family Enterpise Advisor course (www.ifea.ca). I first blogged about this in June 2013: http://stevelegler.com/three-circles-seven-sectors-one-a-ha-moment/

Today I want to talk about some of the difficulties I have had when trying to explain just how facilitators, coaches, and mediators like myself fit into the picture, especially when speaking to the advisors who already serve family businesses. In fact, one simple way is to say to them that while they serve the family business, we serve the business family.

Over lunch recently with a colleague who makes his living from selling insurance policies that are used in large and complex trusts for ultra-high-net-worth individuals, he explained to me that it would help me greatly to develop and explain my “process”, so that people like accountants and tax specialists could realize and understand how I add value to their services.

But last week during a similar lunchtime discussion, this time with someone who also works the process side of things (a business transition coach, but who does not typically work with families) I had no trouble getting him to understand my complaint that there is no “recipe” or exact set of steps to this work that can be laid out as “my process”.

I made the analogy of a baker versus a chef. Baking, from my limited experience, is a science, where not following the steps of the recipe exactly will almost surely result in a sub-optimal end result. Family business advising is much more like cooking; think soup, stew, or chili. It is much more of an art, with a variety of ingredients and quantities depeneding on the chef and the season.

A couple of days later, it hit me. It is not a recipe that I need to show people, because even pretending that there is a proper recipe would be wrong. A better analogy would be to show people the menu.

When someone comes into a restaurant, they almost always look at the menu, and rarely ask to see the recipe book. And so it should be for family business advisors.

Then I took it a step or two further. Some restaurants have menus that are so extensive that they actually offer too many choices. What might be even better is a kind of “lunchtime special” menu, where you get a soup or a salad, a choice of 10 main courses, and a cup of coffee.

I know that there are others in this space that may be struggling with getting their message heard in a productive way, and I am a big believer in helping to make the pie bigger.

I want to continue to get the message out to people who work with business families that they not simply assume that the family issues will just take care of themselves, and that the only key client is the business.

The need is huge, even if it has not yet manifested itself as a huge demand. Nobody can “corner the market”, but we can help to grow the demand, by continuing to spread the message.

Would you care to see my lunch specials? Stay tuned.