Kids making a mess

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

This week’s post is one that I’ve been looking forward to writing for a few weeks now, ever since I had lunch with a colleague and relayed this story to her.

It was her reaction that made me realize how simple and yet how powerful it really is.

Considering that I’ve been writing this weekly blog for over five years now, I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this yet.

 

Credit Where It’s Due 

Before telling the story, I should note that I would love to give credit to the person who told the story when I first heard it, but I really have no clue who it was.

It would not surprise me to learn that it was during one of the weekly teleconferences of the Purposeful Planning Institute, because those calls have inspired many of these blogs.

In any event, it’s one of those stories that has probably been played out in various versions hundreds of times, all over the world.

So my version isn’t a true, “verbatim” recounting, but more like a parable.

 

I Worked Hard for All of This

A successful businessman is meeting with one of his trusted advisors, as he begins to think about how he’s going to deal with the considerable wealth he has built up.

He mentions how hard he’s had to work for what he now has, and then adds,

“And I don’t want my kids to screw it all up”.

This part of the story likely sounds pretty familiar to many professionals who work with clients who’ve built up large amounts of wealth.

It’s not unnatural for anyone to be concerned that the fruits of their labour might be squandered.

 

The Other Side of the Coin

Later in the discussion, likely in response to a question posed by the wise advisor, the man has a bit of an awakening, and says,

“But I don’t want all my wealth to screw up my kids, either”.

If you’ve read even a few of my blogs, you already know that this was the true “A-Ha” moment of the story for me.

 

The Bad News First

The bad news is that so many professionals who work for such wealthy clients are really only specialists in solving the first part of the problem.

Finding ways to create bulletproof structures to preserve wealth is nothing new for many specialists who pride themselves on how they can minimize taxes, and restrict how the wealth will be used by its intended beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, too many clients are too short-sighted to see that this will also produce many unwanted side effects for their family down the road.

 

Now the Good News  

The good news is that there are now more and more people who understand that only worrying about preparing the assets for the heirs leads to sub-optimal results.

And not only that but people are now also realizing that this is not a question of either worrying about preserving the wealth OR preserving the family and their relationships, it’s actually possible to do both.

 

It’s Not Either/Or, It’s Both/And

In fact, by concentrating on the second part, and making sure that the offspring will be prepared to receive the wealth, you will increase the chances that the family will be able to maintain and even grow the wealth in future generations.

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a few years ago, Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?

It contains the profound quote,

“Plans that are about us, but don’t include us, are not for us”.

That is a verbatim quote, from a different context, but it fits perfectly here too.

 

FOR the Family, BY the Family

It starts with someone recognizing the importance of this. That could be a member of the family, or it could be a wise advisor.

Long-term planning at it’s best is truly long-term, i.e. inter-generational.

If that wealth is to serve multiple generations of a family, the sooner the members of the following generations get involved, the more likely they will be successful.

 

Efficient or Effective?

You could simply worry about the preservation of the wealth, and create rigid structures that are tax efficient and ensure that some wealth will be available for future generations.

That would certainly be more efficient.

But if you want your plan to be effective, get the

younger generation involved as early as you can.

You won’t regret it, and neither will they.

Woman in Family Crying

Calm Is Contagious

Calm Is Contagious

Most people have witnessed occasions where anxiety in one person quickly spread to others in the room.

There’s an invisible “emotional field” that exists within groups of people, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Anxiety is essentially “contagious” because one person can quickly spread it to others.

 

Does the Opposite Hold Too?

So if one anxious person can render others in their vicinity anxious as well, could the opposite also be true?

Obviously I think so, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this piece.

My premise is that calm is also contagious.

 

Family Drama

I was born into a family with what I consider to be low to moderate level of drama. That was my family of origin.

As for my nuclear family, the one where I’m the father, and my wife is the mother, and our two children are the kids, I like to think that we’re also on the lower end of the drama continuum.

We all have our own family or families, and if we think about them in terms of their typical drama level, we surely know of other families who exhibit a higher propensity for drama.

 

Emotional Reactivity

Another way to look at this is to think about it in terms of emotional reactivity.

There’s often one person, or maybe more, who simply have a way of triggering the emotions of others, and not necessarily in a good way.

It could be something very subtle and it may even operate at an unconscious level, but it is definitely there.

You may not be able to see the anxiety, but you can definitely sense it.

 

Superpowers

A while back, an acquaintance asked me straight up, out of the blue, “What’s your superpower?”

I was a bit taken aback, but since then I’ve really come to love the term and what it means.

It’s a nice way to define some ability that one has that seems to be very rare in others.

It’s often something that comes to you so naturally, that at first, you assume everyone has it too.

But eventually, you realize that it’s some innate ability that you have, that few others do.

 

The Sixth Sense

 My superpower is the ability to sense the anxiety between people.

I’m not just talking about walking into a room and sensing the general tension that’s there or feeling like there’s an ultra-sensitive air in the room.

I’m talking about the direct tension that exists between a specific pair of people.

Unfortunately, this sense is not infallible, and it does not kick in immediately every time.

 

Drama Management

So let’s try to bring this back to the calm contagion where we began.

Families, especially when they manage a business together, or simply share ownership of some assets as a group, need to come together occasionally to make decisions.

Because of their complex relationships, being family members and having shared financial and ownership responsibilities, things can sometimes become tense.

Oh, and can we all agree that when our brains are preoccupied with interpersonal anxiety, we don’t always do our best thinking?

 

Calming the System

In order for a group of people, in this case, a family system, to be able to function at their best, it helps if they are not distracted by emotional reactivity, a.k.a. drama.

One person can quickly disturb the calm in a system.

Can one person calm a system back down?

 

Realistic Expectations

I believe that it is possible, but it also requires patience and a realistic expectation level.

Anxiety can be ramped up quite rapidly, but instilling calm usually takes more time.

A key ingredient is that one person who goes first, and models the calm for the others to follow.

 

Immunity

The contagion analogy is making me think about the one person who is immune to the sickness, who can then interact with each of the sick people without worrying about catching their disease.

The mere presence of the healthy one can give hope to the sick to believe that they too can be well again.

For families, it can be difficult to find such a person from within their ranks, because each person is “caught” in the system to some degree.

That’s where an independent, unbiased, objective, neutral outsider can certainly play a role.

Serenity now!

 

See: Calm-Fident Advice for your family

A picture of the journey

There is No Destination

There is No Destination

The inspiration for this week’s post comes from a great quote that I saw on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It’s from Marie Forleo, a life coach and motivational speaker.

I started following her on Twitter a few months ago, after catching an interview that she’d done with Brené Brown, about Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness.

(Watch it on Youtube)

Here’s my verbatim recollection of her Tweet:

There is no destination.  

It’s ALL journey. All. Of. It.

Wow, I’ve been a big fan of the whole “life is a journey” mentality for a while, but I’d never heard anyone say it so clearly and emphatically.

 

Family Business Versions 

It’s pretty easy to get seduced by “destinations” in life, and family businesses are no strangers to this phenomenon.

“If we can just get to $X,000,000 in sales, then we will have made it. “ (Where X can be 1, 10, 100…)

Another good one is “I can’t wait to take over from Dad as President.”

Okay, a nice goal to have, but not really a great destination in and of itself, as that’s when the real work begins.

(I can think of a prominent example of someone wanting to become President, but then being less than thrilled with actually having to do the job, but alas, I try to avoid discussing politics in this space.)

 

Interim Stopping Points

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against setting goals, such as annual sales figures, or promotions to key positions.

Studies show that people who don’t write down their goals are much less likely to achieve them, and that makes perfect sense.

In fact, setting goals for your department, team, or the whole company, is also something that everyone should be doing, but you want to make sure that those are simply seen as interim stopping points along the way.

Hit the goal, savour it, celebrate it, and then move on to the next goal. Remember: It is not a destination.

 

Enjoy the Ride

For me, the biggest takeaway here is that we are always on our way somewhere, so we may as well enjoy it.

In fact, if we are NOT enjoying it, we should really consider finding another journey to take.

Find a journey that you will enjoy.

There are plenty of people who are doing things that they don’t enjoy, and guess what, some of them even work in their own family’s business.

Many of those are likely deluding themselves into thinking that things will magically improve, you know, once they reach the “destination”.

If you believe that, I invite you to re-read the title of this blog post.

 

Personal Perspective

We all have our own perspective on this subject and I’d like to share mine. No, this won’t be a “just do what I did” story because that isn’t generally how I roll.

Actually, it’s more of a “don’t do what I did” lesson, that I hope some people will benefit from.

And by the end of this, I may even partially contradict my major premise here, but here goes.

 

Early Liquidity Event

In 1991, with a freshly minted MBA degree in my pocket, I returned to our family business, expecting to be groomed to eventually take over.

This had been Dad’s plan since my birth. Notice I did not say it was MY plan.

Instead, within 6 months of my return, we (he) sold the operations of the company, and we went from 250 employees to 4, and eventually 3.

I then spent the following 2 decades running our small family office, doing what needed to be done.

 

No Destination, Not Even a Journey

I wasn’t until 2013 that I finally had my calling, to do the family business work that now drives me in everything I do.

For over 20 years, I did what I thought I was supposed to do, acting as the “dutiful son”.

I know other rising generation family members who are following similar paths, and while it is a path, if it isn’t a journey that you enjoy, it doesn’t make for much of an enjoyable career.

 

“My” Journey

Everyone deserves an opportunity to find and do something that drives them to be able to enjoy the journey of life.

So glad I found mine, better late than never!

What’s yours? What’s in your way?

Family Dog

Honouring FamBiz System Exits

Honouring FamBiz System Exits

I was born into a family business system over five decades ago, and I’ve been working in and writing about the FamBiz space for over five years now.

The fact that a family is actually a “system” is one of the important realizations that I’ve come to, yet not necessarily one that I’ve shared much about here.

There have been some blogs relating to Bowen Family Systems Theory (A Systematic Business Family?) (My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice) and I have shared with many people the fact that I’m beginning to work on my next book, which will be all about the intersection of BFST and the world of FamBiz.

But there have been a couple of events in the last little while that made me want to address the subject of “systems exits”, i.e. situations where someone who has been a part of a system is suddenly no longer around, and some of the consequences.

 

A Matriarch’s Retirement

The first situation draws on an annual meeting with a family business client of mine, where the matriarch of the family made the sudden announcement that she would be retiring from the business, effective immediately.

I took her at her word, and after she left the meeting, I mentioned to her children and nephews that they should begin to find a way to honour her service and announce this news to all the employees.

They looked at me with curious expressions, which I eventually realized were caused by the fact that few of them believed that she was serious.

Well, that was over three months ago, and she has been true to her word, and they have yet to do anything in line with what I had suggested.

 

Leaving a Door Open

My idea for announcing the retirement decision stemmed from my view that clarity is of utmost importance in any family business.

There are so many ambiguities that are inherent in systems where family and business overlap, that it behooves everyone to work extra hard to be clear on as many things as possible.

By not announcing the retirement of the matriarch, a proverbial door was being left open for her return, and that leaves the situation more open to confusion among the ranks of the employees.

 

Losing Man’s Best Friend

The second situation regarding a systems exit was not about the exit of a human, but it was about the loss of a member of the family.

The photo accompanying this post is the last one we have of Caedmon, our companion for the last nine years.

He had an interesting life during his time with us, and I’ve got enough stories about his adventures to last the rest of my life.

I wrote about one of them a few years ago (Sharing my Warmth Goes to the Dogs) and then that story was followed by another interesting turn of events that even got us on the news, first locally and then nationally. (Go Labs go! (Don’t worry) Carey Price gets his dogs back)

 

Honouring Those Who Have Left

You may think that this is a bit of a stretch (and I’d have a hard time arguing against you if you do) but I’m trying to honour this family member by writing about him here.

When we first got Caedmon, we jokingly referred to him as “Bosco’s dog”, because we got him to keep Bosco company after Rufus went to doggy heaven.

Bosco was the subject of a blog post in 2014 when he followed his “brother” Rufus to the pearly gates (R.I.P. my Old Friend)

 

Don’t Pretend They Weren’t There

I get some interesting looks from people sometimes when I refer to people who have died when we have family gatherings.

It’s so easy to not bring people’s names up because we don’t want anyone to feel bad about the absence of those who are no longer with us, but I like to buck that trend.

At funerals, we usually hear that we are there not to mourn, but to celebrate the life of the dearly departed.

That can be difficult when it is still so fresh and when the person was important to us. But after years have passed, I hate to act like the person never existed.

 

It Is Better to Have Loved and Lost…

When someone has exited the system, you can mourn them, honour them, grieve them, and celebrate them.

Just please don’t forget them, act like they were never there, or write them out of the story.

Women Meeting - Family Business

Evolving Gender Roles in Family Business

Evolving Gender Roles in Family Business

Sometimes family businesses don’t get enough credit for the societal leadership they so often exhibit.

The long-term view that they bring to the way they plan, strategize and operate, make them a special subset of businesses in general.

For example, many people instantly recognize that family business leaders are often great philanthropists, especially in their local areas.

 

Gender Balance

There’s another area that I’m starting to notice more and more where family businesses are taking an important leadership role, and that’s gender balance.

When looking at any such leadership role, you might think about the intent of any of these leaders, and imagine that there’s some concentrated effort on their part.

But family businesses don’t typically get together and decide that family businessess should do this or that.

They decide what’s best for their family, and once it turns out that many of them are doing the same thing, the leadeship trend emerges.

 

Wife, Daughter, Sister, Niece 

It seems to me that family businesses are leading the way in the area of gender balance in management and leadership roles.

My evidence is anecdotal, based on things that I read and come across on various forms of media.

But it also doesn’t surprise me either.

When it comes time to decide which person to promote to a key position, a high performing woman is less likely to be overlooked when she also happens to be the daughter, sister, cousin or niece of one of the leaders.

 

My Own Backyard 

Perhaps it’s because family businesses have always had a tendency to promote from within, that it’s more natural that any strong woman will be given more of a chance.

When I just think about my own daughter and nieces, as well as my wife and sisters, I know that they are at least as qualified as any man in their roles, and usually much more so.

 

Evolving Business Styles

It might also have something to do with the way that businesses are being run in less of an old-fashioned, authoritarian way.

The “macho male” attitude doesn’t seem to cut it like it used to, certainly not in the North American culture I’m most familiar with.

A softer touch, more inclusive leadership styles, and more democratic decision-making styles all seemingly play into the trend.

 

Family Roles

The traditional family roles of wife and mother versus husband and father have also changed a lot over the past few decades and generations.

The “stay-at-home parent” isn’t as much of a staple as it was when I was a kid and everyone went home from school for a nice lunch that Mom was busy making.

Those days are long gone.

Even in cases where one parent makes the conscious choice of taking a career break in order to take on child-raising full time, it isn’t always the mother.

And with couples having children at a later age, the eventual return to the work force can also be an easier fit for a mother who decides to go back to a family business.

 

Goodbye Primogeniture?

While it may be too early to say Goodbye to primogeniture, things are being done in family businesses today that were pretty inconceivable just a few decades ago.

It isn’t just the gender balance either; there are more and more sibling teams running things as more or less equals, with a trend to title sharing like naming a brother-sister team as “Co-Presidents”.

If any two people could pull that off properly, I’d bet on a sibling team anytime.

 

Soft Skills in a Family Business

I’m not sure this is a 100% true statement, but it seems to me that the “softer skills”, like getting along, democratic decision making, open communication, authenticity and teamwork are even more important in family businesses.

But just because these skills may be more “necessary” there, does that mean we will find them there?

I’m not sure I could make that case strongly; but what I can say is that a family business where the people have those skills, and have things structured for those skills to shine, will be the ones that thrive.

 

Generational Transitions

A family business will only remain one as long as the family can agree enough to hold onto it.

Having the kinds of people in charge to make this happen will require diverse groups going forward.

Bet on it, sister!

 

Note:

Between when I first drafted this blog and when I was wrapping it up, my friend and FFI colleague Carrie Hall published this piece which complements it nicely:

Please see:           Why family businesses have a higher percentage of women leaders

 

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.

 

Responsive

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.

 

Reliable

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.

 

Resource 

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

2 kids on a side walk sharing a red apple.

“Sharing”: My Theme Word for 2018

“Sharing”: My Theme Word for 2018

Happy New Year 2018

The fact that this blog would be going out to subscribers on Monday, January 1, helped spark the idea for this post.

I’ve been working with a coach for a long time now, and I recently had my last Skype of the year with her. As usual for this time of year, she asked me some questions about my accomplishments in 2017, as well as my intentions for 2018.

Her final request is for one single word that will be my theme for the coming year. I thought about it for over a day (she had sent the questions to me in advance, from her blog) and I came up with “sharing”.

 

“Spreading the Gospel”

Back in 2013, when I was actually just starting to discover this field, I wrote a blog entitled Spreading the Gospel vs. Cornering the Market and my feeling about this subject has only become stronger.

Not only has my belief in the importance of sharing grown, thankfully my ability to share useful ideas has also increased.

Just today I was involved with two separate groups of colleagues on calls as we prepare to submit proposals for the 2018 conferences of some of the major organizations in the family business/legacy space.

 

Content Creation and Dissemination

I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as a content creation machine in this space and I wear that badge with pride.

So I recognize that “sharing” may not seem like a new theme for me, but there are a few other things I have planned going forward to hopefully “kick it up a notch”.

In addition to possibly presenting at some of the conferences that I attend regularly, I’m now looking at other ways to get in front of other advisors in the family business space to share some of my ideas and tools as well.

This is still in the embryonic stage for now, so I’ll just leave this here as a bit of a tease, but there are some other aspects of sharing that I’d like to highlight here too.

These thoughts about sharing are directed at the enterprising families themselves.

 

Business Families Should Share More

Most business families could also stand to share more too. You may think that I’m talking about being more philanthropic, but that’s not my angle here.

The more I learn about the subject of philanthropy, the more I realize to what extent business families are already among the leading givers in our society.

No, I’m talking about sharing internally, family member to family member. So what kinds of things should they be sharing?

I put these into two major categories; Past and Future. Those labels are pretty good for conceptualizing the differences, but aren’t very descriptive.

How about “History” and “Dreams”?

 

FamBiz History Lessons

Leaders of a family business often take for granted that because they lived the beginning of the company and its growth, and came home every night and shared their day with the family around the dinner table, well, everyone already knows the company “story”.

But most of the key events from 20 years ago will be lost today on those who were teenagers at the time. An occasional sharing of how we got to where we are today can be helpful.

Naturally, it’s nice when the audience plays along and is in an accepting mood to hear the stories, so don’t forget the word “occasional” I used above.

 

Dreams of What’s Possible

Having family members share their dreams is also something most business families could stand to do more of from time to time.

The rising generation may not be enthralled by the particular business that Mom or Grandpa started, and they may have their own entrepreneurial dreams.

Asking them to share those in a safe space can be very enlightening, and provide future growth paths for the family to invest in.

 

Family Interdependence

I’ll end here with a word on “interdependence”, which I might suggest any business family use as their “Theme word for 2018”.

The “NextGen” and the “NowGen” depend on each other for different things, and the balance of that equation changes over time.

Realize this, share the history, share the dreams, and build the future together.

The balance will shift some day, if only due to ageing. Sharing nicely now will beget sharing nicely later.

Santa Playing with the ipad

Christmas Resolutions for a Family Business

Christmas Resolutions for a Family Business

I hope everyone reading this has a great Christmas, or whichever other holiday they celebrate at this time of year.

I also hope nobody thinks that I actually wrote this on Christmas Day.

I’m a creature of habit and pride myself on being consistent, and my blogs have been going out to subscribers on Mondays for years now, and I’m not changing that just because it’s Christmas.

Recently I started writing them a week ahead of time to take the pressure off my website/social media team.

And if you’re wondering if there’ll be another blog in your inbox on New Year’s Day, stop wondering, because that’s a Monday too.


Timing Is Everything

Because I knew that this would be arriving in people’s inboxes on Christmas, and realized that many people wouldn’t be reading it until later, the “Resolutions” part that’s normally associated with New Year’s feels less clunky.

And it should help me make my point. So what is that point? Glad you asked.

During a recent exchange with a potential client, a lightbulb went on in my head as I realized they had some possible similarities with one of my current client families.

And in fact, I know of a few other families who could benefit from the kind of work I’m doing with them.

 

Rising Generation Group

The family client in question is one where I work with only the third generation sibling group. I’ve met with the parents only once, and this is an engagement that began almost two years ago.

The parents of the four Millennials from that family decided to hire a coach to work with their children, and that is what I’ve been doing with them, almost exclusively without their parents’ involvement.

I admit that this is a bit of a “non-standard” type of engagement, because most parents would not think of doing this in such a “hands off” fashion, but they put their trust in me to work with their offspring and haven’t looked back.

The other family I mentioned, the potential client, is one where the third generation family members are a larger group, and it includes four groups of cousins. But I’m going to suggest they try something similar.

 

Budget for Development

So the holiday tie-in I’ve contrived is that giving a generational group of people the gift of hiring them a coach to work with them could be a great Christmas gift.

But the gift can be even better if it is combined with a resolution (New Year’s tie-in!) to essentially stay out of trying to direct what the group works on with the coach.

If you are hiring someone to tell your kids what to think and do because they aren’t listening to you, save your money and time and forget it.

If you want to establish a budget for their development, especially to work on things together, that’s a pretty cool angle to take.

 

A Leap of Faith with the Right Attitude

My client family kind of took a leap of faith with me, but it was combined with the right attitude of trusting their kids enough to let them figure things out with me together.

My premise with them has always been that parents who have built up a business or great wealth all have the same fear:

that after they‘re gone, the kids will fight over things

and the wealth will destroy the family.

Having me as an independent, unrelated outsider to work with them has been a great exercise in teamwork for them, as I am essentially mostly a guide and mentor, as they do the real work of planning activities for the extended family group.

 

Early Stages

The early stage work we’ve been doing is also paving the way to the future important discussions that they will soon be having with their parents, once their parents recognize that they are ready.

After they’ve gotten to know each other better, and have learned how to work together as a team, those future “tougher” steps will be soooo much easier for everyone.

 


Xmas gift, NY resolution…

If you’re a family with the worry I noted above, why not resolve to look into this idea in 2018? I’ll gladly share some of the secrets of what I’ve been doing and see if it could work for you too.

Someone playing ganja and one of the blocks has governance written on it

FamBiz: Management vs. Governance

FamBiz: Management vs. Governance

In a family business, there can often be confusion around the questions surrounding the management of the business, and the separate, but equally important area of its governance.

I see it in many places with family clients and this post will hopefully help clarify the differences.

 

Management = Day-to-Day

Management of the business starts with all of the day-to-day actions and decisions that it takes to keep the business running.

It’s about what you can see happening in many areas, and it usually involves all of the activities that are done by the vast majority of the employees.

The management of any business is all about the short-term execution of the company doing what the company has decided its business is.

 

Who Decided?

So in case you didn’t notice, the key word in the last sentence is “decided”. I purposely said that “the company decided”, but in reality it isn’t decided by “the company”.

There are people who “govern” the company and what it does, and then the managers of the company implement those decisions via their management functions.

But then that just begs the next question, which is, who gets to decide? And then there’s another level of that, which I‘ve already addressed here: “Who gets to decide who gets to decide?”

 

Corporations Are Easier

In contrast to a family business, if we look at a big corporation, things are pretty clear. The shareholders elect the board of directors, who decide who the management will be.

There are plenty of layers and checks and balances and there are formal structures and procedures in place to guide all of these decisions.

In a family business, well, usually, not so much.

 

Informal Governance

I used the word “formal” intentionally just there, because it reminds me of the expression I like to keep in mind:

“Formality is your Friend” 

I need to thank Ruth Steverlynck, one of the instructors in the Family Enterprise Advisor Program, for that expression. I’ve used it a lot and will continue to do so.

Family businesses often resist formality because they don’t want it to slow them down. Sometimes it’s simply the founder who has a preference for flying by the seat of his pants.

 

Governance sounds Formal

Regular readers will be familiar with my personal struggles with the word “governance”, and the fact that I have a sort of “love-hate” relationship with it.

It sounds almost TOO formal, to the point where it can actually scare people off.

I try to soften it by repeating that you don’t necessarily have to be overly formal, and that any governance you choose to put in place is best done incrementally.

 

Constitutional Crisis

I read a lot of stuff from the academic field of family business and I see people using the term “Family Constitution” a lot lately. A family constitution CAN be a great thing for a family to have.

BUT, and it’s a huge but, that shouldn’t be the place that you start the governance process.

In fact, I personally would probably never even mention the term “constitution” during my first year of working with a family.

 

Management Confusion

Sometimes company management acts as if they are also in charge of governance, because, well, frankly, they can.

But a family business is a complex system, involving not only the business, but also the family, and the ownership.

These interdependent systems are where some formality and definition of roles and responsibilities comes in.

In fact, the part about figuring out, deciding, and writing down who decides which questions is what governance is all about.

 

Clarity goes a Long Way

There can be lots of ambiguous situations in a family business, and when things aren’t clear, people step on each other’s toes a lot, which can create conflict.

It’s important to clarify which groups of people will be responsible for which decisions.

But sometimes that’s really hard to do.

It really needs to be “hashed out” as a group. Some “horse trading” and compromises may end up needing to happen too.

 

“Don’t Try This at Home”

What can happen is that families will try to work these things out by themselves and end up making things worse.

An independent person, who has no stake in the systems, can go a long way to making these discussions more productive, and more civil! It’s worth trying.