A blog post about the timing issues involved in the “family side” of family business has been kicking around my brain for some time now. I just needed a good entry point.
Then suddenly I got an email from one of the leaders of an online study group I belong to, around some changes we’d be making to our meeting format.
The leaders decided to add some time at the end of each call, for a “closing discussion”, because, as she explained:
“Like with food, the ideas that come to mind
during the discussions need digestion.”
Bang! There it was, “digestion time”, I finally had my hook!
Food for Thought
If the ideas that come up in discussions among colleagues in a study group require time to digest, then some of the things that come up in family discussions will certainly require even more time to be absorbed into the family system.
I’ve often written about how things need to “evolve” when working with families, and that idea isn’t very far away here. See: The Evolution of Family Governance
One subject I constantly harp on when discussing the ideas around working with families, whether with advisor colleagues or with family members themselves, is the speed, or rather lack thereof, of the work.
Pace and Cadence
Contrary to much of the work on the business side, including the “structural” pieces of the wealth transition projects that families often create, where speed is assumed to be good, the family work doesn’t typically run on the premise of “faster is better”.
When your lawyer and accountant are working on these elements for you, less hours spent will usually result in a lower invoice you need to pay, so that’s often a good thing (assuming that quality of the work is not being sacrificed).
But those who work with family members, where the resulting harmony is typically top of mind, need to work with a different time paradigm.
Think “Tour Guide” or “Waiter” Instead
For those who work on the family relationships, as opposed to the lawyers and accountants, our work is more analogous to that of tour guides, or waiters in fine restaurants.
Here’s what I’m getting at: The speed with which the job is completed doesn’t correlate at all with the quality of the result, especially in the eyes of the clients.
How often have you completed a tour and said, “Wow, that tour guide was great, she wrapped things up really quickly”?
Likewise, in most fine sit-down restaurants, the speed of service is valued much less highly than the quality of the service, including attention to detail, timely comings and goings at your table, and great answers to your questions.
Process Over Content
I mentioned the subject of “harping on” certain things earlier, and the idea of the process being more important than the content is another idea that’s I seem to be bringing up more and more.
Take that for what it very likely means, i.e. this is true, and important.
The kinds of issues that the family needs to deal with don’t necessarily run well on a strict timeline. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no need to pay attention to the passage of time either.
Too often, when things get a bit “sticky” or “crunchy”, the process can grind to a halt, as many people will prefer to stop altogether, because now some tough subjects and hard decisions are staring them in the face.
The “Project Manager” Viewpoint
So we’ve talked about the fact that going fast isn’t necessarily appropriate, and now we mentioned that things can come to a quick halt.
How do you make sure you’re making progress even when there are obstacles?
Another “job title” now comes into play, although I’m not sure how many of my colleagues on the “soft side” do this.
Who Owns the Process?
One of the ways that I try to add value is that I will “own the process” for them, meaning that keeping things on some schedule is part of my job.
This includes staying in touch on a regular schedule, sending emails reminding everyone of next steps, and making sure that meetings are held and re-scheduled if necessary. Follow-up is so key.
It’s all part of keeping the family’s digestive system healthy and moving! (Sorry for the unfortunate visual! OK, maybe I’m not sorry)