sometimes you just need to say no written on a piece of paper

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

Family businesses sometimes get a bad rap because of the way they often do things less formally than a “more professional” company would.

The less formal nature of any business can be a plus in many ways, but of course it can turn into a negative too.

When they do turn negative, it’s usually because someone has agreed to something (i.e. said “Yes”) that they really should have said “No” to.

Today we’re going to look at some of those cases.


Summer Jobs

Quite often the children of the “boss” get their first real exposure to the business as teenagers with a summer job.

When a teen asks “Can I have a summer job?” the best answer is usually “Yes”.

The part where it can be hard to say No is if there are follow-up questions like, “Can I take Fridays off?” or “Can I take a couple of weeks off” or “Can I start a bit later than everyone else?”

If the job is to work with other regular employees who all follow certain rules, every time you make an exception for them, you’re setting a bad precedent, that not only affects your child, but also everyone else who sees the special treatment.


Full-Time Jobs

When you’re dealing with adult children, the idea of consistency and no special favours also often comes into play.

“Can I get a job at the company?” will often be answered with a Yes.

But, “Can I have the same pay as my sister for less work, because I have family obligations?” should probably be greeted with a No.

“Can I come in later, work from home most of the time, take Fridays off, etc.” are things that other employees see and if they become standard perks for family employees and no one else, these are huge morale killers.


The Other Side of the Coin

Lest you think that it’s only the next generation who ask for things to which the parents should be saying No, I’ve got a more drastic scenario for you.

This one also occurs far more often than it should, and it involves the parents taking advantage of their kids.

Picture the daughter and/or son, who have been diligently working for the family business for decades, not only following the rules that exist for all of the employees, but going above and beyond.


Some Day this Will All Be Yours

They work evenings and weekends, never take a vacation, and do everything that’s ever asked of them.

They ask the owners, their parents, for a raise or some time off, but they are rebuffed with something along the lines of “Some day this will all be yours”.

That can be an acceptable answer, for a while.

Five years later, when it comes up again, and the answer is still just as vague, that’s where the children need to be able to say NO.


When Exactly IS “Some Day”?

At some point, some clarity, especially around the “when”, is needed. But just because you want clarity, and even need clarity, that doesn’t mean that you automatically get clarity.

Sometimes you need to demand it. And that begins with a firm NO.

As I write this, I’m picturing the old sitcom plot where the mother is tired of being taken for granted and decides to go “on strike”, and finally the husband and kids realize how lucky they are to have Mom around taking care of so many things.


Respect the Interdependence 

As the years and decades go by and family members age and grow into new roles that fit their evolving life stages, the “power balance” shifts.

The people and the roles are very much interdependent all the way through, but the nature of that interdependence changes too.

It’s usually so gradual and incremental that you barely notice it, but it is happening. Sometimes you need to take the time to stop and notice and decide that the way things have been going doesn’t work anymore.

In this circumstance the “NO” is not necessarily the answer to a question, it’s more of a statement.


NO, I’m Not Settling for That Anymore

Many people get to the point where they feel this way. Not all of them have the courage to make the statement though.

I’m not saying that it’s easy, but at some point it needs to be said.

Family Heritage

What is your “True Family Legacy”?

What is your “True Family Legacy”?

The term “Family Legacy” can conjure up different images and thoughts in anyone who hears it, depending on their age, wealth, and life circumstances.

This subject comes up a lot in my work, but I haven’t necessarily written about it much, and I feel a need to share more thoughts on it.


Twitter Chat

I recently took part in the monthly #FamBizChat on Twitter, where a bunch of my colleagues tackle a subject for an hour on that social media platform.

The subject this time was “Legacy”, and I naturally went to my view of legacy as being much more of a “family” thing than a “business” thing.

What struck me is that I felt pretty alone in that perspective.

Maybe most of the others were advisors who worked more on the business side of things, and less with the family, I’m not sure.

But it stayed with me, so I thought a blog on the subject would be timely and useful.


Business Card Title

The title on my business card is “Family Legacy Advisor”, which hints at my bias.

It used to say Family Business Advisor, but because I really prefer to minimize my interactions with the business, in favour of those with the family, I made the change a couple of years ago.

Admittedly, I usually answer “family business consultant” when I’m asked what I do for a living in some circumstances like going through customs.


Whose Legacy Is It?

But my bias is to concentrate on the family legacy versus the business legacy, although in truth, they certainly can and do co-exist together, often for decades at a time.

In a multi-generational family business though, at some point they can bifurcate.

Family involvement in the ownership and/or management of the company eventually changes, and the family eventually diversifies its focus to other endeavours.


Who Takes the Lead?

A business has many resources at its disposal, and they’re necessarily organized into functioning groups of people with more or less clear roles and responsibilities.

So ensuring that the business legacy is captured can actually become part of the job of a person or group. It will often fall under marketing because the business legacy is closely attached to the company’s brand.

And so of course the corresponding person whose job it is to ensure the family legacy is, um, well, of course it must be, um, well, uh, I’m not sure…(?)

“Sorry, our family doesn’t have a marketing department”.


Why Did You Work So Hard?

Most business founders work hard because they want to support their family, and as their wealth grows thanks to those efforts, they continue to work hard so that their wealth can serve the next generations of their family.

Many of those people, however, will fail to properly transition that wealth to their family, and that goal will never be reached.

Research shows that about 60% of the failures can be attributed to a breakdown in family communication.


Family Governance and Alignment

The exceptions, the ones who manage to keep their wealth in the family for multiple generations, are the ones who actually put in the work to establish some family governance.

That word, “governance”, scares some families, and I get that.


It doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially when you are just starting down this road.

What it does require is some intention, which begins with a decision, normally from the top, that it’s important enough to direct some time and effort to this task.


True Family Legacy

Your “true” family legacy is one that’s custom tailored to your family. No other family resembles yours, so why even pretend that this work can come ready-made, off-the-shelf?

Two expressions capture this whole question rather well, and I’ve been known to use both of these:

  • Instead of concentrating on preparing the family assets for the heirs, make the effort to prepare the heirs for the assets
  • Don’t just concentrate on transferring the family’s valuables, work on preserving the family’s values

If you’re the person in your family who recognizes the need for this, you already know you can’t do this alone.

Maybe this can get you moving in the right direction:

The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration

Also note the photo above this post: “Heritage”.

That’s much more about Family Legacy than any business the family happens to own.


Related posts:

My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice

The Languages of Family Legacy

Brainstorming your Family Legacy

Informal Authority in Family Business

Informal Authority in Family Business

I like writing about aspects of family business that sometimes get overlooked “in real life”.

Some subjects that you can learn about in business school work OK in most places, but somehow, when looking at a family business, things aren’t that way at all.


The Standard Org Chart

Nowhere is this more apparent than with a document that you’ll find in just about any company, the good old organization chart.

There are usually lots of rectangles, connected together by lines, and often looking a bit like a pyramid.

Simple enough, “this person is in charge of this department”, “these people report to this person”, “those department heads in turn report to this VP”, you know what I’m talking about.


The FamBiz Org Chart

A family business, especially early on in its lifespan, may not even have an org chart.

When someone finally insists on creating one, the founder may not like it and may even ignore it.

Eventually, as the company grows, they’ll reluctantly agree that one is needed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll respect it.


Respect My Authority!

The person at the top of the chart will often simply prefer to rely on the fact that they’re at the top and therefore, everyone else is below them and in turn reports to them.

While this is often factually correct, the reporting lines at the lower levels are there for a reason, and employees come to expect that those lines will be respected.

When the owner or founder walks into a department and sees something they don’t like, it’s pretty hard for them to bite their tongue and seek out the person below them on the org chart to relay a message.

In order to “save time” they’ll usually give instructions that the lowly employee feels they have no choice but to follow.


Giving Up Formal Authority

The good news is that while this type of scenario is rather commonplace, it is often harmless.

That is, as long as the person who’s giving the instructions is still truly the top person in the company.

When leaders step back, whether formally retiring or just cutting back to let others build their leadership, this can get a bit trickier.

The employees who are given instructions to do something will ususally feel beholden to the oldest person, and do as they say.

But what if what they’re being told goes against what their “real boss” (according to the org chart) has told them?


Formalize the Authority

One of the things I like to suggest to family business clients is to formalize the authority.

What does that look like? Glad you asked.

When a business leader steps back or steps out, it is essential that the employees know who is now in charge.

There are several ways to do this, and it may be best to use more than one:


          – Leadership Handover Ceremony

A formal ceremony in front of the employees, during which the outgoing leader is thanked and acknowledged.


          – Bulletin Board or Newsletter

A written message posted on a company bulletin board and sent to employees via a regular newsletter publication.


          – A Simple Email to Employees

If there is no newsletter, an email explaining the changes at the top, with appropriate thanks and best wishes.


Culture and Leadership from the Top

The new leader needs to be able to put their cultural stamp on things, and it’s next to impossible for them to do so unless and until the former leader has officially stepped aside.

“Officially” is a big word, though, so it’s important that both parties, the one leaving and the one coming in, be part of any such announcement.

The more people who witness it, the better. This is why I have a strong preference for the ceremony.


Group Decision, for the Good of the Group

For all employees to be able to buy into the new reality, it needs to appear to be a joint decision, and not any sort of “coup” or forced take-over.

The outgoing leader will hopefully see this as “closure” and resist the temptation to return to a leading role.

If a support role can be identified for the outgoing leader, to still retain some presence (at a much lower official level) that can also be good.


Clarity is Key

Few things in any organization are more important that clarity. Clear lines of authority are a must.

Animal shadows on a white background

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

Ownership usually doesn’t get much attention in the area of family business, and there are many reasons for that, and we’ll get to some.

Maybe I’m emphasizing it too much. I did a quick search of my website ( and found that I’ve already written 3 blogs with “ownership” in the title.

Everything is relative, though, and even with this fourth blog on the subject, that’s less than one blog a year about this “forgotten” circle. (see: Ownership: the Forgotten Circle of Family Business)


Status Quo That Lasts

The people who own a business have certain privileges that come with ownership, but with those, there are also responsibilities.

Most people who work for a family business know who the owners are, and they’re usually given certain deference.

The owners, in turn, try not to act like superior overlords, and this dance can continue for decades, as long as nothing changes.


Fast Moving World

While ownership remains fixed over time, the two other “circles”, family and business, are constantly in flux.

The business evolves, new products are launched, new locations opened, expansions bring in new employees, and new markets are developed.

Financial results are compiled monthly and quarterly.

The family also changes, as members find partners and have children, people get educated and find their passions, some join the business, and everyone grows older every year.

Oh, and some die.

Things are constantly evolving, and changes are part of life, and these days things seem to move more quickly than ever.

Yet ownership usually stays fixed, and rarely even gets a second thought.


Clunky by Definition

I chose the word “clunky” to describe the situation because it felt like the right word, and I’ve used it to explain this to people in the past.

Searching to find an appropriate image for this post, I almost had second thoughts, as the photo choices for “clunky” were mostly 1980’s cellphones.

(I went “outside the box” a bit with my choice of hippos; not sure it worked (?)).

Then I Googled “clunky definition” and I was immediately sold on the fact that clunky was the right word.

Here’s what came back:

clunky: awkwardly solid, heavy, and outdated.


So What? 

I’m not suggesting that ownership should necessarily change more frequently than it does; that would be stretching it.

What I am saying is that the definition above includes a couple of words that many family businesses should be thinking about much more than they typically do.

There are only four key words in that definition, so you can probably locate the two that are ringing alarms bells in my head.



“Awkwardly solid” almost sounds like a backhanded compliment. Solid is usually positive, but when it’s awkwardly so, well, maybe not so much.

Family business relationships are often already awkward, simply because family and business overlaps cause complex situations.

Now throw in ownership overlaps, compounded by the fact that things are stuck in the past, and things get even clumsier.



“Outdated” is probably the simplest word to describe the issues that I’ve seen regarding the ownership of family businesses.

It’s not hard to understand why things change so infrequently, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should just be cool with it.

Rising generation family members crave some clarity about their futures, but they often continue to put up with vague replies when they broach the subject.

“Don’t worry, some day this will all be yours”


When Exactly is “Some Day”?

Once again I feel the need to explain my views on this, lest readers get the impression that I think ownership changes absolutely need to happen more regularly and quickly.

I’m advocating for some thoughtful discussion and planning, and hopefully some transparency.


Transition Planning

As the business evolves and family members age, transition plans are contemplated to make sure that people will be prepared to assume their future business management roles.

Don’t forget that there needs to be an ownership transition too.



Do you really think it makes sense to think about those things as completely separate discussions? I don’t.

And if you ask those being groomed for future management roles, I bet they’d agree too.

Look 15 years into the future. People will be that much older, and the business will have grown.

If nothing changes, your current ownership structure will be pretty clunky.

Start planning those changes now too.

Family of adults and kids sitting together

Realistic Family Governance Goals

Realistic Family Governance Goals

I recently spent a day in New York City at the second annual conference of the Institute for Family Governance.

It wasn’t only interesting, but in some ways inspiring. But upon further reflection over the following days, I almost felt like it might’ve been a bit too inspiring.

I’ll get back to that part later.


Generative Families

The opening speaker was Dennis Jaffe, who didn’t disappoint, as usual. His presentation was titled “Do you need a different mindset to create a fortune than to hold onto one?”

I love that title because it’s a question that answers itself, with an “of course” as soon as you read it.

Jaffe went on to talk about what he terms “generative families”, which others call “legacy families” and still others dub “enterprising families”.

Generative families, according to Jaffe, see themselves as a “collective entity”, who’ve decided to develop into a “great family”.


Great “Family” vs. Great “Business”

This reminded me of a line that some people like to use with successful business people, to convince them to shift their focus.

“You’ve already created a great business;

now, why don’t you create a great family?”

It also fits nicely with the question that served as the title of his presentation.

Jaffe has studied dozens of such generative families who’ve been successful at transitioning their wealth over several generations.


Examples and Role Models

The rest of the day continued with examples of families who’ve figured out that family governance is the key to having a great family.

Simply put, without any governance, a family’s legacy has virtually no chance to survive over generations.

In the past few decades, people like Jaffe have done the work of learning what these families do, and have written about it so that other people can follow these role models.


Too Inspiring

So here’s why I think that in some ways the examples we heard about might actually be “too good”.

I’m willing to bet that none of those families made the decision to create a governance model on one day, and then had created and implemented it successfully within a year.

I bet most of them still had lots of work to do even after a decade. This work takes lots of time and effort, over many years.


Family Culture

Mitzi Perdue was our closing keynote speaker and she talked about family culture, which includes the answers to questions like “who we are” and “how we do things”.

She also correctly noted that these things don’t just happen by chance.

This stuff takes lots of work, and it takes lots of time.

And it takes a different mindset.


Family Alignment and Vision

I know that in order for a family to be receptive to putting any sort of governance into place, they need to be aligned, and have a similar vision of what’s possible.

Regular readers of mine also know this to be true (assuming they’re drinking the KoolAid).

But I feel like many of the attendees at this conference might have had the impression that some of the examples we heard about possibly seemed “too perfect”.

Advisors to families, and families themselves, who’ve never heard of family governance often need time to grasp everything that’s involved in this work.

Likewise, the entire family will rarely buy in all at once; there usually needs to be an “early adopter” or “family champion” who “gets it” first, and then leads the way.


Ironman Inspiration to Get Off the Couch

I love analogies, and I think of these great generative, legacy families that are the role models, as if they were champion Ironman Triathletes.

They’re awesome and inspirational, and that’s why they’re on TV.

Most people will never get to that level, and if they choose to stay on the couch because they know they’ll never be an Ironman, then that’s a missed opportunity.

Lots of families could benefit from getting off the couch and just going for a walk or a jog.


One Step, One Person, One Family at a Time

Family Governance starts with a mindset, and a group of people who are aligned.

It takes lots of time and effort to get there.

The good news is that it’s very incremental in nature.

Start small, get another person on board, and grow slowly.

Don’t compare yourselves to the best and get discouraged.

It can be done, and it is so worth it.


toy train derailing

5 Things that Can De-Rail a Family Business

5 Things that Can De-Rail a Family Business

It’s been a few months since my last “5 Things” blog, so this might be overdue.

While I usually deal in positives because it’s my nature, this week we’re going to look at some potential pitfalls that many family businesses face.

Let’s get started.


  1. Assumptions

The word “assumptions” that I chose here might surprise some, but I wanted a word that stood on its own, without requiring a negating adjective.

So while I could have said “Poor Communications”, I chose instead to look at what IS there, as opposed to what is NOT.

The reason many families don’t think that they need to talk is because they actually assume that everyone else in the family knows what they are thinking, AND that everyone is in agreement.

That often turns out to be wishful thinking at best, and hides serious misunderstandings at its worst.


  1. Bad Timing

Another issue that can de-rail things is that family members from different generations will often have different views regarding timing.

I call it “bad timing” but it’s really about poor alignment of timing, different priorities around timing, and just plain waiting too long to get started on things that are important.

The rising generation needs to step into roles with a long runway so that they can learn while the elders are still there.

More often than not, the elders hang on way too long, telling themselves that the “kids aren’t ready yet”.

That usually has much more to do with their own sense of importance than anything else.


  1. “Us-against-the–World” Attitude

Business families are notorious for keeping things very close to the vest and having great difficulty trusting any outsiders.

They often think that they’re the only ones in the world who have family issues to contend with as they run their businesses.

They wrongly believe that everyone else is “out to get them” and have trouble trusting anyone who happens to have a different last name.

This can be harmful in terms of attracting good employees, qualified advisors, and of course eventually outside independent directors for their board.


  1. Jealousy and Superiority Complexes

You had to know that I’d eventually get to something in the area of sibling relationships, and here I’ve chosen to label it as jealousy.

When there’s a lack of harmony in sibling relationships, quite often it can be traced to some jealousy issues.

And even when one sibling isn’t really jealous, sparks can come from what I like to call someone’s “superiority complex”.

I’m not sure if that’s even a real term, but I like to use it as the opposite of the more familiar “inferiority complex”.

When a sibling occupies a leadership position in the business vis-à-vis their siblings, it brings about some potential difficulties, like jealousy, for example.

A humble sibling leader will face less issues with this, than one who boasts about his relative place with his generational peers.


  1. Stagnation

Family businesses can become stodgy and complacent with time and not quick enough to innovate. Lack of foresight and getting out in front of industry changes can become a problem.

This often accompanies the bad timing noted above, where the younger family members know that things need to change, but aren’t able to convince the current leaders that changes are needed to be profitable in the future.


Wait, Where’s “Conflict”?

Just guessing here, but I assume that some readers may be surprised that “Conflict” did not make my list.

It certainly isn’t because conflict doesn’t exist in business families, nor because I don’t think conflict needs to be addressed.

Of course conflict is an issue, and it exists in almost every family business. But, in and of itself, conflict won’t de-rail a family business.

Unresolvable conflict, due to an unwillingness to work on resolving it, can certainly be a huge risk.

Likewise, unexpressed conflict that lays beneath the surface for years or decades has certainly sunk more than one family business.


Manage the Conflicts, Look Out for the Other Five

Conflict can be healthy (see: Embracing Conflict in Family Business), so I suggest concentrating on the other five areas.

No. 3, only trusting insiders, can be the biggest one.

Regular, honest, open communication is the best antidote to all of these.

Recognizing everyone’s interdependence is probably the “magic bullet”, if there is one.


What keeps you up at night?

Shifting FamBiz Time Horizons

Shifting FamBiz Time Horizons

Family businesses are known for looking at things from a much longer time perspective than larger, publicly traded companies.

They aren’t concerned with how their decisions will affect their next quarterly earnings release, and instead focus on how things will look in a quarter century.


How Fixed Is a Time Horizon?

The long-term view can stay the same for decades, but sometimes events occur that make changes desirable over a much shorter timeframe.

One of my continuing roles in managing our family office is handling the asset allocation to various professional outside investment managers.

We recently decided to divest one position and I was surprised to learn that there would be an early withdrawal penalty for not having held it for the 5-year minimum.

Hmmm, I wondered, why had I not noticed that back then (it’s been over four years)? Simple, at the time it did not seem like it could ever be an issue.

Things change…


Time Flies

In another sphere of my life, a couple of years ago I was in Boston with the family, and we went to the Harvard bookstore to look at their swag.

I curiously asked my kids if they’d ever thought of attending that school.

I’ve since done campus tours at most of the Ivy League schools, plus a bunch more, with both of them, and yet in a few months that important chapter of my life will also be behind me.

How could my focus change so quickly? It feels like just yesterday we were looking at daycares.


Teens, Seniors and the Sandwich

Maybe it’s just that I’m part of the sandwich generation, with two teens and an octagenarian mother who depend on me.

During those life stages, a few short years can change many aspects of one’s life.

But every family has people at various ages and life stages, and that’s part of why business families are so complex.


Family Life Cycle

If you read some of the books around family wealth and making it last over generations, you’ll surely come across authors who talk about “100 years” as a timeframe to consider.

I have to admit, when I first saw this a few years ago, I thought it would be difficult for most people to grasp.

Heck, I was working in this space, and I was having trouble wrapping my mind around it.

I’m pretty sure I “get it” now, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve become used to hearing it, because I’m a few years older myself, or because I’ve “matured” into a different life view.


Legacy Families 

If you want to learn from families who’ve been successful in transitioning wealth from one generation to the next, and done so more than just once, well, you almost have no choice but to look at those who have lasted a century or more.

At the recent Institute for Family Governance conference, one speaker mentioned that a 20-year investment time horizon for a family might be considered “short term”, and I agree.

But if I want to look at things that way, first I need to almost be able to remove myself from the equation.

I now realize that maybe the investment we were divesting shouldn’t ever have been made because it did not fit such a long time horizon.


My 100-Year View

Or maybe for my family, a 100-year horizon isn’t appropriate, because our family never quite reached the wealth level necessary to become a “legacy family”

Maybe another lesson here is that it’s easier to help some other family deal with these questions than it can ever be to look at this for your own family.

It’s really difficult to look at these kinds of multi-generational issues when you and your life are part of the equation.

It’s much easier for me to draw out your expected lifespan and matter-of-factly talk about how things will look decades later. Doing that for me, um, not so much.


Not Fun? Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Need to Do It!

Realizing that things are complex and potentially not fun does not absolve you of the responsibility to actually take care of important things, though.

Thinking about the importance of this is the first step to getting started. Now go and find someone who can keep you on track.

Then together you can take the steps needed for a true 100-year plan.

Even If It Hurts

Even If It Hurts

Last week, in The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”, while writing about people who are “Reliable”, I stumbled upon an idea that I promised to revisit in a future blog.

As I put it then, As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question”.

So expound I will.


Hurting Me, Hurting You

The key point at the root of my “eureka” moment came from this sentence:

“I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.”

These are two completely separate points, yet I’ve never seen them addressed together. That’s what made it so compelling for me to look at this again this week.


Tell Me the Truth, I Can Take It

One of the biggest problems that people at the top always face, no matter what kind of organisation they’re in, is having people tell them things that they “don’t want to hear”.

The CEO of a company will not always hear the truth from their underlings, not because those people are liars, but because most people have an aversion to telling their boss things that are not pleasant to relate.

The interesting part about this is that more often than not, they actually DO want to hear those things.

In fact, good leaders don’t want to be surrounded by “Yes-Men”.


How Long Will It Hurt? 

The reality is that hearing the truth, if it’s something that you really do need to know and you really cannot see yourself, only hurts for a very short time.

Strong leaders realize that they’re not in a popularity contest, and that sometimes you need to hear things that hurt.

In order to make progress, a reality check is often needed, and folks at the top actually need to have MORE people who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

It’s great if you have people upon whom you can rely to play that role.


Despite My Self-Interest

That was one side of the “hurting” question, now let’s get to the even trickier part.

The “even if it hurts them” aspect can best be summed up in one word, “self-interest”. Not sure if a compound word really counts as one word, but I’ll use my “editorial license” to make it so here.

If you aren’t familiar with the “Trust Equation” or the “Trust Quotient”, I suggest you visit this site:  so that you don’t just think I’m making this stuff up.

The denominator of the Trust Equation is “Self-Orientation” as they put it. “Self-interest” and “self-orientation” may not be identical twins, but they are most definitely close siblings.


Not Placing Blame

Business families are served by a variety of professionals from different industries, including legal, accounting, insurance, investment management and banking to name a few of the major ones.

Every person naturally brings their own perspective to the family’s situation, and that perspective is naturally rooted in their professional training, background and orientation.

It’s next to impossible for a banker to look at your family business from any other perspective than that of a banker, and likewise difficult for your attorney to look at things from a viewpoint other than that of your legal counsel.

I believe these things to be true in general in just about every profession, even though there are exceptions in all of them.


So What?

Well, if you’re looking for “reliable resources” you can count on, you really have to understand that getting 100% unbiased advice, especially if it might go against their own interest, will almost never happen.

And I’m not saying that any of your advisors are unethical or crooked in any way. They very likely believe that everything that they suggest to you is actually best for you.


What Are You Paying Them For?

Unfortunately for leaders of business families, most of the professionals upon whom they rely are paid for certain products and services that these people sell them.

Those who truly have their client’s interest as their top concern and only interest, are few and far between.

There aren’t many people who play that role but if you can find one, keep them!

Finding a reliable person you pay only for their counsel can be done.

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

There are plenty of qualities we look for in people we want to work with. A few weeks ago I had an interaction that made me realize that there are 3 I find to be near the top of my list.

I was working on a project and needed some feedback from a potential partner, “Tom”, who hadn’t responded to my email request for almost a week.

So I emailed Tom’s colleague, “Nicky”, asking if the email address I had for Tom was current.

I got a reply within an hour, with a new email address for Tom, plus an explanation as to why Tom wasn’t checking that old email address very often anymore.

I replied to Nicky with a “thank you”, noting that I appreciated her being a “Responsive Reliable Resource”.

Hmmm, I thought, this could be a blog post!


Three Distinct Qualities

The three qualities all begin with the letter “R”, and there are also definitely some overlaps.

But today, I want to look at each of them separately, because there are aspects of each that are important enough to emphasize individually.



Let’s start with “responsive”. This one has everything to do with timeliness in getting back to you.

In today’s world, things move more quickly than ever, so a timely reply when you need something can be extra important.

Sometimes even after just a few hours, the usefulness of whatever you were asking for has disappeared.

In my example above, I’d already been in limbo for a few days, so a quick reply was what I was hoping for, and what I got.



Reliability is a kind of “catch-all” word, often encompassing the responsiveness mentioned above.

But I want to talk strictly about the quality of what people can deliver, without attaching the timeliness of it.

Not that the time element isn’t important, but because it is, it deserves to be looked at separately.

When I think about reliable people, I’m usually assessing them based on whether or not I can count on them.


Count on them for What? 

So let’s think about what it is that we’re counting on people for, besides, of course, responding in a timely fashion.

Well, first off, I want to believe that whatever I ask of them, they’ll tell me the truth, even if it hurts.

That works both ways, by the way. I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.

As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question.



The third of my 3 R’s is “resource”. Here’s a quick definition I just Googled:

       a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or    organization in order to function effectively

I’ve gotta admit I don’t love it, because the main thing that most people I deal with are looking for in resources, would have to fall under “other assets”.

I love the part about “that can be drawn on”, because that fits nicely. I’m usually looking for information and/or direction, often to other resources.


A “Resource” as distinct from a “Helper”

While doing some of my personal work with coaches over the years, I’ve begun to try to remove the word “help” from my vocabulary.

This arose once when working with Amie, my Bowen Family Systems Theory coach, when I mentioned wanting to “help my wife” with something.

Her reply was simple, “What if you were just a resource to her, instead of trying to help her?”

“A-Ha”, I thought.


What’s the Difference?

I hope some readers will get this instinctively and quickly, but I assume many won’t, so here’s my view on the difference.

A resource is there for you, to be drawn upon, if and when you need it.

A helper is there to help, but it often turns out that the help they’re bringing isn’t the help needed, and comes on their terms.

It also puts the helper in a “one up” position to the “helpee”, which has its own negative consequences.

We all need “Responsive Reliable Resources”.

And in a family business, it’s great to have at least one who isn’t related.

2 angry men facing opposite directions

Avoiding the “60% Problem”

Avoiding the “60% Problem”

A few weeks ago one of my “tweeps” (Twitter peeps) shared a news article about family business that quoted an interesting statistic.

The field of family business as a specific “unit” of study still being relatively new, there aren’t necessarily lots of stats to choose from when someone sits down to write such an article.

It seems like the same studies, usually decades old, have their stats recycled and re-used over and over again. But that’s a problem for another day.

Sixty Percent of FamBiz Failures

Here is a quote about the main stat from the story:


“Sixty percent of the failures were due to breakdowns in

trust and communication within the family unit”


I’d like to address the 60%, but first I need to fill in some of the context. The sentence before the one quoted above read: “A comprehensive study identified reasons why family businesses don’t last.”

If we wanted to add to the list of things that “don’t last”, we could add businesses in general, and of course, people, because we will all eventually die.

Okay, now that I dealt with my pet peeve on how family business stats are thrown around by some writers, let’s get to the good stuff.


Breakdowns in What?

Let’s look at the “problems” with family business that were mentioned as being the most prevalent, i.e. 60%.

“Breakdowns in trust and communications” is how it was worded, and I take that to mean “breakdowns in trust” and “breakdowns in communications”.

Of course one could make the argument that “trust and communications” are so intertwined that they are actually inseparable in this context, and I would not argue against that either.

The fact that they were “lumped together” in the first place sort of makes that point already. But just for this exercise, let’s begin by looking at them separately.


Breakdowns in Trust

In order for there to be a “breakdown” in trust, there needs to have been some trust to begin with.

Here is the presumed scenario: 1. There was trust; 2. It broke down; and 3. Eventually the family business was no more.

Presumably, if the trust had remained strong and not broken down, the business would still be around.

It would be really interesting to look at the details around the trust breakdowns, because I have some theories I’d like to check out if we could see the actual data.

I’d be willing to bet that the trust level between individual pairs of people did not change very much over time, because in my experience it usually stays pretty constant.

However, changes, over time, in the make-up of the overall group running the business, can certainly result in a trust level that gets worse.


Breakdowns in Communications

Communications breakdowns are often easier to see than trust issues. That’s because when the issue is trust, that fact tends to be kept mum.

When we picture communication problems, we may be inclined to think about screaming matches and altercations that people in the office can see and hear.

I’ve known some family businesses that are no strangers to these types of scenes.

But I think that the kinds of communications breakdowns that are at the root of family business failures are more often the silent type.

Sometimes the screaming doesn’t happen anymore, because nobody is even talking to anyone else anymore.


Reasons and Opportunities to Talk

The good news is that trust and communications issues don’t usually just show up one day. They are usually gradual. Why is that good news? Good question.

To me, if a situation is slowly degrading, there is an opportunity to address it and try to rectify it. Of course there does need to be a willingness to actually work on it.

Family members who are involved in owning and/or managing a business together have plenty of reasons why they need to be in regular communication with each other.

Sometimes they don’t create enough opportunities to talk.


Regular Meetings

My best advice for families that are worried about these “trust and communications breakdowns” is to schedule regular meetings to talk about working ON their business.

Usually at least once per quarter, key family members need to come together and air things out, so that things don’t get worse.

If you need a “referee”, find one. But please do it.


Link: Family Business: When business is personal – Smart Business Magazine