Family sitting around a table

Providing Counsel to the Family Council

Providing Counsel to the Family Council

I enjoy wordplay more than most, and this week I stumbled across something I probably should have addressed in this space already, but seemingly haven’t.

So by exploring the words “Counsel” and “Council”, which are homonyms, I get to touch on a couple areas that are important to me and to my practice.

 

Family Counsellor

My current business card identifies me as a “Family Legacy Advisor”, but I’m never sure what I should actually call myself.

I cover a few bases by adding “sub-titles”, (Facilitator, Coach, Mediator), but even then it never feels 100% “correct”.

I prefer “advisor” to “consultant”, but when I’m crossing the border I always say I’m a consultant, because it sounds more straightforward.

Somehow, “family counsellor” feels like an appropriate title for a role I really enjoy playing, although that could also be easily misconstrued.

 

Business Family versus Family Business

Regular readers know that I often note the difference between a “family business” and a “business family”, and I have a clear preference for which entity I prefer to serve.

I like to work in the “family” circle, serving the business family first and foremost, because the family side is usually “under-served” by outside professionals.

The business circle has plenty of outside help from lawyers and accountants, not to mention various other professional consultants.

“Business counsellor” would sound kind of funny, but “family counsellor” has an interesting ring to it.

 

Family Governance = Family Council

I’ve written quite a bit about family governance, and family meetings, and one of the most basic terms in this area is “Family Council”, but until now I haven’t used that term.

Governance can get a bad rap, and too often it scares people because it sounds way more formal than it needs to be in real life.

This week I attended an event for business families held at a local University family business center, where the topic was “family councils”. Actually, since it was in French, it was “Conseil de Famille”.

There were representatives of three local business families on a panel, and the moderator asked them questions about their family councils.

 

De-Mystifying Governance

I truly appreciated the family members who spoke in front of a group of strangers about personal subjects, and I applaud the organisers for trying to de-mystify the idea of having a family council as a basic element of family governance.

However, based on some of the questions during the Q & A, I think that plenty of attendees still didn’t “get it”.

Despite the fact that the panelists were very forthcoming, explaining the nuts and bolts of how often they meet, who gets invited, what they talk about, who sets the agenda and who runs the meetings, it felt like many were still mystified by the idea.

I think it’s likely because they couldn’t picture how it might work in their own family, and I wonder if the name “Family Council” is too formal, and scares people as much as the term governance does.

 

Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary

It shouldn’t be so formal though, especially at the outset. Just have a family meeting, and let it evolve from there.

The only “revolutionary” step is bringing in an outsider to facilitate the meetings. Everything else needs to simply be “evolutionary”.

The most important part is actually starting to set up regular meetings to talk about how the family is affected by the business.

 

A Seat at the Table

Yes, even those family members who don’t work in the business, or don’t own any of the business, do have questions and concerns about the business, because they are certainly affected by it.

Providing them a seat at the table, so that they can be heard, and so that they can ask questions, is simple and basic.

If you organize such a forum before you need to do so, it will all go so much more easily than if you wait until they demand such meetings.

 

Counseling the Family Council

Meeting even just once a year is fine to get you started. But please start before you feel like you need to.

Start slowly, start small, and evolve from there. Learn as you go, and look for progress, not for perfection.

Eventually, you’ll find a family counselor to come in and facilitate those meetings, and then you can officially call it a “Family Council”.

conflict between family member in an office enviroment

Embracing Conflict in Family Business

Embracing Conflict in Family Business

Last week I mentioned the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference that I attended in Chicago in October, and how I came home with many weeks’ worth of blog material.

So today I’ll take one of the sessions that I enjoyed and build this post around it.

Here’s the title of the presentation in question:

 

“Can Embracing Conflict Spur Positive Change?”

Joe Astrachan and Carrie Hall were the presenters, and they based much of their discussion on a recent survey of some of the largest family businesses in the world.

Here is a link to their report.

Often when people like me get called into a business family, it’s because there’s something going on that could be described as “conflictual” in nature.

One of the first pieces of “good news” from the conflict is that it has heightened the sense that there’s a need to call in an outsider to help get the family to a better place.

Now, if that outsider is open-minded, well trained, and comfortable with a high conflict environment, then why couldn’t the conflct actually spur positive change?

What’s the Alternative?

Too often families will avoid conflict, or even any semblance of conflict, at all cost. Certain family cultures simply don’t “allow” any expressions of confrontation, negativity, or even challenges to authority.

Unfortunately, that often masks important differences that actually really NEED to be expressed, brought out, and dealt with.

One of the first pieces I recall reading about this, the one where you could say I had my “A-Ha moment” on this subject, was “The Invaluable Gift of Conflict”, by Matt Wesley.

 

Two Main Components

The presence of conflict, aside from it resulting in the arrival of an outsider to assist in moving the family forward, is also that visible conflict is preferable to simply having issues simmer quietly under the surface.

The consequences of unexpressed issues can be bitterness and dissatisfaction that lasts for years (decades?) before finally exploding. Unaddressed issues will often only get worse with time.

But the second “good news” aspect of conflict in a family business is the “energy” that it can create, and that energy can be harnessed, for “good”.

 

Stagnation and Apathy

One of the side effects of having people who are displeased in key positions (in the business or in the family, if not both) is that it can breed apathy and a feeling that things will never change, or that they’ll only change far in the future, and only when their perceived “problem person” is gone.

That apathy and feeling of resignation can turn into stagnation very quickly.

Conflict that erupts and becomes visible can be much healthier because at least you can see it and you’re forced into action to deal with it.

 

“One Story”

Back to the presentation by Astrachan and Hall.  The biggest “take home” message for me was their idea of creating “one story” for the family to tell.  Some background and context are necessary here.

They described a situation where there was a severe rift in a family, yet a couple of the branches of the family managed to come back together.

One of the keys to making it all work, was to come up with the “one story” that the family would tell (to themselves and to the world in general) about the business and the family history.

 

Singing from the Same Hymn Book

Any family business that has lasted more than a few decades will do well to compile and tell their story, if only for the “marketing” power that this can have.

When it comes time to “inculcate” younger members of the family into the business’s culture, these history lessons are pretty important too.

But in the case of a family “coming back together” after a rift, the part of the story dealing with the cause of the rift, and more importantly, the way the family overcame it, can be huge.

 

Positive Change

The presentation (and this blog) are about positive change, and getting the story straight can have more of a positive influence than many people will realize.

The first step may just be to learn to “embrace” the conflicts that you can actually see.

You can only get through difficulties when you actually put things “on the table”. And if you need outside help, then get some.

My Notes from a Great Keynote

My Notes from a Great Keynote

The Family Firm Institute recently held its annual conference in Chicago, and the subjects covered were enough to fill out my blog calendar for the next few months. But today I’ll concentrate on just one session.

The main FFI conference wrapped up Friday, and then Saturday featured a one-day “research and education” session. I’d never stayed for the extra day before, but the lunchtime keynote alone made it well worth staying.

 

An Industry Pioneer

The speaker was none other than Craig Aronoff, one of the founders (in 1994) of the Family Business Consulting Group (FBCG) as well as a past President of FFI.

FBCG has been a leader in the field of family business advising and they are held in high esteem by just about everyone connected to this profession.

They’re a leading producer of great content as well, which actually brings me to the first of the three points Aronoff made that I want to share with you today.

 

Private Lessons

Aronoff noted that business families have different ways that they deal with their challenges, and that those who actually hire an outside family business consultant are just a small minority.

The ones who do hire such a specialist are in effect opting for “private lessons”, as he nicely put it.

You can learn to play a musical instrument in lots of different ways, especially with today’s technology. Some people will just go to Youtube and find some instructional videos, while others will hire a teacher to come to their home and offer private lessons. (My analogy, not his)

 

Market Penetration 

He went on to actually put some numbers out there, estimating that only somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of family businesses hire family business consultants.

I wouldn’t know where to begin to try to figure out what the number is, but given Aronoff’s experience in a leading position in the industry, I’m inclined to give his numbers plenty of credence.

If so few business families are reaching out and hiring specialists to give them “private lessons”, then what about the rest of the families?

 

What About Everybody Else?

I guess that the other 96-98% of families try to meet their challenges “on their own” and with help from their other professional advisors from various fields (law, accounting, tax, psychology).

I would hope that more and more of those families are at least benefiting from the ever-increasing amount of great content that is being created and shared in the burgeoning family business space.

When I entered this field, I reflected on how many families I could realistically work with directly during the next 25 years of my career, and I had trouble getting to triple digits.

But that only includes families for whom I would be their provider of the “private lessons”.

Between writing, speaking and teaching, I have the potential to be a resource to so many more families.

 

Values: Guide & Goals & Glue

One final note on my take-aways from what Aronoff talked about.

(I should also note that the main subject of his talk was research and its relevance to the field of family business, which I’ve decided to ignore in this blog, since it’s not my area of interest or expertise.)

He quickly mentioned the importance of values to family businesses. (Please see: FAMILY BUSINESS: HOW DO VALUES FIT IN? for my take on this issue).

He noted that from his perspective, values provide the 3 G’s:

The Guide, The Goals, and The Glue.

As a fan of anything that helps people understand and remember important concepts, I found this noteworthy.

 

The Glue and the Grease? 

I’ve had a blog idea about glue stuck in my head for a few years now, involving “Glue and Grease”, but I’ve yet to find the substance in nature or industry to complete the analogy.

What I try to bring to families who hire me is a bit of both; glue to help keep things together, but also grease that keeps things running smoothly.

Any engineers or creative types out there who think of a substance that fits this analogy can look forward to a hat-tip and shout out from me for sharing ideas for that blog.

I remain available for private lessons for select families, and I will continue to add and share content to this fascinating field.

Note: Last week this space featured its first ever Guest Blog. Unfortunately I was a less than perfect host for my guest, and when I posted her piece I accidentally dropped a few paragraphs in the middle of it.  It has now been corrected, and can be found here: Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

(Sorry Kim!)

Women in a work enviroment

Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

Guest blog from Kim Harland – Thanks Kim!

Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

Family businesses account for 50%–80% of all jobs in a majority of countries worldwide.[1] And it seems women are leading the way, doing far better in leadership and management positions in family businesses than those in the non-family business sector. For example, 80% of family-owned businesses have at least one female director whereas only 17.7% of companies in the FTSE 100 have female directors.[2]

To celebrate the key role women play in family businesses, we spoke to a number of leading ladies and asked them to share their advice on range of topics plus give you a few tips on how to apply them to your family business.

 

What makes family business successful?

Across the board, all the women we spoke to felt three important principles underpin family business success – communication, a clear family vision and trust.

According to Lea Boyce, a key advisor at Boyce Family Office (5th generation family business), family businesses also have a crucial competitive advantage over the corporate sector – their nimbleness.

“While non-family businesses are busy having layers of meetings, a family in business has made the decision, got family buy in, done the deal and moved onto the next opportunity. As a result, they are able to be more entrepreneurial,” she says.

Another factor vital to family business success is the induction process for the next generation of family owners. On this topic, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski (author and executive director at MPIL Steel Structures Ltd, a 2nd generation family business), has some important advice.

“As you bring your daughter or son into the business, remember that you are unsettling an existing framework – things will change and you have to be willing to let them. It is important to let your children make their own mistakes. Sometimes their screw-ups will be of enormous magnitude – but remember, at least the worst is happening while you’ve got their back,” she says. “Whenever possible, help your children calculate and mitigate the risk without taking away their sense of ownership of the project.”

 

Your family business check-up

  1. Do you have a formal structure to allow open and honest communication as a family group?
  2. Has your family group articulated and documented shared business and family goals?
  3. Are you harnessing the opportunities presented by your next generation?

What’s the biggest challenge for women in family business?
Many of the women we spoke to believe the greatest challenge they face in business is the struggle to be taken seriously.

Lea says when it comes to families, patriarchy remains the dominant world view so when clients encounter a matriarch running the business they find it very confronting and challenging.

Priyanka feels that even in 2017, there is still a lack of role models for women in business. But she has an interesting idea for change.

“What is needed is a community of feminist men in family businesses who help women along the way by challenging the opinions of other men,” she says.

 

Your family business check-up

  1. Look for role models within your own or other family businesses.
  2. Consider a mentor – it is always helpful to work with others who have been there before you.
  3. Keep in mind that many women in family businesses can draw great inspiration from the men in their lives – their fathers, brothers and husbands.


The benefit of hindsight.

Everyone loves a bit of hindsight and when asked what advice they would give to their 25- year-old selves, our interviewees provided some excellent food for thought.

Looking back, Sara Pantaleo – CEO of 2nd generation family business La Porchetta – has this counsel for young women.

“Fight for what you believe. Gender doesn’t matter so just go for it. Don’t be mediocre. Strive to achieve. I sometimes see amazing, intelligent young women just accept things and I think that’s quite sad.”

Finally, Corrina, a 6th generation member of the Oliver winemaking family, suggests reflecting on one’s partner to see how they can help – rather than hinder – your family business.

“Recognise the key role your husband plays in enabling you to succeed in business and life – with support, not competition or jealousy, and contributing his share to the family.”

 

Your family business check-up

  1. What can you learn from the elders in your family? Ask your older family members the same question we did – “What advice would you give to a 25-year-old version of yourself?’ You might be pleasantly surprised at the answers and what they can do for your business.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these Insights from a few prominent women in family businesses. We have recently published our “Women in Family Business E-book”. If you’d like to learn a bit more about what we do, head over to our website.

[1] Global Data Points, Family Firm Institute, http://www.ffi.org/?page=globaldatapoints, accessed 18/10/17

[2] Imperial College Business School, Leeds University Business School and Durham University Business School, http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_22-5-2013-12-0-36 , Accessed 4/10/17