Posts

Coach in soccer field

No, Dad, Coaching is NOT “Helping Losers”

No, Dad, Coaching is NOT “Helping Losers”

I’ve just begun a series of coaching courses that have been “right up my alley”, and the process has also triggered some memories and anecdotes about the coaching profession that I think are worth sharing here.

When I first learned about ORSC (Organisation and Relationship System Coaching) I was instantly intrigued and thought it might be the perfect place to hone some of my facilitation skills.

Working with families means that there are lots of “relationship systems” already in place, and there is both some art and some science behind knowing how best to work with them.

 

Flashback No. 1

So let’s start with my first flashback, which is the source of the title of this post. It touches on some of the misconceptions and general misunderstanding of what coaching is, and conversely, what it isn’t.

It was over a decade ago, and someone who respected my father as a businessman made the unfortunate mistake of asking for his opinion on a matter he knew little about.

My Dad deserved the respect for his business acumen, but his penchant for offering strong opinions on matters he knew very little about was also part of the deal.

A family member in his forties was thinking about coaching as a career change. This person could have / would have made a great coach, but never pursued it, thanks in part to being dissuaded by my Dad.

I learned of the discussion later from my Dad, who off-handedly mentioned that so-and-so was considering going into the business of “helping losers”.

 

A New “Profession” 

The coaching “profession” is still relatively new and misunderstood, although it feels to me that things are getting better slowly with time.

Something interesting I have noted in my work in the area of Bowen Family Systems Theory is that Dr. Murray Bowen was calling himself a “coach” since at least the 1960’s, which likely pre-dates much of the current coaching “industry”.

Unfortunately, many family leaders from the senior generation have a hard time grasping the idea of hiring a “coach”

I know of at least one family who missed out on hiring someone that I know would’ve helped them greatly, but the patriarch was not convinced, in large part because the person presented herself as a “coach”, and he couldn’t get past the fact that his family wasn’t a “hockey team”.

 

What should we call ourselves?

I touched on this last week in Providing Counsel to the Family Council, where I mentioned that I don’t like to call myself a consultant. So I use the term “Advisor”, but then I really don’t like to give “advice” per se.

One of the best words to describe the kind of assistance I provide is “guidance”, but calling myself a “guide” just feels a little too nebulous.

 

Tour Guide or Wilderness Guide

Let me play with the “guide” theme a bit here. I really don’t think the city tour guide at the front of the bus is a good analogy. However, a safari guide or wilderness guide might be a better fit.

When you go to a place where things are unfamiliar and potentially dangerous, you really shouldn’t go it alone.

I don’t think too many people just book a flight to Kenya, stop at the Hertz counter and drive into the jungle to find the lions.

 

A Safe Expedition

Working on your family alignment and governance also requires making sure that everyone feels safe and that nobody is ever in danger. You want to make sure that you have at least as many members in your party at the end of the trip as when you started.

In the cases where some members are no longer part of the journey, you want it to be because they chose to come home early or to go on a journey with a different route.

 

How about a FLAG?

Now I’ve added even more elements, i.e. alignment and governance, that people who do this kind of work like to talk about, which can also add to the variety of titles.

So a Family Legacy Alignment Guide could be shortened to FLAG. I’m not sure that one would resonate though.

I think I’ll stick with Family Legacy Advisor for now, while continuing the coaching courses, which are actually more about “facilitation”.

 

Moral of the story: All families are different, and so are the people they hire.

Also please see: Going Far? Go Together!

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”.

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!)

Family Business meeting where there is confusion between members

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

This week I want to look at the question of clarity.

My premise is that when you can see things clearly, there are plenty of potential benefits, so taking the time to make sure that you are truly seeing things clearly is usually well worth it.

Family businesses are full of ambiguous situations that can often exist for years or even decades. Many roles and responsibilities are poorly defined, but somehow, sometimes almost miraculously, things still manage to get done.

Family businesses are notoriously resilient.

 

Communication Breakdown

One of the major challenges that most business families face is clear communication. It has always been that way, and probably always will be.

Of course each person has their own communication style, and some are simply better at it than others.

When I work with a family, I’ll often spend more time at the outset just working with them to make sure that they all really understand each other than on anything else.

I also believe that just about anyone can improve their communication abilities, if they want to. Part of my job is usually to make them understand why it’s worth their effort to do so.

 

It Starts at the Top – But…

We’ve all heard that everything important starts at the top. I agree with that, in general, but that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t the one at the top, there’s nothing you can do.

Communication is a two-way street. To me, that means that the “sender” and the “receiver” of any communication have a responsibility to make sure that the message was understood.

One of my favourite expressions is this one, is attributed to George Bernard Shaw:

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

 

Allow Me to Clarify

Now, in the interest of being “ultra” clear, I will try to make sure that everyone reading this understands what this means.

The biggest problem with communication is that very often the person who has spoken or written something truly believes that the person to whom they were speaking or writing actually received and understood the message as it was intended.

Unfortunately, far too often, in reality, the person either did not receive the message, or they got it, but didn’t understand it.

I personally drive my family members crazy sometimes with my obsession to handle my end of any communication. “Did you hear me? Could you please acknowledge that you understood?”

 

Getting Back to Confused Versus Concerned

The idea for this blog came from seeing someone’s face and trying to evaluate what was going on in their mind. I do this a lot, and you probably do too, even if it is only done subconsciously.

The particular situation isn’t important (and, truth be told, I don’t even recall what sparked it) but it struck me that sometimes people appear concerned about a situation, but if only they were less confused, they would end up less concerned.

 

Clear Up the Confusion

My “prescription” for many families is pretty much the same.

Clear up the confusion, the ambiguity, the “fog” and the uncertainty, and everyone will have less things about which to be “concerned”.

This is why families so often feel “stuck” in a situation and then due to inertia, they remain there.

It is usually only when something changes that they get propelled into action.

 

Shine a Light

Quite often what the family really needs is an additional perspective on things. Each person in the family is naturally preoccupied with their own situation, which they typically only see from their own viewpoint.

When they bring in a person from the outside, who can then shine the flashlight onto some of the areas of confusion and ambiguity, things get a bit more clear.

 

Shared Viewpoints

If the person with the flashlight is also skilled at facilitating a conversation around ways to determine a collective shared viewpoint that everyone can buy into, then they can really start to make progress.

The word “consternation” came up when I was thinking through this “confused vs concerned” idea. I wondered why the word “consterned” doesn’t exist. Maybe I just invented it.

So, if you are consterned with things going on in your family business, I suggest that you work on ways to clarify things first.

When things are clearer, you’ll have fewer things to be concerned about.

Values of a family owned and operated business

Family Business: How do Values Fit In?

Business people often have a tendency to concentrate so much on their day-to-day business that they end up losing sight of some pretty important basic matters, like their values.

Values form the unconscious base of everything we do, and they impact so many of our regular decisions without us even realizing it.

Business consultants love to use “values” as a buzzword that they lump in with “vision” and “mission”, often without a good grasp of the differences between them.

This topic area is potentially very broad, so I will keep this post focussed on values, and I will look specifically at the role they play in family businesses.

 

What are Values?

Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life”, according to a definition I just Googled, which is good enough for our purposes here.

A business’s values usually reflect those of the owners, executives and leadership. Some values that people brag about include ones that are so basic that they’re almost meaningless.

Any business that brags about integrity and honesty almost makes me wonder why they felt the need to spell those out as important. I’d hope that they were a given.

 

When Does This Matter?

Values are always important, but they’re usually running in the background and aren’t really noticed, until there’s a clash somewhere along the line.

I mentioned that a company’s values emanate from its leadership, and so the critical time to examine them is when anticipating a change in leadership (management and/or ownership).

A business built on hard work, collaboration and diversity won’t likely do well if the incoming leadership espouses none of those same core principles.

 

Why Are Values So Important?

Because values operate largely unnoticed or in an unspoken way, it sort of makes them the “operating system” behind the culture of the organisation.

A small group can run well without giving this much thought, but in a large or growing group of people, having some general agreement about the values that drive the group is essential.

People talk about alignment a lot these days, and rightly so. What they don’t always mention is that the alignment of values is really at the base of much of this work.

 

Family Values vs. Business Values

Now, you may be inclined to believe that business values should guide the business, while family values should just “stay in the family” and should never have an influence on how the business operates.

I would suggest that this type of thinking is not conducive to long-term success. Eventually, something has got to give.

When a family owns and leads a business, then that family’s values are important for the business. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a 100% overlap in family values and business values, but the more overlap the better, and ideally you want as much overlap as possible.

 

How Do We Get This Right?

Lots of consultants who work with businesses have tools and exercises that they use with teams in the business, to help them discover and align around key values for the business.

If your business has already done that, that’s great. But, please don’t stop there. And, please resist the temptation to bring the results of that business values work to a session on the family’s values.

 

The Values Two-Step

Any values exercise needs to have two components:

  • Individual values section
  • Group values section

These can be run one after another, or, sometimes better, after a break that can range from a couple of days to a couple of months.

Group values work needs to start with the individual values of the group’s members, and it needs to involve only those values of the members of the group.

 

Purity of Values

In a family values exercise, you may even want to do the exercise with members of only one generation at a time, so that the elders don’t unduly influence the younger participants.

Most importantly, do NOT begin with a list of values that comes from elsewhere, like the business, or the founder. The group values should be generated by the individual values of the participants in the exercise.

If the group values list you derive is to have any “value”, it needs to come “purely” from those in the group.

 

Take-Away:

Do the Values work, but take the time to do it RIGHT.

family owned business challenges

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Meetings

This week we are back to the “5 Things you Need to Know” format, and our subject comes via an emailed question.

An overseas colleague and fellow Family Firm Institute member recently asked me for my thoughts around family meetings.

Rather that send her a lengthy reply, I told her I would write this blog in response, and I hope that many of you find it useful.

(Note: we are talking here about enterprising families having an occasional get-together with many family members, some of whom are involved in business matters, along with many who are not.)

 

  1. Involve Many People

The more people you can have involved in planning the meeting, the better. Input and ideas should be solicited from as many of the participants as possible beforehand, and it should never appear to be a one-person show.

Furthermore, on the “many people” front, the execution of the meeting(s) or day(s) should also feature as many different people in leadership roles as possilbe, and active involvement by everyone (as opposed to passive) is a must.

 

  1. Not Just Business

The business aspects of the meeting are naturally important, otherwise you likely wouldn’t go through the trouble of officially convening everyone in the first place. But please resist the temptation to make it “all business”.

If you want people to look forward to these events and attend them regularly (see No.3, below), they ought to have reasons to look forward to them.

A mix of business, fun as a large group, education, fun in smaller groups, downtime, physical activity, icebreakers, and just plain socializing are all worthwhile considerations for the schedule.

 

  1. Regular, Repeating Forum

An error that some families make is to try to have THE family meeting, once, to finally share a bunch of information that they have been keeping private for a long time. That is rarely the best course to pursue.

Rather, having regular meetings, on a repeating basis (annual, semi-annual, or other) is almost always a better idea. Those in attendance who are new to much of the content need time to absorb it, learn, and get up to speed before they can even conceive of the questions they’ll have.

The idea is to have a “forum”, or “an exchange of views” that brings out interaction and learning, which is better suited to a regular and repeating event, with an agenda that evolves over time.

 

  1. Past History and Future Outlook

Most family businesses considering holding this type of meeting have been around for a few decades.

So, sharing stories and facts about the history of the business, 10 and 20 and 30 years ago (or often much longer) can help give everyone in attendance a better appreciation of what came before, including major milestones, successes, and failures.

The trip through time should not necessarily end with today, though. Projecting another 10 or 20 years ahead, and getting various points of view on how family members see the business and their potential future involvement is also an opportunity that should not be missed.

 

  1. Process is More Important than Content

You may approach the idea of a family meeting as a chance to tell, teach, or share a number of important pieces of information with those members of the family who are less aware than others, in order to “level the playing field” and make everyone feel involved.

That is a noble idea, and at the same time, the temptation for too much content is always there. People who are thirsty for information are not always best served with a fire hose.

A habit of regular meetings, with the participation of many people, including interactivity, talking and listening, sharing of information to level of the information playing field, getting to know each other better, and of course having fun, are the ways to judge the success of family meetings.

The processes involved in all of this are what you need to get right, and the actual content is secondary.

When you get different people volunteering to serve on various committees to plan parts of the next meeting, you will know that you have launched a worthwhile venture that will stand the family in good stead for the long term.

Although you won’t likely get there quickly, slowly but surely it can be done. And you will all be glad you made the effort.

Family Business Prespective

Putting Perspective into Perspective

We all see things from our own unique perspective, first and foremost. Our personal point of view serves as our default view of the world.

The ability to see things from another’s perspective is important, and not everyone is good at it, since this ventures into the area of empathy.

But whenever we force ourselves to look at things from a different perspective, it’s almost always enlightening. “Hmm, I never thought about it that way”.

 

Always Worthwhile

Getting help to look at things from a different point of view is especially useful for those who are successful.

Smart people who’ve had great success can sometimes start to believe that they know everything, and they frequently overestimate their abilities.

For these people, stopping themselves to take a second look can be especially beneficial. Do you know anyone like that?

If you live alone on an island, the perspective of other stakeholders is a moot point. But what about if you work in a business with other family members?

 

Insiders Vs. Outsiders

Working with business families, I am often forced to remind family members to think about how their ideas will impact the other people involved. Some do this easily, others require more practice.

The truth is, by the time I enter the picture, they’ve already made the most important decision.

Families who take the step of hiring an independent, unbiased, objective outsider to advise them have recognized that a new perspective is not only useful, but essential to successfully dealing with many important issues.

 

Definitions of Perspective

The more complex things are, the more important the independent ousider becomes. Here are a couple of definitions of perspective (emphasis added):

       – the state of one’s ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship

       – the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship

Family business situations are full of complexity, with plenty of interrelated issues, stemming from the overlap of the family system, the business system, and the ownership system.

Add in everybody’s individual preferences and, well, good luck!

 

“Why the world NEEDS family business consultants”

I read a lot of stuff about family business, because I write a lot of stuff about family business. When I get something from the Family Business Consulting Group, I always read it.

This week, they sent out a piece about our profession, and why it is important. I knew that I needed to share it, and wondered about the best way to do so.

Since I was already planning this blog about “perspective”, I decided to incorporate it here.

Here’s an excerpted paragraph, and a link to the article. Please take the time to read the whole piece.

“An excellent family business consultant is probably the only advisor you’ll work with who considers how family,        management, ownership and governance impact each other on a day-to-day basis and is able to create a safe place to openly and creatively consider how these four necessary systems uniquely and powerfully affect your family and your enterprise.”

Link: Why the world NEEDS family business consultants

Relating to ALL the Pieces

A family business consultant (or family legacy advisor), will see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together from a different perspective.

Seeing and understanding how the pieces relate, without being one of those pieces, is essential.

Anyone who is part of any of the systems simply cannot offer a fully objective viewpoint. And anyone trying to sell you other services will also be biased.

 

Defusing the Emotions

There are many emotions in family business because family is all about love and business is about money, and when you put them together, things get messy.

Some suggest removing emotions, but they might as well suggest not breathing; emotions will always exist.

This is where a trained outsider is most useful. Someone who can remain calm despite the anxiety in the room, and can slow things down, reminding everyone of the number of different perspectives in the room.

 

The View from 30,000 Feet

An independent outsider with no stake in the game can provide the proverbial 30,000-foot view, and offer a new perpsective on all the interrelated pieces of the puzzle.

That can make all the difference in creating a shared perspective that everyone can believe in.

Families who have successfully transitioned their business and wealth have rarely done so all by themselves.

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

 

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.

 

 

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option

Miami: FFI at 30

I am currently in Miami, having just spent the past three days at the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference, during which attendees were continually reminded that the organisation is 30 years old.

I recall that CAFÉ, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise recently celebrated its 30th anniversary as well.

Also early in its fourth decade is the Three Circle Model (Family, Business, Ownership), co-created by John Davis of Harvard. Davis received what amounts to a lifetime achievement award from FFI at the Gala dinner last night.

I finally got to meet him in person and shake his hand afterward, and gave him a belated thank you for not only allowing me to quote him in my book a couple years back, but mostly for replying to my emailed request for that permission within an hour, which surprised me at the time.

Having now met the man, I am no longer surprised.

 

Conflict comes standard

FFI conferencs are filled with so many people and learnings, and I was reviewing some of my notes last night trying to decide on this week’s blog topic. I settled on Conflict is NOT an option.

But I met yet another experienced practitioner this week who happily noted that he rejects 90% of potential client families who come to him in full blown conflict mode. He doesn’t need the aggravation and much prefers to work with families in preventative ways.

But the potential for conflict in family business situations remains ever present. If this sounds familiar, you may have read something similar in this space a few short weeks ago. (FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it, or manage it)

One breakout session that I attended was moderated by one of the authors of Deconstructing Conflict, mentioned in that blog. She repeated that in any situation where family and business overlap, conflict is NOT optional. It will always be there, by default.

 

Even if you don’t want it

Go back a few decades and think about buying a car. Do you want power windows and power steering? Air conditioning? There were lots of options available that you could choose to add or not, depending on your wants and needs, and your budget.

These days, (almost) all cars come with all of those former options, and many more, as standard features.

And so it is in a family business, conflict comes standard, and you cannot even opt out of it! Recall the days when you could have an unlisted phone number, but that cost extra, to not be listed in the “standard” phone book (these days, what’s a phone book? Ask Grandma…)

So assuming that you accept that conflict is built in, what now? My take is that you acknowledge it and always be on the alert for where disputes might flare up, and try to get out in front of them.

 

Carving a Safe Space: Art vs Science

A common term for mediators and group facilitators is the “safe space”. An independent and neutral outsider comes in and creates a safe space for all parties to be able to share their concerns, wants and needs.

One of the panelists in the conflict session artfully pointed out that his task is always to “hand carve” that safe space. You cannot buy such a space at IKEA and assemble it out of the box.

This carving analogy fits quite nicely with my own assertion, which I made both in that post a few weeks ago and during the FFI session; there is much more art involved in facilitating group process than there is science.

 

Who I Am vs What I Do

Organisations like FFI are great at helping this young industry develop and share the science part of family firms, but the art in mediating conflict often comes down more to the “who I am” of the neutral third party than the “what I do”.

The work that one needs to do to become an effective third party is very personal and “internally driven”.

For me, coaching courses, mediation and facilitation workshops, and even Bowen Family Systems Theory training, have all been integral to my becoming more than simply competent to do this work and conduct these group processes.

They say, “practice makes perfect”, and while perfection seems too lofty a goal, practice certainly does make one “better”.