Thinking Outside the Boxing Day Special

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

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

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

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

 

Who’s in Charge here?

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

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

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

 

Write what YOU love

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

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

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

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

 

Families? Or their advisors?

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

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

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

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

 

How the Holiday Season can affect your family Unity

Christmas Presence > Christmas Presents

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

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

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

 

Listening and Presence

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

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

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

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

 

Finding your Gift

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

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

 

Who is invited; Who shows up 

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

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

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

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

 

Being there > Sending a gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Advice to get a family more coordinated

Helping Uncoordinated Families

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

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

 

Advisors: Cooperate or Collaborate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

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

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

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

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

 

Clarity, Clarity, Clarity

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

Wait, what?

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

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

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

You guessed it, that work must be coordinated.

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

 

Back to the Three Circle Model

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

 

Clarity before Coordination or Vice Versa?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Family Communication - How to handle mis-undestandings

No, YOU Don’t Understand!

No, YOU Don’t Understand!

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

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

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

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

 

Who doesn’t understand whom?

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

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

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

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

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

 

OK, so NOW what?

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

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

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

 

The Search for Clarity

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

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

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

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

 

Inside the Family First, then Outside

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

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

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

 

FOR yourselves, Not BY yourselves

Here is what it boils down to:

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

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

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

But it doesn’t just happen by itself.