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Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O)

Animals in a farm

Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O)

Over the past two weeks I’ve been at the cottage trying to unwind and unplug a bit.

I woke up early one morning, and by the time I got up to start the coffee-maker, the bare bones of this blog post were already complete.

If you’ve ever wondered, “what kind of person wakes up thinking about family governance, while on vacation?” you now have your answer.

Because of the happy coincidence of the first letter of the adjectives I’d been dreaming about, this “Old MacDonald” blog was born.

Without further ado, here are my “E-I-E-I-O” of family governance.

 

Egalitarian

Family governance should be egalitarian in nature.

Family goverance is not the same as business governance. A business should be a meritocracy, where everyone’s rights and obligations stem from their place in the hierarchy.

In a family, simply being born into the family gives you a place at the table, and everyone’s place is more or less equal to everyone else’s.

So in the “family circle” governance needs to be much more “egalitarian”.

 

Intentional

Family governance needs to be intentional.

When I use the word “intentional”, I’m getting at the idea it doesn’t just happen by itself. You need to work at it.

Most families don’t “do governance” because they don’t need to.

If, however, your family has sufficient assets that are expected to survive the current leading generation, and continue to be owned by a group of family members in the next generation, then you absolutely NEED family governance

And you must also realize that it needs to be intentional, so you will need to work at it.

Evolving

Family governance needs to evolve.

This may not be the best time in history to reference US politics, but I’ll do it anyway.

The “founding fathers” came up with their constitution, which has served as the base of their governance for over two centuries.

But in the meantime, those who have been governing the country have amended it a couple of dozen times.

My point is that governance must naturally evolve over time. Don’t expect to be able to figure it all out in the first go around.

“Start where you are, use what you’ve got, do what you can”. And then keep moving forward.

 

Incremental

Family governance should be incremental.

It usually shouldn’t evolve in big spurts. A little bit at a time will almost always be better.

A family is made up of various different members (with a “quack quack” here and a “moo moo” there), and you can only go as fast as the slowest member.

Those who want to go faster will often lament the others who slow everything down, but they’ll also help the family from acting too quickly.

 

“Our Own”

The family needs to OWN their governance.

The governance that any family puts in place will be unique to that family.

It needs to be created “by the family, for the family” if it is to be useful.

Only by creating their own governance, will the family “own” their governance.

They cannot buy it, “off the shelf”, anywhere.

 

And On That Farm He Had Some…

Because there are so many creatures on the farm, Old MacDonald needs to proceed very thoughtfully and carefully.

He would be wise to bring in an outsider, preferably one who has some experience and training, to facilitate the development of the family’s governance.

When I said “By the family, for the family”, note that I never said “by themselves”, in fact most will not get very far without an outside perspective.

 

Intentionality of the “Project”

In fact, the outside person who is brought in also should also act as the “project manager”, and a large part of their role is to keep things on track and moving forward.

Family governance is not a natural thing, and it needs to be nurtured along the way.

If your family intends to successfully continue to own assets together into the following generation(s), you cannot ignore family governance.

There are all sorts of different animals in a family, and if you want them all to sing together, you’ll need to work at it.

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Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid

Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid

I just returned from another fantastic Rocky Mountain experience: four jam-packed days, over two conferences, hosted by the Purposeful Planning Institute.

This has become an annual trek to Denver for me, which will surely continue for years to come.

 

Four Going on Five

I first attended PPI’s “Rendez Vous” in 2014 and returned again the following year. Last year, they added something new, an additional conference called “Fusion Collaboration”.

I decided to do both in 2016, and I jumped in with both feet again this year.

There was some confusion again, on the part of some attendees at either or both this week, about the difference between these two conferences.

I came up with an analogy that got a great response from everyone with whom I shared it, and the title of this post gives you a clue as to what it’s about.

 

Try Some of this Great Kool-Aid

Fusion Collaboration, the newer portion, is aimed at technical professionals who deal with business families, and families of wealth, and its goal is to introduce these more transactional folks to some of the other, deeper ways that these clients need to be served.

The presenters at Fusion are mostly specialists who work on the less technical aspects of wealth transfer, in what I like to call the “family circle”.

Many people used to call these the “soft side” (and still do), but now it’s more often dubbed “relational”, or “family dynamics”.

Fusion Collaboration is PPI’s attempt to get them to try Purposeful Planning Kool-Aid and “get them hooked”.

 

Let’s Swap Kool-Aid Recipes

By Wednesday evening, Fusion was wrapping up, and many of the lawyers and accountants and transactional specialists were preparing to depart, only to be replaced by a fresh crop of attendees.

The people who came for Rendez Vous, for this, its seventh incarnation, didn’t need to be enticed to drink the proverbial Purposeful Planning Kool-Aid.

Most of these people already subscribe to “Kool-Aid Aficionado” magazine, and they bring their Kool-Aid mixing and serving tips and recipes to share with their friends.

Besides the relational experts, many traditional transactional professionals who’ve become Kool-Aid fans also attend this conference regularly.

 

What’s In this Stuff?

If you’re curious about the main ingredient in this enticing beverage, it was nicely summarized by PPI’s founder, John A. Warnick, in one slide, which read:

                      Purposeful Planning   =   “Client-centric”   +     “Family-centric”

Most professional advisors already recognize the importance of putting the client’s needs and desires at the heart of wealth transition planning,

They also usually understand (in theory, at least) how important it is to bring next generation family members into the picture, preferably early on.

 

Secondary Equals?

Many of those who’ve traditionally driven the discussions around the pieces of wealth and business continuity, and transitions to the next generation, would consider themselves the primary drivers of this important work.

That may be true in the strict “transactional” sense, but more and more families are demanding a more holistic approach, which naturally involves a host of other experts from different, perhaps “secondary” domains.

Ideally, a collaborative group, or better yet, a team of advisors, will work together to figure out and design a complete inter-generational solution, along with the client family.

In order to do this work efficiently, and effectively, it really helps if the advisor team can work as collaborative equals.

 

Who Are They?

To give you an example of the types of specialists I’m talking about, here are some words and titles from some of the business cards I collected this week.

  • Legacy Advisor
  • Independent Trustee
  • Family Enterprise Advisor
  • Facilitator
  • Coach
  • Consultant
  • Psychologist
  • Gift Planner
  • Communications Specialist
  • Family Dynamics
  • Philanthropy Consultant
  • Family Legacy Advisor

And I know I’ve easily missed at least a handful of specialties.

 

July in Colorado 

After the opening dinner of Rendez Vous, as a table exercise, the “Elders” in attendance were asked to share with the “Tenderfeet” why we keep coing back every year.

At my table, most agreed it was the people, all of whom seem to come for the right reasons, i.e. to serve families better.

It’s also a great place to fill up on information, ideas, best practices, contacts, and lots of hugs too.

Oh, and Kool-Aid, of course!

Hoping to see you in Denver in 2018.

Would you like a glass, or a whole pitcher?


Links to previous Rendez Vous blogs:

2016SWEET SECLUDED RENDEZ-VOUS

2015RENDEZ-VOUS WITH A PURPOSE

2014THE RISING GENERATION IN FAMILY BUSINESS

 

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My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice

Family Business Legacy

Class Assignment

(This week’s post is the slightly edited text of a class presentation that I made this week at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. where I just completed my first year in their Post-Graduate Training Program.)

 

According to what it says on my business card, I’m a “Family Legacy Advisor”.

My beliefs, which I’ll share with you today, are very much about how I see that work, and how I’m becoming inextricably tied to it.

More and more, it’s becoming who I am, and not simply what I do.

Here are three of my foundational beliefs:

  • I believe that Family Harmony holds the Key to a Family’s Legacy
  • I believe it’s always worth making the effort to improve family harmony
  • I believe working on family harmony is a lot of work, and, it all starts with working on self

 

How did I get to this point? 

I had my calling 4 years ago, doing the course work in a program called Family Enterprise Advisor

There, we learned the three-circle model, Business, Family, and Ownership, with each circle representing a system.

It dawned on me that for the first 4-plus decades of my life, I’d been led to believe that the Business circle was the only one that mattered.

As my studies progressed, I soon began to understand that the Family circle was more important, and it was often neglected, and that I was naturally more attuned to the important work that often needs to be done in the family circle.

So, I began working on myself, with coaching training, mediation courses, and facilitation programs, including an entire suite of courses in a program called Third Party Neutral.

And of course I began training in Bowen Family SystemsTheory.

 

How has my Bowen work contributed?

Well, starting with two years in Vermont, in their program, and this year here in DC, my Bowen Theory work has helped me in a number of ways.

It has:

  • Sharpened my focus on the effort involved
  • Emphasized the work on self,
  • And continuously reminded me that this work is a never-ending pursuit

 

Challenges

My calling came along with a desire to “help” people and families to deal with issues that I myself had dealt with in my family.

My mistakes, my parents’ mistakes, and the ones that I discovered when I married into another business family, were all there as experience that I wanted to transfer into wisdom to be shared.

But as WE all understand, telling people what they should do doesn’t work so well, so transforming myself into someone who “does Bowen” was an idea that I thought would be useful.

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

I’ve since discovered that you can’t just “do” Bowen, you actually have to sort of “be” Bowen. Not Dr. Bowen, but maybe be a “Bowenite”.

Learning a new way to “be” so that you can lead people, and model behavior for people, takes time, practice, and effort.

One huge challenge that I’m just now starting to comprehend is the difference between HELPING people and being a RESOURCE for people.

The difference sounds subtle, but it’s actually quite stark.

You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, and trying to help them is quite often counter-productive.

 

Moving Forward

My way forward is to become a resource to people who want to improve their family harmony, and in order for me to “be” that resource, I need to continue to make the effort to understand myself.

My Bowen training has helped me understand many things in a new and improved way, and I feel like I’m miles ahead of where I was just a few short years ago.

But, my understanding of self, and my work on differentiation, feels like it has so much further to go.

 

Understanding Self and Others

As I understand myself better, I understand others better as well.

These efforts are worth it, for me, for my family, and for whichever families seek me out as a resource for their own work on harmony, as part of their desire to preserve their legacy.

And so I added one more belief:

I believe that I can actually help more families by acting as a resource to them, instead of trying to help them.

Putting Perspective into Perspective

Family Business Prespective

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.

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5 Things you Need to Know: Professionalizing your Family Business

Personalizing your Family Business meetings

Most family businesses start small and are run rather informally, usually with one or two people calling the shots. As the business grows, more people are brought in, and things can go along for years without much in the way of any formal procedures or written rules.

When one person can no longer stay on top of everything, their ability to delegate will largely determine how much the business can grow.

As the next generation joins the business, a certain level of informality may be part of the culture as well. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but behaving at the office as you do around the dinner table can have its drawbacks.

Many people recommend “professionalizing” your family business, and with good reason. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it?

I’m glad you asked…

1. Education

An obvious place to begin is with the education level of the next generation of family members entering the business.

If your children have the ability to go to college or university and get a degree, that’s a plus.

If they can get an advanced degree, that’s better.

If they can do that AND go and get a few years of work experience working for an unrelated business, that’s best.

If you are inclined to hire your kids right out of high school, I urge you to rethink that plan, as their future and that of the company will likely be limited by that choice.

If it’s “too late for that” in your family, there are plenty of education opportunities that last anywhere from a few days to a few months that are probably worth looking into.

It is never too late to learn new things and to upgrade one’s skills and abilities.

2. Hiring Non-Family Employees

The quickest way to professionalize any business is to hire people who are professional in the way they operate, hopefully also bringing along some work experience.

Aim to bring in outsiders who are MORE professional than the people you currently employ, treat them professionally, listen to their ideas, and learn from them.

You can only go so far without great non-family people on your team.

3. Outside Professionals

Every business needs and has outside professionals that they deal with, like accountants and lawyers. They often began with friends or whomever they could afford when starting out.

As the business grows, it is sometimes necessary to move up the ranks and switch to professionals who are at the level you require.

It is quite possible that your business has outgrown your professional advisors, and an upgrade will be needed. It isn’t always easy to cut these ties, but can be necessary.

4. The HR Department

During the growth of any business, the need to begin to treat Human Resources as its own department becomes key. The sooner you acknowledge this, the better.

Your business can only grow as quickly and as far as the ability of your people to grow along with it.

A real HR department will think twice (hopefully) before agreeing to blindly hire a family member and put them into a role for which they are ill suited and unqualified.

This issue has tripped up more family businesses than you can imagine, as mistakes like this cost not only the department where the person works, but can get everyone shaking their heads about what is important to the business.

The biggest part of this comes down to attitude. Have you realized how important humans are to your company, as a resource?

Finding, onboarding, and keeping great people is a must for just about every business. And so is having the right people filling all key roles.

5.   Board of Advisors

Last but certainly not least is the company’s board. I know that even fathoming a true Board of Directors is a complete non-starter for most small family businesses.

So why not start small and informally, with a board of advisors?

The outside perspective alone is worth it, even if it is only to help you look at your own family members more objectively.

Bringing in independent advisors (preferably NOT your current lawyer and accountant) can be the single biggest step to professionalizing your family business. Just ask anyone who has done it.

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?

 

The KEY Question for 2017

2017 Key Questions - Family Business

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

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”.

 

“Calm-Fident” Advice for your Family

How to stay Calm in Family Business situation

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.