Family Business Decision Making

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part II of II)

Family Business Consultant - Family Meeting Facilitation - Wealth manager

Writing this blog every weekend is truly cathartic for me, and I love doing it, but it offers its share of challenges too.

Last week’s post ended a bit abruptly for my liking, as I was trying to complete my point about consensus being impossible without consent, but realized that I was leaving too many important things unsaid.

Being my own editor and publisher has its advantages, though, so simply adding a “part 2 of 2” is an easy way out.

We left off looking at how getting the consent necessary for family consensus can be tricky and time consuming, but if you care about this subject at all, you probably already know that.

This week I want to add three key aspects to the ideas already put forth. They are: Offering an Informed Choice, We > Me, and Progress > Perfection.

 

Informed Choice

If I ask for your consent to do something minor, and you already trust me due to some prior common experience or interaction, chances are good that you will quickly go along.

If we change that from something minor to something major, it is more likely that you will take your time before consenting.

If we now add in some complexity to the equation, hesitation on your part will surely increase further.

As I wrote in 2014 in “The Importance of Offering an Informed Choice” very often families will have their lawyers draft extensive documents to formalize family structures, but the families never actually sign them. The most frequent reason noted is disagreement, but that usually masks a lack of true understanding.

If you want me to sign an agreement, you better make sure that I am comfortable doing so, and that means, first and foremost, that I acutally understand what I am agreeing to.

If I don’t feel informed or if I don’t feel like I had any choice, my reluctance will skyrocket.

 

We > Me

Now we are getting into a whole different area, but a doozy nonetheless.

As I covered last year in “Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?”, it is important for all stakeholders to have a say in matters.

Ideally, the family figures out what THEY want (They, plural!) and then “Once they know what they want to accomplish, they THEN engage the advisors to fine-tune the details of HOW they will write it up.

Somewhere along the way, everyone needs to come to the realisation that there is no “Me, or I” in family continuity, it is all about We.

If you don’t get past this one, well, good luck with building consensus.

 

Progress > Perfection 

This point is very much related to the conclusion of last week’s piece, in that all of the questions of building consensus for lasting inter-generational family continuity require patience, realistic expectations, and time.

As long as it is more “Two steps forward, one step back”, than “One step forward and two steps back”, consider it progress. If you are expecting perfection AND getting it done quickly, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

It is not because your advisors are no good, or not trying hard enough, this stuff is complex AND important, and we are dealing with emotional subject matter.

Now, if you feel like you are blocked, it is high time you bring someone in from the outside to help bring some perspective and an unbiased viewpoint or to kickstart things forward again.

Last fall, as I wrote in “Understanding AND Agreement, you need everyone to understand things, AND agree to them. If either is missing, there will be a problem.

 

Recap

Getting consensus is not easy and it takes time. People need to be fully informed of what the stakes are for them, and there needs to be an overall understanding that the WE of the family is more important that any one person’s stake.

Lastly, if you are hoping to wrap everything up quickly, you are surely fooling yourself. This is not a straightforward process, it never is. But you can get through it, and it is worth it in the end.

 

The Value of a Trusted Family Business Advisor

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part I of II)

Sometimes things that are right under our noses are the hardest to see. Few people are immune to this, although many act as if they are.

In the interest of leading by example, I usually cherish the opportunity to share things that strike me, but which seem so obvious in retrospect that I am actually nearly ashamed to admit them.

This week’s post is about how business families make decisions together. When the founder starts a business, it is not unusual for most decisions to be made in the six inches or so between the founder’s ears.

One of the “fun” parts of family businesses, and the business families who own and manage them, is that as the business makes its transition to the following generation, the number of decision-makers often increases.

And therein lie many of the major issues that these families face, as they wrestle with how the group of people who own and manage the business will decide together, communicate, and solve problems together, as the business and assets of the family move from one generation to the next.

With large groups of people, voting is frequently an option that gets explored, and is often adopted in one form or another. This works well in politics, sometimes.

In a family business, or in any family that co-owns and/or co-manages assets together, voting has a lot of potentially negative consequences. Advisors to families in these situations will usually recommend that the family work toward more of a consensus model instead.

Now we are getting back to my embarrassing admission. I always assumed that consensus meant a decision that everyone agreed to. While that is not completely wrong, it is far from being a good definition.

If I were explaining it to a kindergarten class, it might fly, but I usually deal with a crowd that is a little older, and better educated. Interestingly, my epiphany came on a college campus.

Ever since I began doing college campus tours with my son these past few months, I have heard many college admissions folks talk about what makes their institution unique.

We sat in on sessions at some small Pennsylvania colleges that have a Quaker tradition, and during one of these (Haverford, if I recall correctly) they spoke about the consensus method of decision-making on campus.

The presenter explained that consensus is working on finding a decision that everyone could and would consent to, even if it weren’t their first choice.

OMG, you mean consensus comes from consent?!? Aaaaaggghhhh! Had it really taken me 52 years to figure this out? Well, yes. But I am really glad that I did, and not just because I got a blog subject out of it.

The devil, of course, is in the details. It is all well and good for me to talk about how much better consensus decisions are, but if families don’t understand what is really involved in achieving them, how much good will come of it?

Interstingly, most of the conclusions I will now present are ones that re-occur frequently in my blogs and my discussions with families.

Here goes:

Simple vs Easy

Consensus is simple to explain, especially with my “revelation” that getting people’s consent is how it works. But simple does not equal easy, as in “easy to do”.

 

Happens by Itself, NOT

My oft-repeated “things don’t just happen by themselves” applies here too. It may be easy to get everyone to consent to the idea of making decisions by consensus, but that will often be the last decision on which consensus comes quickly.

 

Communication

A common thread in families where things run smoothly is good, frequent, clear, open communication. Enduring consensus is nearly impossible without it.

 

It Takes Time

Everyone always seems to be in a hurry. But good, lasting decisions take time. Time to talk, time to think, time to listen, time to reconsider, time to caucus, time to research, time to sleep on it, time to invite outside opinions.

The decisions that last generations are the ones that all stakeholders have consented to.

We will look into some of the details in Part II next week.

 

 

I Can See CLEARLY Now…

Empty road with motion blur

…the rain is gone.

Jimmy Cliff was not an advisor to business families, but he certainly put his finger on one of the bigger issues that families are faced with as they try to figure out how to make sure that their legacy makes it to following generations.

It has nothing to do with making the rain stop, and everything to do with CLARITY.

This all sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that making things clear is what you need to do, and if and when you do that, the rest is easy. Well, as important as achieving clarity is, it is rarely easy. But it is an essential first step.

OK, so what are we talking about here? Maybe I need to be more clear. True enough, because I could be talking about a whole lot of different things here, right? Well, yes, and maybe I am.

We are talking about business families, or UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth) families, or legacy families, and we are talking about when they get to the important decisions that need to be made surrounding the passing of their wealth to their succeeding generations.

The senior generation and the rising generation each see things from their own point of view, and a good deal of what they each feel is important will often remain undiscussed.

Let’s now add in the professional advisors to the family, from the accountants and lawyers to the wealth managers, bankers, insurance people and tax specialists.

Each of these trusted specialists also tends to see things from their own professional perspective, and since each one is armed with their own specialist hammer, they will often see every family’s issue as being just their kind of nail.

All of the parties are well meaning, competent, and intent on arriving at the best possible result for the family, because they all know that while it is not easy to beat the odds, this family has just what it takes to pass on their wealth for many generations to come.

After listening to a variety of ideas from their trusted advisors and even the members of the rising generation of their family (who will play instrumental roles in seeing the plans through), the leading members of the family who must ultimately decide on various courses of action are often hesitant to act.

The finger pointing can now begin. The rising genration can point at their parents and blame them for not trusting their children, the lawyer can blame the accountant, the insurance person can blame the tax guy, and Mom can blame Dad.

All along, the missing ingredient was clarity.

Here are just a few of the items that were probably not made clear, either because everyone assumed the answers where understood and agreed upon, or because they required discussing issues that are just no fun to talk about.

  • What are the main goals for the family; to run a business together, to run a foundation together, to share use of the family real estate, to raise future stewards of the family legacy, or for everyone to do what they love and happily gather as a family at holiday time?
  • How important is it to minimize the amount of taxes that the family will have to fork over to the government when each person passes away?
  • Do the people who are expected to play key roles in carrying out the plans actually know what those plans are, understand those roles, and agree to carry them out?
  • Are there other family members who may be expecting to play certain roles who are being left out?
  • Is anyone being conveniently blind to poor relationships that exist, and hoping that when these people inherit assets that they are to manage together, they will magically become great business partners?

Now I never said that making these things clear was simple, and I guess after looking at these questions it is easy to understand why these things get overlooked in the name of action, any action.

But as professionals helping families, we have to do a better job of helping families “see all obstacles in their way”.

 

 

Creating Pathways for families

Sweet Secluded Rendez-Vous

rendezvous2016_archive

As I hinted last week, I will attempt to review my experience at my third trip to Rendez-Vous, the annual get together of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

A couple of months back when I attended the annual CAFÉ Symposium, I recapped my trip with a “Top 10 List” of the event. For Rendez-Vous, I’ve decided on 2 “Top 5 Lists”.

The Top 5 of the sessions I attended, will be followed by a Top 5 of the best things about attending Rendez-Vous, from my own biased perspective, of course.

 

Top 5 Sessions 

 

  1. Collaboration Day

Rendez-Vous (R-V) officially got under way on Wednesday evening, but this year there was something new in the mix, and many attendees took advantage of it.

Preceding the usual R-V was another conference called Fusion Collaboration (FC), aimed at introducing more technical practitioners (lawyers and CPA’s) into the purposeful work that attracts others to R-V.

The final day of FC was dubbed “Collaboration Day”, and through keynotes, break-outs and an interactive video case with roundtable discussions, lots of valuable lessons were learned on just what it takes for various professionals to work together on solving real family issues for clients.

 

  1. Helping or Hurting

Karen Laprade and Kyle Harrison’s breakout session once again did not disappoint, evident by the fact that they ran over time yet not a single person noticed or even looked at the door.

The real life case stories they shared, and the input that they asked for and got from everyone was just the type of interaction and collaboration that you really only get at Rendez-Vous.

 

  1. FRED Talks

A take-off on “TED Talks”, a series of five tight 18-minute talks from a variety of experts shed light on everyting from addiction to widows finding love again, to ways that Millenials are changing how families communicate.

 

  1. Jaffe & Grubman on Cultural Differences

Dennis and Jim presented work on the three dominant cultural styles around the world, and talked about how global families have to deal with new realities arising from differences in how things play out in a home culture when the rising generation is exposed to other cultures through education and marriage.

 

  1. Gratitude

The opening keynote on Thursday by Robert Emmons was about how gratitude is so important to success and happiness, yet it costs nothing. In fact, the more you give, the more you usually get back.

And he wasn’t just making stuff up, he has a PhD in this, and shared ways to demonstrate and share our gratitude, and hopefully make that a lifelong habit.

 

 

Top 5 Reasons to Attend

 

  1. Welcoming Vibe

From the first time I attended Rendez-Vous, the vibe was what hit me. This is not a conference where experts with big egos pontificate to the wannabes, it is the opposite of that.

Every single attendee and presenter has always been more than open to talk about the issues that we all face in helping families achieve better results with their planning.

 

  1. Community

As this was my third year in a row attending, I am now at the point where I truly see and feel the community aspect of PPI, which dovetails with the welcoming vibe.

Everyone seems to share my feeling that we need to spread the message to the masses, and nobody is trying to “corner the market” because there will be plenty of work for all of us when a majority of families recognize the importance of this work.

 

  1. Dutch Treat

Small groups of attendees go to a restaurant and chat about whatever they want, and really get to know each other. This adds so much to the camaraderie of the event.

 

  1. Collaboration Unifies everything

It becomes clear that PPI is all about getting professionals from various fields to collaborate in service of their family clients.

 

  1. Jay Hughes

How could I not mention Jay Hughes? PPI’s first Laureate, and most deservedly so, Jay was present throughout, and I have rarely met a kinder, more humble man.

Thanks to Jay and John A. Warnick, PPI continues to spread its influence and grow. See you at Rendez-Vous 2017. Get off the fence, be there.