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Good Governance Structure for Family Business

Family Governance, Aaaah!

It’s hard to get a handle on “governance” sometimes, and depending on the context, its meaning and connotations can vary greatly.

In some contexts, it’s a pain in the backside. In others, you can’t live without it.

Put me in the “can’t live without it” camp when it comes to family business continuity and family legacy.

Governance in those situations can be tricky, but you really need it, and this post will shed light on that perspective.

 

Institute for Family Governance 

This week I was in New York for the first annual “Institute for Family Governance” conference. The IFG is in its infancy, and came into existence at the crossroads of STEP (Society for Trust and Estate Professionals) and FFI (Family Firm Institute).

Babetta von Albertini, of Withers Consulting Group in NY, the Program chair, is a member of both FFI and STEP, and I first met her at the FFI annual conference in London in 2015.

She is the driving force behind IFG and must be congratulated for pulling off a great kickoff event.

She also announced that the 2nd annual IFG conference will take place on January 25, 2018, and that none other than the legendary Peter Leach of Deloitte UK will be a featured speaker.

 

What the Heck is “Family Governance”? 

“What is Family Governance?” could be the proverbial $64,000 question. But it’s more like the $64,000,000 question, because sometimes size does matter

If your family net worth is in the range of $64,000, please skip the rest of the questions, thanks for your time completing our survey.

If, however, your family net worth is in the $64,000,000 range, perhaps this topic is one you need to be paying attention to.

Okay, let me rephrase that.

If you care what happens to your wealth over the next generation or two (or more), then good governance will be important. If you don’t really care what happens after you die, don’t bother reading past this point.

 

What Happened to “Governance, Ugh!”? 

For longtime readers and fans of my work (Hi Mom!) you may be confused by the title of this blog, which seems to suggest, via the “Aaaah” after “Family Governance” that it’s something good, and which brings relief.

You may be thinking “Hey Steve, how does this square with Chapter 8 of your book, SHIFT your Family Business, which I clearly recall was titled “Governance, Ugh!”?

My answers to this are many, including:

  • Thanks for noticing
  • Yes, it IS available on Amazon
  • Evolution

 

The Evolution of Governance

Back in 2013 when I wrote the book and called that key chapter “Governance, Ugh”, I did so based on my perception that the word actually conveyed that “Ugh” reaction to a large number of people.

I like to believe that the world of Family Business and Family Wealth has evolved somewhat since I wrote it, and based on what I heard in NYC this week, it has.

Even if the “world” has not yet evolved, though, I know that I have. Let me elaborate. I have always known that good governance is essential to creating a sustainable legacy for a family.

I used to be afraid to tell people that they needed “governance”, but shying away from the word made it seem “unspeakable”, which may have conveyed that it was also undesirable..

 

My Own Evolution

When the Institute for Family Governance, came to life, and when I realized that I was excited to discover it, that told me that I have evolved, as has my thinking and my desire to call it what it is.

Yes, we can continue to refer to it as “decision-making”, and “communication” and “structures and processes”, and “how we are all going to get along together” and “formalized rules and regulations”.

At the end of the day, for me, the best word to encapsulate all of these is GOVERNANCE.

 

The Real $64 Million Question

The real question is WHY is it required.

My short answer is:

Because your Wealth and Legacy won’t Preserve Themselves.

Family governance is a must, and it must be custom-developed by your family, for your family.

But it is definitely OK to get help with this. It is even highly recommended to do so.

 

To Be Continued

Watch this space for an upcoming blog:

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Governance.

Coming in February 2017

 

Lessons from a drowned phone

Lessons from a Drowned Phone

Happy New Year?

The first week of a New Year seems destined to bring up a challenge for me. Last January I was involved in a car accident that resulted in a concussion, and 2017 started with me accidentally drowning my phone.

I must admit that given a choice for 2018, I would sign up for stupidly putting my phone in the washing machine over innocently getting rear-ended at a red light.

Even though I have nobody to blame but myself for the phone fiasco, I must admit that this year is off to a better start than last. And of course the drowning of my phone has given me a juicy blog subject to boot.

 

The Incident

Last Friday when I finally found my misplaced phone in the “last place I looked”, i.e. the pocket of my jeans, in the washing machine, well into its wash cycle, I was relieved that at least I had solved the mystery of “where the heck is it?”

The thrill of finding it was quickly extinguished of course, as I had already concluded that it was now merely a paperweight.

 

Now What? 

Saturday morning I went to my phone service provider with it, holding a glimmer of hope that it might still be useful. No such luck.

I purchased a new phone, and then came the time to transfer what I had in my old phone. There is a great app you can use to transfer stuff (photos, contacts, apps, etc.) from an old phone to a new one. But it doesn’t work when the old one is dead.

 

Parallels

My work is all about helping families define and preserve their legacy, which includes very important steps that I explain to client families, which they cannot skip if they want to keep the odds of success on their side.

My old phone had lots of important stuff in it that I wanted to continue to benefit from. But it was now dead, and I had not done what was necessary to preserve what was in it by backing up everything.

Now, recreating what I had, became a much bigger challenge. In fact, some stuff, like photos, was gone for good.

Most of those photos weren’t critical, but they did have some value, which was now lost. Likewise, much of what the senior generation members have in their heads is not truly critical for the survival of the family, but it can often rise to a level above simply “nice to have”.

In case my analogy has been lost on you, allow me to spell it out more clearly. If you wait until after people have died to try to have a valuable relationship with them, it is MUCH harder to do.

 

Contacts

What about contacts? The way things turned out for me, thanks to technical ineptitude and the lack of foresight on my part, when my contacts updated on my phone, I got hundreds of names and email addresses from everyone I had ever emailed through my Outlook account, a majority of which are useless now.

The cell phone numbers that I actually wanted and needed were nowhere to be found.

I now have to delete a whole bunch of useless stuff, and I need to email a bunch of people and ask them for their cell phone numbers again.

So I got a lot of stuff I don’t want, and the stuff I want, I need to actually work to get, even though I already had it before.

This is kind of like having to go through all of the files and documents of a deceased relative, while never having had the benefit of the personal introductions to people who were important to the family.

 

Lesson Summary

  1. Whatever happens, it could be worse. Phone issues are preferable to concussions
  1. To have a back up, you actually have to DO a back up.
  1. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Please realize what you have and figure out how to preserve it. And I’m not just talking about your phone.  There are so many things that the NextGen and the NowGen need to work at transfering.

Better get started today.

Thinking Outside the Boxing Day Special

I have been writing and posting my blog here each and every week for over four years now. It is a source of pride for me to be consistently present, always thinking, sharing and prodding, while hopefully also being thought-provoking and entertaining.

Because I post my blogs on my website, www.ShiftYourFamilyBusiness.com, on the weekend (usually Sunday) and then send them out to subscribers via MailChimp on Mondays, this week represents a bit of a challenge, or opportunity, because of Christmas.

When I realized that this week’s edition would be emailed out on Boxing Day, the opportunity became one of capitalizing on some clever wordplay in the subject line. I came up with the “thinking outside the box” part a few weeks ago, and knew that I wanted to use it with Boxing Day.

Of course the clever title really should fit the subject of the blog, at least loosely, which brings up another challenge. I acknowledge that there have been occasional posts where the content and the headline were not exactly aligned.

 

Who’s in Charge here?

The only one I have to blame for any of the shortcomings that occur in this space is, of course, myself, as I am the author, editor, publisher, scheduler, idea person, researcher (not that there is a lot of that going on) and person responsible for what I put out here.

It is tempting to try to listen more to people who have ideas and suggestions for me on ways to make this blog more popular. I am thrilled to know that there are people who read my stuff and the feedback that I get is almost universally positive, and that helps keep me motivated. Truthfully, though, I think I would continue to write every week even if nobody read my stuff, simply because it forces me to try to clarify my thoughts.

There are people who have given me ideas on how to grow my audience faster, and I have even tried a few of them. There are also some “tricks” that others have suggested which do not fit with the way I do things, to which I have said “thanks, but no thanks”.

 

Write what YOU love

This week while on Twitter, I came across a post from a writer I follow who said something along the lines of, “The fastest way to Crazy Town is to try to write stuff that you think people will like”. He went on to say that you need to write what you like, and hope enough other people agreed.

Now that guy was more of a traditional “writer”, who writes pieces for magazines and such, not some guy who is actually a subject matter “expert” of sorts, who writes a blog on his website to reinforce his credibility.

There are people to whom I pay good money to help me with my online presence, and they have given me ideas that are really hard to logically ignore. I am slowly trying to integrate some of their suggestions, but I cannot lose sight of the idea that if I ever stop writing what I love, it will surely be the beginning of the end of this for me.

So I am not sure what the true “outside the box” part is here; is the “box” the formula for quickly adding subscribers, and outside the box is just writing from my heart, a.k.a. the adventures of Steve? Or is it the other way around?

 

Families? Or their advisors?

This makes me think about the other line I try to straddle, the one about my ultimate target audience. My marketing folks continually ask if I am writing for families, or the professional advisors who serve them. My answer is always “yes”.

Maybe for this week the “box” was writng a blog with a family business angle, and the outside part, and also the “special” part, was just writing a “stream-of-consciousness” blog, since it is the holidays and lots of people are going to miss it anyways.

I love writing this blog, I love getting feedback on it, I love getting new subscribers. I hope you enjoy it, I hope you will forward it to friends and colleagues. I will be back next week, and the week after that, etc.

Thanks for reading, please stick around for 52 more in 2017. Oh, and please tell your friends.

 

How the Holiday Season can affect your family Unity

Christmas Presence > Christmas Presents

I’m a big fan of clever wording, so as the holidays approached and I got the idea of “presence” for a blog post, I could not help myself, and absolutely had to make the point about the difference between “gifts” and “being there”.

When we are young, getting presents for Christmas can preoccupy our minds. As we get older, the question of just who is going to show up to celebrate the holidays with us becomes more important.

Between the stage of life where we wonder what Santa will bring us, and that where the number of grandchildren who will be there becomes key, the idea of presence shows up more often than you might think.

 

Listening and Presence

As someone who works with members of different generations in families, I can tell you that one thing that is often missing is good communication. Now do you suppose most of that is because people don’t speak well, or because their listening skills are deficient?

Learning to listen to people is more than simply making sure that your ears are tuned in to their voice. In fact, as much true listening happens with your eyes, and real listening even goes right to your heart.

Listening, especially to those family members for whom we spend so much time working hard to grow our business and wealth, is something most of us could work on and do better.

In order to listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart, you really have to be present, with all of your senses tuned in. In the log run, the parents’ presence in the lives of their children is worth more than the presents they give them for Christmas and birthdays.

 

Finding your Gift

Speaking of presents in the form of “gifts”, this is another area where parents can be truly helpful to their offspring. I am talking here about the idea of each person finding their gift, i.e. what makes them special.

There are still far too many families where the leading generation sees their children more in terms of resources for their business, instead of a more traditional parental role of helping them find their way in the world, following their natural gifts and abilities.

 

Who is invited; Who shows up 

Many families spend a great deal of time preparing everyone for roles in the business, and not enough do the work to get everyone prepared for their roles in the family.

Family businesses usually have some basic governance in place to run their operations, but the family group itself can always benefit from some basic governance of its own.

It seems like more and more families are getting this message, and many are doing it the smart way and having an independent outsider take the lead in making sure that things are done the right way.

Figuring out whom to invite to family meetings can be tricky, and wondering what to do if some choose not to come to the meetings are issues that arise. Having someone who is not emotionally attached can help navigate these questions and get the necessary momentum started.

 

Being there > Sending a gift

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up, and this can apply to many family situations too. If you don’t believe me, don’t go visit your mother for Christmas and just send a gift instead. Presence > Presents.

This brings up another Christmas related statement I like. People ask me how a family puts a value on the kind of work that I bring with my presence in their family processes.

One of my replies is that it is really hard to put a dollar figure on it. And I then add, “How do you put a value on Christmas visits, if one of your children shows up and decides to drive around for a bit until Uncle Bob has left.”

Everyone’s presence, for the parents, is the best present. I should not have to add that having everyone there simultaneously is assumed to be ideal, as opposed to showing up in shifts.

Family fortunes that fall apart are also a great gift, for the lawyers.

Be there, be present, listen, and communicate. Plan for the family, not just the business.

 

 

Advice to get a family more coordinated

Helping Uncoordinated Families

I am not sure what it is about my brain, but it will often catch a word in one context, completely forget about it for weeks, and then light up like a fireworks show later when that word surfaces again in a different context.

The word will then dominate my thinking for a while, until I write a blog about it. Thanks for coming along for the ride as we deal with this week’s word, “coordination”.

 

Advisors: Cooperate or Collaborate?

As an advisor to business families, I am forever alert to the goings on in this space, and there’s lots of talk about how professionals who serve families should work less in their individual silos, and much more collaboratively.

I believe in this, of course, yet I am also realistic in my understanding that this is a tall order for many professionals who simply don’t know how to actually do this well, and for whom the short-term negatives will often seem to outweigh the associated positives.

Some like-minded professionals have put lots of work into trying to define the benefits of working collaboratively, as illustrated by this great NAEPC white paper.

I first learned of this document in July, at a breakout session during the annual Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute, where collaboration was shown to go much further than simple cooperation.

Cooperation should be a given between your advisors, but full collaboration may be a step too far for many. There was also some talk about coordination, as an intermediate place.

The word coordination stuck with me, since acting as a “coordinator” is something I already do while working with the members of the family.

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

This week, I was in Washington, taking part in the Postgraduate Training Program at the Bowen Center at Georgetown University. Our early morning presenter on each of the three days was Dr. Dan Papero, and as usual he did not disappoint.

He presented some of his views on “Differentiation (of Self) from the ground up”, and along the way, there it was again, the magic word, “coordination”.

The specific context of which he spoke it is now a blur to me, but the jist of the idea was that in a family system, coordination was something to be aspired to. So there it was again!

My head began to spin with the concept of coordinating not just the advisors who work with families, but the members of the family themselves.

 

Clarity, Clarity, Clarity

The word “clarity” has also been front and center in my brain lately, and it struck me that coordination and clarity have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship.

Wait, what?

One of the biggest hurdles that a family must overcome to get their generational wealth transition “done right” is getting everyone on the same page, i.e. having a shared clear picture of what is at stake and what needs to be done.

When I am asked how I can help such families, providing better clarity is usually my top answer.

Once the picture of what needs to be done is clear, the work of organizing the family’s structures and governance then begins in earnest, but this work does not just magically happen.

You guessed it, that work must be coordinated.

The family’s work must be clear and coordinated, but much like the chicken and the egg, we can never be sure which one comes first.

 

Back to the Three Circle Model

It is is complex because it combines the three areas of the family, the business, and the ownership (see The Three Circle Model) and these three also share in the “which comes first?” dilemma.

 

Clarity before Coordination or Vice Versa?

Families who undertake the work required to achieve some family alignment will be better coordinated and therefore be much more clear on the work to be done.

And families who are clear on what needs to be done will find it easier to coordinate this work.

Some families are naturally better at this than others, but most could benefit from outside help.

The families that I had in mind when I titled this piece shall of course remain nameless. Hopefully they do not rhyme with your family name.

Most families are not nearly as coordinated as they could be or should be. Clarity, from an outside perspective, can be an enormous help.

 

Family Communication - How to handle mis-undestandings

No, YOU Don’t Understand!

No, YOU Don’t Understand!

This week I attended a presentation at a local University’s Family Business Center.

The guest speaker was a local legal professional from a well-known firm, and she was there to talk about things that business owners need to pay attention to when doing the legal end of their estate planning.

As she regaled us with her stories, a certain phrase came up a couple of times. When I heard it the first time, I was mildly amused. When I heard it again, I knew that it was going to be the subject of this week’s blog post.

The scenarios were the same each time. During her discussions with clients, at one point the client would say, “No, Janet, you don’t understand…”.

 

Who doesn’t understand whom?

After listening to the client’s explanation of what she did not seem to “get”, she would turn it around and retort with “No, YOU don’t understand”.

In my experience with families, these kinds of exchanges take place quite often, and they happen at several levels.

They happen within the family, between members of different generations, and also within groups of the same generation, such as ia sibling group.

They are also common between the family (or its representative) and its outside advisors.

When these types of exchanges take place, there is nothing inherently bad about them, at least on the surface. I am reminded of the phrase, “It’s not what happens to you that is important, it’s what you do about it”.

 

OK, so NOW what?

When the person who comes back with the “No YOU don’t understand” then goes on to lay down the law and force their viewpoint on the others, despite what others believe and understand and agree to, there will likely be problems down the road.

The best case scenario for this type of exchange is one where the family representative is dealing with an advisor and it is the family leader who concludes that they are not being well served, who then concludes with “And that’s why I am going to find myself a better advisor”.

The whole “I understand and you don’t” is so “I am smart and you are ignorant”, and “I know what is best and you must obey”, and it really has no place either within a business family or between a family and their advisors.

 

The Search for Clarity

One of my new favourite words is CLARITY. When someone asks what I can bring to their family situation, it has become my go-to first response. I will help bring clarity to the members of the family system.

Clarity, in my view, is not really much more than a common understanding. First, the family needs to be sure that they have a common understanding of where they are today.

People are sometimes tempted to rush into figuring out where they want to go, and I usually need to slow them down and make sure that they all know where they actually are first.

Once they all undestand and agree about where they are, then we can look at where they want to go, and of course, how they can get there. This will also require clarity, or, put another way, common understanding.

 

Inside the Family First, then Outside

Then, and ONLY then, should there be a meeting among the family’s advisors, again for clarity, i.e. common understanding.

Far too often I see situations where the outside experts are brought in with ready-made “solutions” (i.e. products and services) before anyone has done the work on becoming clear on what is required in that unique family’s situation.

Bringing clarity to a family is hard work and it takes time, but it can be done. Successful multi-generation families have figured that out.

 

FOR yourselves, Not BY yourselves

Here is what it boils down to:

As a family, you need to figure it out FOR yourselves, but that doesn’t mean that you have to figure it out BY yourselves.

You will likely need some outside help, but the person who helps you will be a process person, not a product person.

Achieving family clarity on “where they are now” and “where they are going together” is what it is all about, and the journey to get there is at least as important as the result.

But it doesn’t just happen by itself.

 

 

Harnessing the NextGen in the FamBiz

 

Twin sisters riding horses in the sunset by the sea on the island of Ada Bojana, Montenegro

While attending the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute in Miami, one of of the breakout sessions contained a kind of A-Ha moment for me.

It was not a “knock your socks off” A-Ha, but enough to stimulate a blog post, which may not be a very high hurdle, considering I write one of these posts every week. Alas, it contained a “juicy tidbit” that struck me as worth pursuing here.

Now an FFI conference will always feature several well-known family business experts sharing their thoughts, but my little A-Ha occurred during a session where the presenter was relatively unknown, as he was not a FamBiz guy, but a branding expert.

It was Paul Bay, an L.A. Dodgers fan from London (!), which I learned at the opening cocktail the evening before his presentation. His typical get-up includes a three-piece suit and a pair of sneakers. I guess that’s part of his brand, and it was working for him.

 

A Branding A-Ha?

If you’re hoping my A-Ha had to do with branding, you’ll be disappointed, because that wasn’t it. It was all about the harness. The harness? Well actually, the verb, “(to) harness”.

As I write this, I am trying to recall how the slide with the word “harness” at the top actually fit into his branding talk, and I am at a loss. I did, however, take a picture of the slide in response to my internal A-Ha.

Down the left side of the Powerpoint slide were the words “Guide, Direct, Govern, Constrain, Control, Hold Back”.

On the right-hand side were “Involve, Collaborate, Gain, Be Guided, Be Inspired, Be Directed”.

This was the first time that I ever thought about the fact that there are two sides to the harness coin. (Insert “A-Ha” here)

 

Harnessing in the FamBiz

When you think about the “NextGen” in a family business, the way the family looks at what they are harnessing, and why they are trying to harness it, you can easily see that it can go both ways. How they harness it becomes key.

The positive side of harnessing, “involving, collaborating, gaining, etc.” looks at ways that the family can take the talents and inputs of the rising generation and put them to positive use, to grow the family capital and the strengths of the business.

On the other end of the spectrum, “constrain, control, hold back, etc.” you have a host of actions that unfortunately also occur in too many family businesses.

 

Wild Horses on my Mind

So I began thinking about wild horses and what it must have been like when the first brave souls came upon them and were motivated to try to harness them.

Horses, even wild ones, do not seem the type of animal that would need to be harnessed to dampen any negatives of their behaviour. I can only imagine that the power and strength they exhibited was seen as worth the trouble and danger of attempting to harness them in the first place.

So if you have a business family, and there is a rising generation that is coming of age, how are you looking at harnessing what they can bring to the table?

 

Horses with Potential and Passion

Some horses are easier to harness than others, and I can only imagine that those who are identified as having great potential will often be those for whom the time and effort are the most worthwhile.

Few of us have the skills of a Dr. Doolittle, to actually speak “horse” to find out just what a particular equine has a passion for (Math? 2 + 1 = Clop, clop, clop! Good girl, here’s a carrot.)

 

Questions and Conversations

Every parent actually speaks a language that their children understand, but not enough of them will take the time and make the effort to have the conversations (plural) necessary to ask the important questions, like:

  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the business?
  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the family?
  • What human capital do you already have, and what are you prepared to develop, to contribute?
  • Is there a “harness” that fits you so comfortably that you will feel happy and motivated to wear it proudly?

THEIR passion is the key to good harnessing.

 

 

 

Getting Dirty without Getting Stung

Getting Dirty without Getting Stung

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who don’t mind getting dirty, and others who would rather just stay clean.

That’s an oversimplification, but let’s just roll with it. If forced to classify myself as one or the other, I am quite OK with being in the dirty group.

This week I was involved in organising an annual fundraising dinner at a non-profit where I have been volunteering for the past seven years.

During the evening, I had the pleasure of presenting an award to someone I have worked closely with from my first day there.

 

Dirty versus Clean

The award was named for a colleague volunteer of ours who passed away last year. The three of us had spent many a Thursday afternoon getting dirty together, distributing food in the organisation’s food bank.

It struck me that few of our fundraiser “committee people” or those who attend our evening events ever actually see the day-to-day workings of this community charity, much less get involved “on the ground floor”.

Likewise the people who come and volunteer in various capacities during the day are not those who typically come out for the evening events.

There are exceptions, but in general there are the “blue collar” types who don’t mind getting dirty, and “white collar” types who prefer to stay clean. One group contributes time and effort on the ground, the other supplies donations and connections at a higher level.

 

We need both types

Everyone who helps out is needed and appreciated, I’m not making judgements here, and all contributions are welcomed and gratefully received. My point is that most people feel at home in one group, but not both.

Likewise, in the realm of family wealth, advisors who work with legacy families exhibit a similar dichotomy, but from a slightly different angle.

Some work directly with the family members, while other professionals work in other specialized fields and bring particular expertise to the table for those families, but don’t typically meet all family members.

 

Content versus Process

On the content side, lawyers draw up shareholder agreements, insurance specialists create the best combination of policies to take care of tax liabilities, and advisors craft perfect estate plans, yet seldom interact with the actual family members whom they ultimately serve.

On the process side, we understand family dynamics, facilitation, mediation and coaching. Many come from a psychology background, and are more akin to blue collar, ground floor, and “it’s OK to get dirty” types.

The content/transactional advisors work mainly for firms of professional partners, who specialize in knowing the laws and regulations and have a knack for creating structures and documents that are used by the family as part of the estate planning process. To me, these folks are more akin to “white collar”, upstairs, and “I prefer to stay clean” group.

Once again, both groups are important, absolutely needed, and thankfully available to serve the family. There is a symbiotic relationship here, but who is serving whom?

 

Really Feeling It

In the charity example, the daytime staff and volunteers see the benefits of their work first hand. Those who come out only for the fundraising events are often told of what goes on, and they are often amazed but never really “feel” it.

Most advisors to families will recognize proverbial hornet’s nests in family situations and steer clear of them, not wanting to get stung, nor leave the family in worse shape.

Working closely with the family members, doing much more “process” work, I see the hornet’s nests too, but I don’t necessarily run away from them, instead I often prefer to point them out.

I am not suggesting that the content people get involved in the process stuff, but if they better understood the implications their work has on their ultimate clients (the whole family) they could do an even better job.

 

Connecting the Two

When donors come out to a charity event, we try to show them how important the work is that we do for the end clients.

Those who bridge these gaps, in charities and in families, are always necessary, yet not always appreciated. But we will always do it, because it feels so good and so right to make these important connections.

We don’t mind getting dirty, and we are not afraid to get stung.

 

Thanksgiving and Who Needs Whom More

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada

Sometimes these blog posts are inspired by the time of year, and so on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend I will share some thoughts on gratitude.

But a whole post on being thankful is really not my style, so I will also try to tie in another idea that has been ruminating in my head lately.

Last year at this time, I came across a post on Twitter, the contents of which I have shared verbally with a number of people. It was from David Chilton, author of the Wealthy Barber. (If you ever have an opportunity to hear him speak, do yourself a favour and go).

 

Spotlight on Gratitude

He posted something along the lines of “If you are healthy and you live in Canada, every day is Thanksgiving”. Amen to that.

Gratitude is a subject that entire books have been devoted to, and I know many people who need to be reminded of just how good we have it sometimes.

We can easily slip into complaint mode too often, with what could best be described as “first world problems”.

 

Process vs Content, Process vs Event

Last week I wrote about process versus content (FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?) but there is another comparison with process that people in the family business and legacy space like to talk about too, and that’s process versus event. (see Striving for a Succession Non-Event)

My challenge is now to try to tie this in to the Thanksgiving theme in the hopes of adding some coherence to this post. Here goes.

 

Who Needs Whom More?

When you were born, you needed your parents more than they needed you. As you reach the end of your days, you will very likely need your children more than they need you.

There are exceptions of course, but please bear with me here. Life IS a journey, or a process, if you will. Somewhere along the way in life, the answer to the question “Who Needs Whom More” flips.

Your children need you more when they are young, you need your children more when you are old. But when does it flip? And does it “flip” quickly like a coin, or slowly, like turning around the proverbial oceanliner?

I daresay that it is much more of a process than an event.

 

You Reap what You Sow

When we were kids, my sisters and I were thankful for our parents, although I am not certain that we expressed it frequently enough. As they grew older, and we matured, I know that they became more thankful for us.

Ideally, gratitude is something that we learn from our parents, and then teach our children. Parenting, manners, how to behave, how we do things in our family; all are part of the legacy and heritage we pass along to following generations.

As any farmer will tell you, as you sow, so shall you reap.

 

Values versus Valuables

Family wealth succession can be very complex and involve lots of detailed transactions and documents concerning the family’s valuables.

But your true family legacy depends much more on passing on the values of your family.

I hope that gratitude is one of the values that my children have picked up from their parents, I know that I got most of my values from mine.

My kids are teenagers now, but I have been treating them as much as possible as if they are adults for a while now.

Trying not to tell them what to do, trying to make sure that “you’re not the boss of me” is not something that even remotely enters their minds.

 

Equals versus “One Up, One Down”

Am I doing this because I realize that someday I will need them more than they need me? Perhaps, subconsciously.

My point is that the longer it takes to turn around the answer to the “Who Needs Whom More” question, the better.

A relationship of equals, adult to adult, with nobody in the “one up” position, and nobody “one down” either.

 

It really never is “Too Late”

It’s never too late to try to make things better, and the outreach can come from either side.

This week I was reminded about the old saying that “the people you meet on the way up are the same ones you will meet on the way down”. I think it applies here too.

Please remember that, you will be thankful that you did.

 

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?

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In any family business, conflict can occur quite naturally, and often does. “Oh crap, now what?” is one of the thoughts that can often go through one’s mind when they first get wind of family members not getting along as hoped.

This subject is potentially huge, and not necessarily something that one can easily tackle in about 700-words, but there are a couple of points that I want to make here, while being far from exhaustive.

Entire books have literally been written on this subject, and one, called Deconstructing Conflict, came out recently and I read it this summer. I even reviewed it (with a five star rating) on Amazon.com, which was a first for me.

One key learning from the book is that because conflict occurs so naturally in family business, we should not try to resolve it, but just manage it.

The idea, as I understood it, is that if you try to resolve it, one of two things will likely occur:

  • You will spend a lifetime trying, and you are bound to be disappointed, or,
  • You will believe that the conflict has been resolved, but you will later learn that it was not truly resolved.

 

Let’s just resolve it

Well, I am not that skeptical, and I think that making an effort to try to resolve conflict is often worth it, and it certainly feels better than just acting as if you can’t ever get rid of it.

This week I attended a course that is part of the Third Party Neutral program in Ottawa at the CICR.

Interestingly, CICR stands for the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. So clearly the people who named this organisation believe in the possiblity of resolution.

And there is also an entire field called ADR, which stands for “Alternative Dispute Resolution”, so there must be some hope of actually resolving conflicts.

Or maybe a “dispute” is just a subset of a conflict, and you can resolve a (minor) dispute, but not a (major) conflict?

Of course we can’t forget that family business situations are often ones in which truly resolving all conflicts can be next to impossible. So now what?

 

Process versus Content

Well conflict management skills and conflict resolution skills are really quite interchangeable, as you might well imagine.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up in my ADR training as well as these TPN courses that have really stuck with me.

The first is that there is a huge difference between Process and Content. Sounds obvious, I know, but something struck me this week that drove it home even further for me, and even scared me a bit too.

The neutrality aspect of facilitation and mediation (i.e. bringing in someone from the outside) was what drew me to this type of training when I entered the advisory side of the family legacy field, because I fully understood that an external, unbiased person was an absolute requirement to tackle any family conflict.

 

Is Process Enough?

I have learned and practised a number of techniques and processes, and filled my toolbox with ideas that I can use in a variety of difficult situations.

There is a lot of “art” to all of this, and the idea of “who I am” in this work, as opposed to “what I do”, is not lost on me either.

Now I want to share the scary part, but let’s just keep it between us, OK?

The scary part is that in order to help a business family work through their conflict(s), it is more important to know about conflict resolution and management processes than it is to know anything about family business.

In fact, there was one roleplay I did this week, in an area in which I had zero knowledge, and it was actually liberating to be ignorant. My lack of understanding of some issues helped me focus on the process only, without getting into the content.

Of course if you just want the conflict resolved or managed, conflict “process” people can help a lot.

If, however, you want to build a strong family base going forward, get someone who does conflict well, AND who understands family legacy.