Family Office: “WHAT” vs. “HOW”
A few weeks ago, in From Family Business to Family Office, I mentioned that I’d start writing more about the family office world. Being a man of my word, here we are again.
I had a bit of an issue choosing my blog title, though.
I began by thinking about the idea of “Strategy” versus “Tactics” in the family office space.
But my bias is to try to stay away from “jargon” terms and use the simplest possible words, at least most of the time.
A Thousand Words
Of course when it came time to select a photo to go with this post, terms like “strategy” and “tactics” garnered more interesting search results from Shutterstock than “what” and “how”.
At the end of the proverbial day, though, whether we use the simple questions or the business jargon terms, we’re talking about the same issues.
Ten Years Flew By
The most important idea here is this:
You need to recognize the difference
between the strategy (the “what”)
and the tactics used to accomplish
that strategy’s goals (the “how”).
If you get nothing else out of reading this, my Dad would’ve been pleased. What does he have to do with this, you ask?
It has now been 10 years since he lost his final battle with cancer, and I cannot count the number of times his wise words have been summoned to the front burner of my brain.
“Let’s figure out what we’re trying to do first, and then we can figure out the best way to do it.”
The Family Office (The “Who”)
A family office is typically composed of people, from one to a handful, or sometimes even dozens. (Key variables include the size of the family, the amount of wealth they control, and the level of complexity involved)
The employees of the family office should be working for the benefit of the family, and so they should be concentrating on the tactics, the “how”, and be less involved in the strategy.
Ideally, the strategy will have been worked out by the family, before the family office people get too far down the road of implementing the best tactics.
I used the term “ideally” because I know that this is often not the way it works in the real world.
But that typically isn’t the fault of those who work for the family office.
Much like the ideas I wrote about in FamBiz: Management vs. Governance, different groups of people have different roles that they should be playing.
When the people who are supposed to play those roles don’t play them, then others will invariably step in and assume those roles.
Benefits Come with Responsibilities
Families that have a family office (FO), or who are clients of a multi-family office (MFO), have set up this relationship so that the FO or MFO can serve the needs of the family.
The decision to go this route may have occurred last year or last century, and it may have been decided by this generation of family leaders or by their parents or grandparents.
The fact remains that it was done for the benefit of the family members.
And as we all know, with benefits come responsibilities.
Where Are We Going?
I’m going to take a guess and say that most readers are fine with what I’m saying here, but that they may be wondering what my point is.
So here’s where I’m going.
I think that relationships between families and their family offices tend to be out of balance, or off-kilter.
My anecdotal evidence suggests that family office employees often control not just the tactics, but much of the strategy too.
This can be mitigated when the FO includes family employees, but that can also make things worse.
Family Alignment: The Missing Link
As I stated above, this is not typically the “fault” of the family office, but usually that of the family.
They need to intentionally work at getting the entire family aligned together, in order to make the decisions that the family office should then be executing.
The WHAT, the HOW, and the WHO!
Getting a family aligned so that they can effectively drive the strategy of their family office does not just “happen”, all of a sudden, or all by itself.
It begins with the recognition that it is necessary for the long term good of the family and its legacy.