Capacity vs. Capability
Sometimes when two words start with the same few letters, people get them mixed up, not noticing the nuances in their meanings.
A couple of words that certainly fall into that category are “capability” and “capacity”.
This week I want to explore them a bit, from a business family perspective.
From Ability to Capability
Before we even get to “capability”, we should probably back up a bit and start with “ability”, to make sure we grasp that simpler concept first.
Ability is about what you can do, which you know that you can do because you’ve already done it, at least once.
Capability is more about potential to do something, and as we all know, even though you once were able to do something, that doesn’t mean that you’re still capable of doing it again now.
Ready, Willing, and Able
In some ways, capability can be summed up by the expression, “ready, willing, and able”. If I’m ready and willing to do something, plus I feel like I can muster the ability, then I at least believe that I have the capability to do that something now.
So if you know how to do something and you add some effort to that ability you’re now essentially ready to test out your capability, and can hopefully demonstrate that you can accomplish a task with a certain regularity.
With practice, you can hopefully get pretty good at it, to the point where others recognize that capability in you. You’re off to the races, right?
What About Capacity?
I think that there’s another level that you’ll want to get to that’s higher than simply developing capability, and that’s to increase your capacity to do important things.
The part of the definition of the word “capacity” that I think we should concentrate on when thinking about this is the “volume” aspect.
When talking about a container, whether it’s an aquarium, an airplane, or a football stadium, we can ask about what its capacity is, when we want to know how much it can hold when full.
From Capability to Capacity
So if we go back to the capability discussion, we were getting good at doing something over and over, and now we want to see how much of it we can do.
But we don’t want to do this for everything, we really need to pick our spots and develop our capacity for doing things that are truly important.
And when we’re talking about business families, what’s more important than everyone knowing how to get along and work together?
Families who have succeeded in growing their businesses and wealth AND in transitioning them to the next generation have almost always developed that capacity to work together somewhere along the line, whether they realized that that was what they were doing or not.
Contagious Capability Grows to Family Capacity
The great thing about a family is that every member has different skills and abilities.
It might not always be obvious how some family members can contribute to the business family, but if there are family members who are ready and willing, there should always be some effort made into finding a place for their abilities to contribute.
When you take the individual abilities, work on them so they become true capabilities, and then bring the people together with the right attitude to collaborate, you can develop the capacity for long term success.
The overall capacity of a family comes from the combination of all of its members’ capabilities, and that capacity can be way more than the sum of its parts.
Practice, Resilience, Guidance
Families who have succeeded at this almost never just stumble into that success. Working together with family members can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating too.
It takes effort, and plenty of practice to get it all right.
There will be plenty of trial and error along the way, so the family will need to develop its resilience.
And, importantly, few families get this right all by themselves; they will almost always have someone from outside the family to guide them, especially at key stages.
Whether it’s a family business consultant, a facilitator or coach, it really doesn’t matter, and ideally it’s someone who combines these skills.
Successful multigenerational families have all developed their capacity to work together over time.
By, For, With
Most people don’t give much thought to prepositions as they go through their day-to-day lives.
Of course, I’m not “most people”, and neither are you!
I recently noticed some places where these short words actually carry a lot of weight in the world of business families, and so I thought I’d share them here.
For the Family
Regular readers know that when I talk about family businesses, I typically move quickly over to the point of view of the business family, where “family” is the noun, and carries more importance.
So don’t be surprised that I lean towards thinking about doing things “for” the family.
By the Family
The main thing I typically emphasize when talking about doing things for the family, is that it always helps when those things are also done by the family.
Now just to be clear, there are actually two distinct important parts to my “by the family” mantra.
The first one is that something for the family ideally comes from within the family as opposed to coming from outside. Not that I have anything against families hiring outsiders to do some of the work with them.
As long as the outsiders aren’t doing that work for them, meaning that the outsider does it instead of them doing it themselves.
The second aspect is that it’s better when the work isn’t just done by one family member, but rather by a group.
If one person does all the work, you can’t really say it was done by the family.
Who Is the Outside Advisor there FOR?
Let’s get back to the idea of bringing in an outside person to work with you as a resource for some of this important and complex work.
You really all need to figure out who that advisor is there for.
If they were hired by one person, ostensibly to work for the family, there can be some difficulties going forward.
If they are working with the family, they need to be working for the family.
Some advisors really get this, in their brain and in their heart and in their spirit. Some others, well, not so much.
Please be on the lookout for this.
Can an Advisor Work for Just One Person?
Now we’re getting to a slightly different question. In the context we’ve been discussing, my thoughts are pretty clear as outlined above.
And, I’d also like to share with you some recent experiences where I have been successfully working with one single person from a business family.
The work I began a little over a year ago to get my coaching certification led me on a path to find some one-on-one clients to satisfy the minimum coaching hours for the program.
This also led to some eye-opening for me, about the power of this kind of relationship.
Changing a System
One of the first things we need to understand is that for a system, such as a family, to change, the change may very well come from a change in just one person, at the outset.
A single person who is a part of a system of people, can change the system, if they make a change and hold to their new way of being with the other members of that system.
Holding to that change can sometimes be difficult, because the other members of that system will try to force that person back to their old ways, in order to maintain the previous homeostasis, or equilibrium.
One way for a person to gain the strength to make and hold such changes, is for them to work with an outside coach.
I’m sure you can see that this can get tricky, and can really only work well if both the coach and the individual client agree at the outset that they would be satisfied if their relationship never progressed further, such that the coach would eventually work with the entire family group.
If it’s seen as a “foot in the door” to a larger eventual arrangement, there’s a risk that the important work they can do will be rushed or not be done seriously.
Getting back to our prepositions, a coach is such situations is there “with you” and “for you”.
The underlying assumption is that you are doing what you are doing “for your family”.
Let’s get started, shall we?
I often begin these posts with a preamble, and later on segue into “getting started” with the real meat of the blog.
This week, I thought I’d tee it up differently, because the subject is actually “getting started”.
Although it has likely always been so, it seems that lately the ability to overcome inertia and to get moving has become more salient lately.
Families Are Groups of Individual People
The subhead just above is clearly one of the most obvious statements I’ve ever written, and there’s a reason why I chose to state it here nonetheless.
Too often, whether we’re part of a family or have a family that is our client, we sometimes think of that family as a self-contained unit, or somehow monolithic.
In reality, when you’re trying to make progress as a family or with a family, you quickly realize that not everyone moves at the same speed.
We think and talk about getting people “on the same page” and “going in the same direction”, recognizing that these are worthwhile objectives, and they are.
But even if the people are moving in the same general direction, some want to sprint while others may be stuck in the mud and enjoy it there.
So, Who’s Ready to Get Started?
The most important question sometimes becomes “who’s ready”, when attempting to get any family to make important progress together as a group.
For a “family system” to change, one way to accomplish this is for one person to change, thereby “forcing” the others to change along with them to attain a new equilibrium.
This generally requires some leadership on the part of that one person who’s willing to stand up and act in a new way, but if they do make such a stand, and are able to maintain it, change will come.
But Didn’t You Just Say….
Let me share a little crisis of confidence I had recently, after deciding that this idea was something I’d blog about.
My social media folks control my content posting and while all the content is mine, I usually have no idea when things are set to show up on my Twitter and LinkedIn feeds.
Now, imagine my thoughts as I prepared to write about “being ready to move” and then this quote shows up on my feeds:
“Don’t just do something, stand there.
If your family is struggling with where
to go next, allow yourselves the time
and space to gain clarity before acting”
My first reaction was “Ooops.”
But upon further reflection, I realized that this would not be a case of saying “Hurry up… Take your time…”, even though it somehow felt that way.
Where Is Your Family Going?
If the family in question “is struggling with where to go next”, taking the time to figure it out, without rushing, and making sure there’s a clear path that people understand and agree on makes plenty of sense.
The thing is, many families are already pretty clear about where they’re going AND what they need to do to begin the journey, BUT they don’t necessarily feel ready to start.
And that’s where finding someone who IS ready can make a lot of sense.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as they say, and a family journey often begins with one person saying “I’m ready”.
The Slowest Common Denominator Issue
Any family journey or family project of the type I’m speaking about here needs to be something that is “for the family”, meaning the vast majority of the people are involved, and hopefully everyone.
And, unfortunately, if you want to be nice and wait for even the slowest person to get on board, the journey is at risk of never taking place.
You don’t want to have to settle for the “slowest common denominator”.
Start Where You Are
I’ve long been a fan of the saying:
Start where you are
Use what you’ve got
Do what you can
And I think I have a useful addition to it, for times when you are working with a group of people: Start with whomever is ready.
When working with a family system, keep in mind that a change in one person will eventually effect change in the entire system.
Making improvements needs to begin somewhere, with someone. Finding the one who’s readiest to start can often be the key.
When listing problems that business families face, communication is usually one of the first things people mention.
Because it’s seen as a “big” problem, many people think that it requires a “big” solution.
I beg to differ.
“100 One-Minute Conversations”
The initial idea for this post came from something I saw online recently, that talked about “100 one-minute conversations”, which in most cases are a better way to go than just having one, long, 100-minute discussion.
I wish I’d saved it so I could credit the source, because Googling it didn’t help me solve the mystery.
In any event, it lines up nicely with some of the other things I’ve talked about before, notably here: The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off
Clearing Up Any Illusions
My favourite quote about communication is from George Bernard Shaw, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
Let me spell it out just in case you didn’t get it.
The biggest problem for people communicating with each other is when the person who says something believes that the receiver heard and understood them, and they’re wrong, but they assume they’re right.
Why did I take the time to spell that out?
Because if I continued this blog while assuming that you understood what I meant, but you didn’t, then I would have been committing the exact faux pas that I was trying to explain.
Conversations as a Subset of Communication
Of course communication comprises much more than verbal discussions, which are in fact only a small fraction of the entire communication “platform” that any enterprising family uses.
These families need to share lots of information to remain united enough to properly manage the assets they own together.
But while everyone can see what’s written in a family newsletter or on their Facebook page, I contend that it’s in the smaller groups, and the quicker, more regular conversations, that the most important communication actually happens.
Yes, you need to have the big formal, structural communication platforms, but, and it’s a big but, if that’s all you have, then there’s a lot missing.
Heart to Heart
The simplest way to make this point is to consider the expression “Heart to heart”.
What makes family businesses different from other businesses is the family element. Plain old communication might be sufficient for “regular companies”, but for a family business, being owned and run by a family, there needs to be a lot more heart.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about “heart to heart communication”, by I know I’ve heard people mention a “heart to heart talk”, or “heart to heart conversation”.
The (Lost) Art of Conversation
Speaking of expressions, we’ve all heard about the “art of conversation”, and I contend that in some ways all of the technology we’ve been using to communicate has made conversing together a bit of a lost art.
But here’s the good news, and I even just Googled it to make sure it makes sense.
You can get better at it, with practice. Yes, I just searched “do you practice art” to make sure, and I got plenty of hits.
Whether it’s playing music, or painting, or sculpting, one improves the more one practices their favourite art.
And so it is with conversations.
Small Groups, One-on-One
Conversations can happen all the time, mostly in small groups or even simply one-on-one situations.
They don’t necessarily have to be structured, scripted or planned in advance, and in reality, the more natural and free flowing they are, the better.
Sometimes the hardest thing about them is just making them happen, especially now that simply picking up the phone to call someone seems to rarely happen these days.
Conversations With Your Coach
One of my favourite ways of actually putting some structure to conversations is to have them be regularly scheduled.
I have a call over Zoom with my coach every week, and I have calls with my coaching clients typically every other week, which seems to work well.
Having things “on the calendar” might be the best way to make sure that you’re staying in touch enough.
Seven Years Later
Way back in 2013 I wrote Having Conversations, Not Just Communicating. And I guess it’s still just as valid today as it was back then.
Which Came First?
This week we’re looking at one of those “which came first?” situations, so as you’ve probably guessed, it’s kind of a trick question.
The good news is there’s no wrong answer!
I’ve written quite a bit about family alignment in this space, most recently in On Family Alignment and Family Alliances last fall.
But this’ll be the first time I’m dealing with family engagement, and in some ways it’s long overdue.
Coming Up Again and Again
Maybe it just feels overdue because the idea of alignment and engagement being two sides of the same coin came to me a couple of months ago, and ever since, it keeps on jumping up and hitting me in the face, seemingly at every turn.
I’m working with one client who’s drafting her family’s first ever “family charter”, which will essentially be the first written version of the guidelines for their “family council”, which doesn’t really exist yet.
The “writing it down” part is all about the alignment, but the work my client has been struggling with is in getting input from other family members, because she wants to make sure she’s capturing things correctly, and that’s all about engagement.
Getting the Rising Generation Interested and Involved
Another client with whom I’m working has taken a family business he bought from his father and grown it significantly, and he’s now working out the details of how to get his children and nieces and nephews interested and involved.
This is the type of engagement issue that lots of family businesses face at various stages in their evolution.
But they can quickly go from low engagement to high, and then suffer from issues around their alignment, because the people who just got interested all see things in a different way.
All of this is quite normal, and possibly a good problem to have.
A Regular Governance Problem: Balance
You may have encountered the same issue in other, non-family governance situations, whether it’s the board of a non-profit or even a committee that you’re a part of.
I’ve seen it up close in each of those situations, although I really noticed it more recently, since this idea began to crystalize in my head.
But like I said, it’s a good problem to have, and there’s no wrong answer.
You can start working on one, and it’ll help you with the other, and it works both ways.
Leadership and Collaboration
Before I get to a couple of examples, I want to highlight that a similar idea hit me a few years ago and has stuck with me.
I’d read a book about collaborative leadership, where the point was made that people who are collaborative are exhibiting leadership, and the people who are leaders are collaborating with their followers almost by definition.
It’s almost circular.
It was one of those things that took a bit of time to sink it, but now that I’ve internalized it, it seems to be there for good.
And so it is now, with alignment and engagement, especially in the family business context.
Start Where You Are
Wherever your family is, start there. Sounds obvious, but, like common sense that isn’t really common, it isn’t.
If a family is engaged, work on continuing to develop that, and you’ll quickly get to a point where some possible “mis-alignments” pop up.
Great, now you have something to work on that’s a bit different, solving that alignment issue.
If, however, the family seems nicely aligned, start there and “push” that further. You’ll likely hit a point where some might disengage, and then you can work on engaging them again.
In so doing, you’ll almost naturally find yourself tweaking the alignment again.
Incremental, Iterative Progress
The good news, again, is that this is all part of progress.
Families who hope to transition their business or wealth to the rising generation need to have engagement, and they need to be aligned, if they want things to work out right and to have the results be durable.
As you work on developing one, alignment or engagement, you’re also making progress on the other.
It may not feel like progress because it doesn’t move quickly. It’s incremental, one tiny step at a time.
And, as I hope I’ve shown here, it is also iterative, as the family keeps rolling along forward.
One hand washes the other, and two hands are better than one.
Author | About Steve Legler
Steve is a proud FEA Designate (IFEA) and holds ACBFA and ACFWA certifications (FFI), in addition to having an MBA (UWO-Ivey) He is also a CFA charterholder (CFA Institute), and the author of Shift your Family Business (Friesen Press, 2014).
- Centre for Family Business Session with Steve Legler
- Developing Capacity in your Business Family
- 11: Borrowed from your Grandchildren
- Key Prepositions for Business Families
- Ep. 59 – Interdependent Wealth | The Family Business Podcast
- Who’s Ready to Get Started? A Key FamBiz Question
- 12: The “Natural Advantage” of Family Businesses
- The Art of Conversation: The Key to Family Communication
- 229 – Shift Your Family Business – Steve Legler
- Family Engagement and Family Alignment – Chicken and Egg