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Family Business - Family Ownership Tree

Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree

Family businesses come to life in different ways, but their ownership structure usually starts out pretty simple. With the coming of age of the next generation of family members, things inevitably get more complex.

Preparing the rising generation to work in the business is a subject that gets talked about quite a bit. Preparing them to be good owners is also something that we are beginning to hear more about as well. All of this is good news.

But my subject today is based on a real life case, brought to my attention by a colleague. I asked her for permission to address it in this space, because I have not seen much written on it, and it can be pretty tricky.

Unfortunately there isn’t necessarily an easy solution, but then again, in the arena of family business, there rarely is.

 

The Case of the XYZ Family

My colleague and I are members of a “study group” of a dozen or so members of FFI, we come from a handful of countries, and it is always interesting to note the cultural flavour that comes with the stories we share.

The XYZ family is based in another country on another continent. X and Y are brothers, and they own their business 50/50. So far it’s pretty simple. Oh, one more important point, X is a silent partner, and Y runs the business.

I don’t know for sure but will assume that there is no shareholders agreement in place, likely because of the standard, “hey, we’re family, we trust each other, we will work it out” attitude.

 

Arrival of the Next Gen

The business continues along without issue, and the brothers start families of their own.   Y, the active brother, has a son and a daughter. X, the silent brother, eventually also has a daughter.

Just to add a bit more complicating “spice” to the story, Y’s son, Z, ends up going to work in the business along with his Dad, Y. X remains silent. Everything is fine, right? Well, for now, seemingly, yes.

 

Projecting the Future

So if you are Z, the son working in the business, what might concern you, long term? What issue keeps you up at night, to the point that you would raise it with your friendly neighbourhood family business consultant?

If you guessed “ownership”, give yourself a gold star.

The young man has likely already witnessed some of the difficulties that his father has had in running the business while being responsive to a silent partner, uncle X.

When he projects to the future, he sees a situation where he is the only family member working in the business, but his “silent partners” could be his sister, and his cousin.

If ownership follows the standard equal distribution among children that is the default in their country, he foresees himself owning 25% of the shares, and having to answer to his 25% owner sister, and their 50% owner cousin.

 

Sustainability in Question

When something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

Just to make sure we see the difficulty here let’s add another layer. Let’s say Z has five kids, and his sister and cousin only have one child each. And let’s say only one of his kids joins the company and runs it, along with his silent relative partners.

How would it be to own 5% of a company and run it for relatives who own the following shares:

Owner-Manager:        5%

Siblings:                        5%   /   5%    /   5%   /   5%

Cousin:                       25%

Second-Cousin:        50%

 

Thanks, but No Thanks!

Talk about a thankless job. Family businesses CAN last many generations, but those that do are the exceptions, not the rule.

We often look for whom to blame when they don’t last, yet sometimes just the way they are structured and the simple math of family division make it nearly impossible to make this work.

 

So Do We Give Up?

No.

We look ahead and foresee the potential issue, and talk about ways to resolve it. The brother owners need to realize that this can’t work long term, and figure out their next steps.

Assuming that Y can buy out his brother’s 50%, that would resolve a big chunk of it, for now, anyway.

They might even use a formula that Z will be able to follow to eventually buy out his sister down the road.

Bring it up, talk it out, resolve it before it kills the business.

 

 

 

Work With Me, Walk with Me

Work with Me, Walk with Me

Work with Me, Walk with Me

This week’s blog inspiration comes from a training program I attended. Noting it in my “future blog ideas” file, I then let it simmer. It’s ready now, so let’s dig in.

We’re in Ottawa, autumn 2016, at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution, on the first day of “TPN-4”, the final installment of their Third Party Neutral program.

We go around and do intros, wrapping up with our observer, a former student, now volunteering as a teaching assistant.

She details her experience in the field, including some with First Nations communities, during which she “walked with the ‘XYZ’ tribe for four years”.

“Sorry”, I interject, “did you say ‘worked with’, or ‘walked with’?”

Walked with”, she replied.

“OK, thanks, that’s what I thought I heard”, I nodded.

 

Similar, but different

There isn’t a huge difference between the two words, given the context.

Or is there? Of course she worked with them, and that is the way most people would have phrased it. But she chose her words carefully, and I for one noticed.

The biggest thing I appreciated about her word choice is that she was actually describing more than a simple working relationship, it was one where she did much more than regular “brain” or “muscle” work.

But then again, the heart is a muscle too.

 

Journey = Process

To walk with someone suggests some important differences, firstly that the process of helping the client is actually a journey.

Also, when people walk together, there usually is no hierarchy of “you work for me” or vice versa.

I’ve worked with lots of people with whom I never “walked”, and I’ve “walked with” others I never worked with.

Walking with someone suggests that you begin at a certain place and try to go somewhere else, together, hopefully a better place.

You could even leave somewhere and then return, in which case you’re most likely emphasizing something you are doing along the way.

 

“Accompagnement”

Even if you overlook the nuances of “worked” versus “walked”, you still have that other key word, “with”.

In the area of coaching, which continues to make great strides in becoming a mainstream profession, there is a French translation that I love, which also fits this subject.

Some people use the term “Le coaching” in a way similar to “Le marketing”, and others where a French word has never become generally accepted.

I’ve often heard people call it “service d’accompagnement”, that is, “accompaniment”.

That really resonates with me.

I recall one of my coaching leaders at CTI saying that 80% of coaching boils down to two simple (but not necessarily easy) things:

  • Listening without judgement, and
  • Being “with” someone

“Being with”, is very much “accompaniment”.

“Walking with” is accompaniment on a journey.

 

How about a “Guide”? 

Of course when you hire someone to work with you or walk with you, it is rarely just for companionship. Ideally the person can offer you some sort of help, thanks to their experience or expertise.

But there are different kinds of helpers, and it is often tempting to look for “the expert” who can give you the best advice, and then “just tell me what to do”.

In some cases, that’s the ideal way to go. In many others, such as figuring our how to transition your family’s wealth from one generation to the next, just getting experts to tell you “what to do” often leads to sub-optimal results.

 

Guidance helps you get what YOU want

An analogy I like for this kind of work is that of a “guide”. Names like “consultant”, “advisor”, and “coach” each have connotations that bring along some negative baggage and associations to some ears.

I’ve always liked the idea of giving “guidance”, but somehow calling myself a “guide” doesn’t seem to “fit” either.

A good guide “walks with”, helps point out interesting things you may have missed, and keeps you out of places you shouldn’t venture into.

If they’re really good, they don’t even look like they’re working when they are!

They just look like someone who came along for the walk. But how would the journey have been without them?

Who is guiding your transition?

 

2017 Key Questions - Family Business

The KEY Question for 2017

So here we are again at the time of year when the old calendar comes off the wall and the new one goes up. Didn’t we just go through this?

The title of this week’s post comes from a book I’ve been reading, called Finish Big, by Bo Burlingham. I have gotten in the habit of doing my morning workouts while reading instead of watching TV, which has allowed me to cut into my unread books pile.

On my Kindle one recent day, I finished my ride mid-chapter and closed down, and the next morning when I resumed, “The Key Question” was the bold sub-heading that hit me right between the eyes when I rebooted.

Hmmm, I thought, a great and timely blog topic.

 

What IS the Key Question? 

There are SO many questions that we consider every day of our lives, most of them without thinking too much, and many of them of very little consequence.

When you look at the photo accompanying this post, which shows me along with some models hired for photo ops at a friend’s recent office Christmas party, a number of potential questions may come to mind.

I happened to receive this photo by email from my friend the other day, and when I showed it to my daughter, her laughter was all I needed to hear to know that I needed to include it here.

So if the key question is “Why?”, the answer is because I got the pic, I laughed when I saw it, others thought it was funny, so I decided to share it.

If it is a “What” question, however, as in “what is going on in this pic?” the simple facts of “what” along with “where”, “when”, and “who”, have also been addressed, albeit briefly.

“What” and “Why” questions preoccupy much of our lives, but for me, the Key Question for 2017 should be HOW?

I invite you to also consider more “HOW” questions, many of which you may have been subconsciously avoiding.

 

WHAT, WHY, and HOW 

Let’s move this over to the usual subject matter here, that of family legacy.

WHAT you have today, the business, the assets, the wealth, is pretty easy to ascertain factually. You have lots of professional advisors who can help you figure out exactly what you have, in hard numbers, on paper.

WHY you worked so hard to get to where you are, and the sacrifices you made to get here, and the reasons behind many of the tough decisions you made, are mostly things that come from the past, and include many important factors that drove you to succeed.

These WHATs and WHYs are very important, but by themselves, they will not suffice.

 

The Future is HOW

Every family that has worked to develop sufficient assets to be concerned about leaving a legacy, will eventually get to the stage where their main concern shifts to HOW.

How do we keep this going? That’s why professionals who advise such families don’t talk about succession planning, but instead talk about “Continuity Planning”.

HOW are you going to ensure that these assets will hold together into future generations, thereby sustaining your legacy?

These assets are not simply financial assets, by the way, but also less tangible things like human and intellectual capital, and if you haven’t been paying attention to those, the chances of the financial wealth being enough to hold the legacy together will decrease substantially.

 

HOW is a Transition, NOT a Transaction

Many families delay even thinking about these key questions for a variety of reasons; they’re too busy making the pie bigger, they think they will live forever, they aren’t sure where to start, etc.

It is complex stuff, and everyone in the family has their own viewpoint. Many professional advisors also have a hard time getting out of their silo of expertise to give you proper big picture advice.

Future blog posts will talk about creating a Family Continuity BluePrint. We will be getting back to the basics of the Three Circle Model, so feel free to read these refreshers:

Stay tuned to future posts for more on making “HOW” the Key Question for 2017 for your family.  If you are not yet subscribed, please do so here and now!

 P.S. (The facial expression of the handsome guy in the photo seems to convey “How do I get myself out of this?”, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Inheritance Advice - How to avoid problems

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance

Family Inheritance

While few people actually relish thinking about the details of the inheritance they will leave their family when they die, most do spend at least some time wondering how to make sure that things will go well among their heirs.

We’ve all heard of families where relationships were harmed, sometimes beyond repair, as the result of how this important question was dealt with. If you do not want to be one of THOSE families, please read on.

Also note that these are five things everyone should know and understand, but that doesn’t make them an exhaustive list of important considerations, or even a “top 5 list” for every family situation. This blog should never substitute for legal advice for your unique family situation.

 

  1. Big or Small, the same issues arise

You don’t have to have a net worth in the gazillions to be affected by the potential negative fallout from poor decisions in this area.

Siblings have been known to never speak to each other again as the result of parental decisions that were made that surprised everyone, even in cases where the inheritance barely covered the cost of the funeral.

Rule 1: Don’t assume that there isn’t enough to worry about

 

  1. A WILL is Key

It should go without saying that every adult needs a will. Unfortunately, statistics show that many do not.

Many people who don’t likely assume that they have plenty of time to take care of it, you know, “later”. There are cemetaries full of people who guessed wrong on the question of exactly when they were going to die.

You need a will, and it really should be current. A good rule of thumb is to review it every five years.

Rule 2: Make sure you have a legal will, no excuses!

 

  1. A Will is NOT Enough

Now if you have your will in place and are thinking you are in the clear, well, sorry, we still have (at least) 3 more items here!

You have decided to leave certain assets to certain people in a certain way, and it’s all written up legally in a will. Here is the important question: do the people who will inherit your assets KNOW what they will be inheriting?

At least some form of basic communication is absolutely essential. If you haven’t already done so, please make sure that everyone understands what is going to happen. If you can let them all know together, at the same time, even better.

Letting them assume, and having different people understand different versions of it is a sure recipe for trouble.

Rule 3: Your heirs should know what is coming

 

  1. “Pre-Mediation” Can Make Sense

When a dispute goes into mediation, parties are brought together, and along with a neutral third party, they examine everyone’s interests and work towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The idea of pre-mediating is to put the scenario on the table with the parties before it actually comes into play.

The main point is that if you leave things to your heirs in the way you planned, AND that will cause problems after you are gone, why would you not want to re-adjust while you still can?

If this idea scares you, then that is a sign that yours is actually precisely the kind of situation that could most benefit from this.

Rule 4: Play out the details while you still can

 

5 “Surprise” is NOT a Good Thing 

I have heard Tom Deans (author of Willing Wisdom) speak several times. He describes the sound that many lawyers tell him they’ve heard from at least one surprised heir at the reading of many a will.

It is difficult to convey in writing, but imagine a gasp with an audible “aaargh” or “euhhhh”.

That surprised sound from any of your heirs is NOT what you should be going for.

Rule 5: Let your family grieve and celebrate your life, not shake their heads in disbelief.

 

If you know someone who should be thinking about these questions but may have been avoiding them, please feel free to forward this to them. You will both be glad you did.

 

Getting started with your family business with the right advice

It’s All about Getting Started

The start icon. Start symbol. Flat Vector illustration

Most of us usually have a pretty good idea of “what to do” in situations, and we think about our motivations to clarify the “why” as well. Today’s post is going to look at the “how and when”, and getting started on the important steps in generational transitions.

Timing can so often be crucial in life; how often have you either just been “in the right place at the right time”, or just missed an opportunity because an open door suddenly shut? Of course there are also occasions when we are too early as well.

For every “early bird” who gets the worm, there is a “second mouse” that gets the cheese. My bias is to move early, and I know that if anyone could ever convince me to try parachuting, I would likely pull the cord too early rather than too late.

In a business family, there is often a desire to have the hard work of a generation carry on into the next, and hopefully to subsequent generations as well.

One of my favourite expressions is “things don’t just happen by themselves”, and maybe that’s because working with these types of families has underscored the importance of taking action.

Inter-generational transitions are complex matters. The more people involved and the larger the asset base in question, the trickier things get. The more complex things are, the longer it will take to get things right.

So the “what” in this case is preparing the inter-generational transition, the “why” is because we want our hard work to benefit future generations of our family, and the “when” is, well, whenever I get around to it (!?).

Hopefully you caught the problem in the previous sentence.

As mentioned above, my bias is that it’s better to start too soon than too late. Complexity can slow things down more than you can ever imagine, and when important questions come up, and they always do, more time to get things right is very helpful.

When is the right time to start?

Sometimes you just know, and sometimes you need a push. Divine inspiration is not always forthcoming.

The two main generations, let’s call them NowGen and NextGen, don’t always see eye to eye on the timing.

In many cases the NextGen pushes for action but is met with resistance by the NowGen, but it can also be some variation of the reverse situation. Sometimes the NowGen is met with disinterest from the rising generation.

The biggest causes of delaying action on these key matters are: fear of conflict, fear of mortality, not knowing how to begin, not having anyone in charge of the process, and being too busy with more urgent matters.

Fear of Conflict

“We can’t talk about that, because it will cause a rift”. If that is your case, are you assuming that the underlying issue will just go away, or that the kids will figure it out after you’re gone?

Better to talk about it and smooth over any potential conflict while we can still modify whatever we have planned and explain all decisions. If you suspect conflict, getting out in front of it is better than the ostrich approach.

Mortality

Talking about sex never got anyone pregnant, and talking about money never made anyone rich, so talking about your eventual death is not going to kill you either.

Get over it. If you are equating your exit from certain roles in your business with your death, that is another issue, and there are ways to deal with that too.

How/Where to Begin

Start talking about the subject and ask questions of other family members to get their ideas about what the future might look like when the next generation is in charge. Listen, and then ask more questions, and listen some more.

Who’s in Charge?

If you are reading this and liking what you see, then please go and take charge of the process. Then bring someone in from the outside who will help keep you on track.

Too Busy Putting Out Fires

Not everything that seems “urgent” is that important. Prioritize, delegate. Learn to work on what is truly important to the big picture.

You probably should have started a while ago, so get moving already.

 

How to stay Calm in Family Business situation

“Calm-Fident” Advice for your Family

Sometimes the right word for something doesn’t exist, so we need to make one up. Okay, we don’t actually need to, but it can be a useful exercise.

On sports radio last week, a commentator was talking about a certain hockey goaltender and how his calm performances had helped his team get their season off to a good start. Right after uttering the word “calm”, he moved on to the fact that the team was quite “confident” playing in front of him.

That was when the “word” calmfidence sort of hit me, and it also fit nicely with some of the personal work that I continue to do, trying to become and even better advisor to legacy families.

(When I Googled “calmfidence”, I learned that while it certainly is not very popular or well known yet, I am not the first one to use it. If you also decide to do this, please say hello to Juneous for me.)

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

Let’s get back to the idea of calmness as a key ingredient to helping a family. I am now into my third year of studying Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), and it has been eye opening to say the least.

I have already vowed to write a book on Bowen Theory as it applies to family business and wealth, because I have yet to find the book that I was hoping to find when I first took an interest in BFST.

That book is still in my plans, but it will be a couple of years away at best.

As any “amateur” Bowenite can tell you, there are eight concepts in BFST, and as some of those will surely note, being “calm” is not one of them.

So where do I think I am going to go with this? I am glad you asked.

 

Anxiety versus Calm

One of the over-riding issues that Bowen talked about throughout the eight concepts is anxiety.

When Bowen spoke of “Differentiation of Self”, which we might more simply call “emotional maturity” today, he regularly noted that those who are more differentiated (i.e. mature) can and do function well, even during times of anxiety.

Those with lower levels of differentiation or maturity will have their everyday functioning impaired during times of high anxiety.

Anyone who is part of a business family will certainly recognize that family discussions can be anxious times, and are often far from calm.

 

Bring an Outsider Inside

Advisors will preach to any family who will listen, that it is important to have an external person at the table to help them with these discussions, especially when important subjects like succession are on the agenda.

Most families prefer to keep things private, not wanting to air their laundry to an outsider, and also often assume that they alone are going through their particular difficult family situation.

They also recognize that an advisor who suggests bringing in an outsider is being self-serving, you know, like the barber who hints that your hair is getting a little long.

 

Bring in some Calm-Fidence

So here is where I want to bring things back to calmfidence.

When an outsider to your family enters the scene, there are two ways to quickly evaluate whether or not they will ultimately be useful to the family. You guessed it, they are “calm” and “confidence”.

This outside resource should bring a calm presence, no matter how much anxiety there is in the room, whether that anxiety is actually on the table, or hidden behind an elephant somewhere.

After a couple of meetings with the advisor/consultant, the family (or at least a significant portion of it) will begin to feel much more confident that they are on the right track.

But what if they are not calm, and the family does NOT feel more confident, you ask? Simple. Get someone else!

 

Too Important to Ignore

You’ve probably heard “the biggest investment most people make in their lives is buying a house.”

Families with a business, wealth, and a legacy to pass on are not “most people” though, and this is the biggest issue that they will ever face.

Inter-generation wealth transfer is not easy, and getting the whole family on board is the toughest part.

Find someone who gives you the CALMFIDENCE to get it done properly. Keep trying until you find them.

 

 

 

How to Choose a Family Business Consultant

There are many factors to consider when you are looking to find the kind of help that many business families eventually require. This usually arrives around the time that the family realizes that their leading generation will someday need to make way for the rising generation.

Most will have an inkling that they will need to do “something, someday”, long before they actually start to act upon those feelings, and that’s only natural.

 

Structural Issues

Often the impetus to act will come from a business advisor of some sort, like an accountant or a lawyer. In any inter-generational transfer, there are plenty of legal and structural issues that will need to be taken care of, for obvious reasons.

What remains less obvious to many, is that the legal and structural “paperwork” is only the beginning. These official documents deal mostly with the “what”, but very rarely get into the crucial details of the “how”.

If this is all news to you, there are dozens of other blog posts on this site that you can read to get my drift. For those who are already on board, I will now segue into the thrust of this post, about how to choose your family business consultant.

 

Don’t Allow Family Issues to Get Lost

Here are my Top 5 things to consider before deciding on who is best suited to helping you with these crucial matters:

 

  1.    Overlap of Business and Family

 Does the person that you are going to engage, to help lead your transition, truly understand that most of the key issues that you will be facing involve both the business AND your family?

A business focus without understanding the family issues is no better than a “family therapist” focus with no understanding of business and wealth.

 

  1. Business > Family       OR       Family > Business?

Do they come from a background where they naturally lean toward business solutions, or from one where family harmony is the driving force?

Which is more important to them, which is more important to you and your family, and is it the same for both? Should it be the same, or should there be a counter-balance? Some semblance of balance should not be overlooked.

There is no right or wrong here, but you need to comprehend this point.

 

  1.    Do they LISTEN, and to WHOM?

So many professionals who work with business families are used to taking orders form one PERSON (the boss) and the rest of the family are merely an afterthought.

When advising a business family, ideally the FAMILY is the client. That is a huge leap, and one that is never easy to make.

Some advisors don’t get this, and some can understand it in theory but find it impossible in practice. Beware the “yes man” advisor.

 

  1. Beware: “I have THE solution for YOU”

Recycling is great for your garbage, not so much for your family legacy. If your consultant arrives with lots of “ready-made” solutions that they have used with others in their experience, please ask LOTS of questions

Buying a suit off the rack is okay, but a plan for YOUR family’s legacy should be custom-made for YOUR family.

 

  1. There is no “Free Lunch”

Good professional advice is not free, and shouldn’t be either. Some providers, usually in the asset management space, will promise to do many things for their wealthy clients “for free”.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with this, IF you understand and accept the terms and conditons that go with that.

Buying based on “low price” is not recommended either, but understanding HOW advisors are compensated should not be overlooked.

 

IFEA “Seal of Approval”

In Canada, over the past several years a few hundred people have been through the multi-disciplinary Family Enterprise Advisor program and a couple of hundred have then gone on to become “FEA” designates.

As one of them, I have a certain bias, and look at the letters “FEA” as kind of a “seal of approval”.

The field is evolving and many professionals are trying to find ways to capitalize on the huge demographic wealth transfer that is now underway.

All FEA designates have been through a thorough program and a rigorous certification process.

Please do your homework, and choose well.

 

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.

 

Ebook on Creating Harmony In a family Business

My Baby, My Heir

There is something about reflecting on the past and dreaming about the future that can get us excited. When we specifically involve our family members in these thoughts, it can be even more remarkable.

Now if only we could make sure that the past memories and future dreams were all positive!

We start worrying about our offspring before they’re born, and sometimes even before they’re conceived. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it all starts at birth.

We also worry about what will happen to them after we’re gone. Of course after we’ve passed away, there isn’t really much we can do about anything anymore.

For practical purposes, the moment a baby is born, they become a future heir, and upon the death of a parent, they become the true heir.

During the time when a parent and child are both alive, there are many stages that they go through as they move from “baby” to “heir”.

 

Not All Distinctions Are Clear

Unlike birth dates and death dates, the movement from one stage to the next is usually less clear. Let’s look at some examples.

When does one move from “baby” to toddler, to pre-schooler? Do these stages always last as long as we hoped, or are they too long, or too brief? Do the child and parent agree on when they moved from one stage to the next?

Some of the periods are quite clear, “high school student”, for example, or undergraduate in college, with specific start and end dates.

There are overarching periods too, like “dependent”, and that one can become a bit ambiguous too. Parents usually say they want their offspring to become independent, but sometimes their actions make it look like they’re unsure how to go about that.

If the family owns a business, there’s a whole new set of stages, like part-time employee, summer intern, full-time employee, whether starting in the mailroom, or otherwise.

Then there are other business roles, like manager, VP, leader, board member, owner, CFO, CEO. Some of the distinctions are clear, some overlap, some do not apply, and a whole bunch of others can be added too.

 

Business Roles, Family Roles

Outside the company there are even more important roles, even if they do not come with a business card and title.

We don’t like to think about the time when there will be a role reversal, and the child will become the caretaker, and the parent will be the dependent. It is, however a reality that most of us will face. And it might be sooner than we expect.

There is a natural progression to all of this, but it isn’t always smooth, and in fact it can be quite “lumpy”, not to mention bumpy.

If you are concerned about your multi-generation legacy, as I believe you should be, it makes sense for both generations to be on the same page, but often they are not.

I have done some gross over-simplification here as we have gone along, only looking at a one child, one parent scenario.

Yes, I know that things are usually even more complex, involving two parents, and multiple children. My point is that even the one-parent-one-child situation is rarely simple.

I thought about calling this post “From Baby to Heir, and Everything in Between”, but shortened it. I want to highlight that there is a fixed period of time, while both generations are alive, where you can both truly work on the relationship.

 

Natural Order of Things

The relationship will NATURALLY change, from dependent to caretaker, from child to former child. I like the word “offspring”, as it covers both, and hopefully gets the parents to stop thinking of adults in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s as “kids”.

The parent goes from leader, in the “one up” position, through a period of “equal” adults, and then finally to dependent, or “one down”.

Not thinking about this doesn’t change it, it only delays your doing what needs to be done.

Are there some relationships in your family that are still stuck in a framework that is no longer suitable, and is unsustainable?

What are you going to do about it? These conversations need to happen, however difficult they are to get started.