Pens & Pencils

Pens Vs Pencils for Your FamBiz

Pens Vs Pencils for Your FamBiz

This week’s topic is pretty simple, it’s about not overcomplicating things when it comes to working on the family issues in your business family.

To make my point stick, I want to share a story that I heard many years ago; you may have also heard some version of it too.

Part of me was tempted to do some research on this, to get the details correct and even verify that it is in fact a true story and not just an “urban legend”.  

But the lazier part of me won out, as I rationalized the fact that the details of the story really matter very little.  And, even if the story isn’t actually true, well, it could be!

 

Crazy Government Budget Stories

We’ve all heard various versions of stories where some government department spent $856,000 on a hammer, because of bureaucracy and overly complicated specifications.  My story is kind of like that too, with an added punch line. So here goes.

It seems that in the early days of the U.S. space program, there was a concern that because of a lack of gravity in outer space, conventional pens would not work aboard the spacecraft.  Gravity is one of those things we take for granted, and we only really appreciate some aspects of it when they aren’t there.

As the story goes, countless engineers and scientists got to work on a solution, to design a pen that would still work, even in the absence of gravity.

Of course putting lots of people to work on something ends up costing a lot of money.  And so nobody would be surprised to learn that the final cost was somewhere in the zillions of dollars.

 

A Cheaper Alternative

Meanwhile, in another country, over in Europe or Asia (or maybe both) they too were working on sending people into space.  They too had recognized that pens would not work due to the gravity issue.

Their solution? 

                                   To use pencils instead of pens.

The moral of the story is that there is often a very simple solution to every issue, if you take the time to look for it.

The issues that I typically talk about here are all about enterprising families and how they need to learn to work together as a family.

When people consider this subject for the first time, it can quickly seem complicated too, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

A Constitutional Crisis

As I wrote last summer in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution, some families believe that they need to create a full blown constitution for their families, right off the bat.

While it’s true that some multigenerational families do have their own constitution, I’m willing to bet that not one of them used a family constitution as their starting point in the creation of their family governance.

What they all likely did, way back when they were beginning to walk down that path, was to start with a family meeting. In fact, they might have even had a meeting about having meetings, which is actually a thing.

 

Family Council Meeting “Number Zero”

A client family I’ve been working with for the past few years, (mostly with the rising generation but also with their parents), started having quarterly “family council meetings” a couple of years ago.

When we all gathered for the first of those meetings, I handed out an agenda, which clearly stated that this was simply “Family Council Meeting # 0”.

It was a meeting about the kinds of meetings we were going to be having, and it’s where we decided, together, on some basic guidelines for these meetings going forward.

 

Not Carved in Stone, Just Written in Pencil

Most important of all is the attitude involved and the acceptance that there is not a single way to do this, and that the best way to go is to let things evolve, slowly but surely.

I’m reminded of a post I wrote a few years back, Start Cleaning Up your MESS where “MESS” is an acronym to help recall that you should “Start Moving”, “Start Early”, “Start Small”, and “Start Slowly”.

You also need to be flexible in letting everything develop at its own pace, and not be in a huge hurry. This is NOT about having one family meeting.  It’s about beginning a series of regular family meetings.

Take notes in pen or pencil, your choice. 

Lighting the Way in your FamBiz

This week I want to take you on a quick journey through a few different metaphors that all involve light and are related to family business.

The initial idea for this post, as evidenced the title I chose, was to talk about the importance of having someone “light the way” for the family business.  So we’ll start there, but also take a bit of a tour of different types of lights that can also come in handy too.

 

The Torch Bearer

When you think about a family business, there’s often one person, typically a founder or a key leader from another generation, that comes to mind. I like the visual of a person holding a torch, leading the way, with others following.

The importance of great leadership in any organisation cannot be overstated, and family businesses are no different.

We often also hear about passing the torch to the next leader, but I much prefer another metaphor that I’ve heard and will continue to spread.

Rather than passing on their torch to someone else, wouldn’t it be better to light someone else’s torch instead?

Fire is something that you can give away and still have, kind of like love, in a way.

 

Under the Spotlight

There’s another form of light that is also typically associated with business families, and that’s the “spotlight”. Anyone who has ever gone to work for their parents knows about this light, and it isn’t always a comfortable place to be.

When your last name is the same as that of the person who signs the paycheques, and especially if that name is also on the sign above the door, you just know that everyone will be watching you.

Of course this can also be a good thing, because it does help keep these rising generation family members honest, knowing that it will be difficult to hide anything that they do that perhaps they shouldn’t.

 

The Search Light

I much prefer the search light or even a simple flashlight as a metaphor, because even though they are pretty similar to a spotlight, the intent is very different.

What I’m getting at here is that you use this type of light to look for something, by shining the light into places that are perhaps not as clear as they could be.

I often talk about the human capital that lies in every business family, and sometimes the search for such human capital is not as active as it could be. It takes time, effort, and intention to do this, but shining that light can pay huge dividends.

 

The Beacon or Lighthouse

The beacon has some similarities to the torch, in that they both act as a kind of guiding light. The lighthouse has an added element of stability and strength, though.

It almost feels like something that would apply to someone who has held a key active leadership role in the past, and has remained on the scene in a smaller role, but continues to be a wise soul for those who are now running things.

 

Sunlight: The Best Disinfectant

You may take issue with my including sunlight as one of my lights here, but that argument won’t get you very far, since it is completely natural to include it. 

You may be surprised at my reason for including it here, because it’s very different from the others.  

I really like the expression about sunlight being the best disinfectant, which is something we sometimes hear when discussing politics and government.

 

Transparency Is the Key

When it comes to families, though, it also has its place. I’m thinking about the fact that very often some family members are not as close to the family business as others.

When there is unequal information about what’s going on, especially when it comes to financial issues like compensation, there’s often plenty of suspicion as well.

That’s why I am talking about the importance of sunlight, because transparency is the best antidote to those suspicions.

 

You Light Up My Life

With apologies to Debbie Boone, a family business can be a huge plus for so many families, and it can truly light up the lives of so many family members.

It isn’t always all sweetness and light, though, as the blessings of a family business can quickly become curses instead, when things aren’t done as well as they should be.

 

Dis-Covering your Enterprising Family

Business families, or “families in business”, as they’re often called, come in all shapes and sizes.  Advisors who work with them, like me, sometimes have trouble agreeing on the labels that we should be using to identify this segment of society.

Recently, a term that’s been garnering some momentum is “enterprising families”, which certainly has some cachet to it, especially when contrasted with alternatives we sometimes see, like UNHW families (Ultra High Net Worth).

The word “enterprising” connotes some action, which is so often appropriate, especially when there’s an “operating business” that’s (still) part of the asset mix that the family owns.

 

And…..”Action!”

While the action involved in the creation of the wealth is certainly important, whether that continues in the present or whether it’s only in the family’s past, my bias is to continue to focus on action going forward as well.

As I’ve written in this space in the past, notably in Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger, there are two main components in achieving a family legacy: assets, and, even more importantly, people.

Even if the assets are now passive, the people need to be active.

And therein lies the focus of this week’s post, which is about discovering, or more specifically, “dis-covering” the members of your enterprising family.

 

Getting to Know “The People”

Now the idea of “getting to know” people in your own family might seem like something that you wouldn’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time on, since you already know plenty about them.

And if that’s what you’re thinking, then you’re exactly the kind of person who needs to keep reading.

Because I’m not talking about the obvious details of your children’s lives that every family member already knows about, I’m talking about the questions relating to where and how they “fit” into the enterprising family.

Figuring all of that stuff out takes time and effort, but it’s the families who take the time and make the effort who’ll be the ones who manage to keep their wealth in the family for generations.

 

Inclusion and Belonging as a Bias

My bias is towards inclusion and belonging in every family, so that’s my starting point.  

I will always assume that all family members do want to at least look at the idea of being involved, somewhere, somehow, and at some time, in the preservation and transition of the family’s wealth from one generation to the next.

That’s not to say that every member of the rising generation will be interested in being part of this, it’s just that when I work with a family, I begin there.  

If certain family members are not interested in being involved, that’s OK too, but even those who “pass” are usually glad to have been asked.

 

It Takes a Village

For most families out there, things are much simpler than what I write about here.

For families that have a certain amount of complexity, and who have achieved a certain level of wealth, spending time and making the effort to do things in a thoughtful and inclusive way really makes sense.

Families who’ve been successful in creating, growing, and sustaining wealth, who want to make sure that that wealth stays in their family, should be doing whatever it takes to develop their human capital to take on the necessary roles, as their rising generation prepares to take on key roles.

There are plenty of important roles in most such families, whether they be in an operating business, a family office, a family foundation, or in an entrepreneurial venture.

 

It’s Not Just About the “Next CEO”

Each family member has their own strengths and desires, and taking the time to learn more about each of them is a necessary step, or phase, that’s worth taking the time for.

Having regular family meetings is a big part of how families can do this important work, building the foundation on which the sibling team learns to work together.

When the family members are all involved in co-creating their futures together, the odds of them all “buying in” and making it work go up tremendously.

Not everyone wants to be the next CEO, and not everyone gets to be that either.

But if you think more broadly about stewardship, governance, leadership and management, and consider the business, the family, and the ownership circles, there’s room for everyone somewhere.

A time glass in the ground

Is 10 Years a Long Time? (It Depends…)

Looking Forward, Looking Back

This week we’re starting out with a thought-provoking trick question.  It was inspired by something I saw on Twitter a few months ago and filed away.  

Its author is unknown to me, but it came from the @Wealth_Theory Twitter account.

Here’s the main content from the Tweet in question:

 

                   10 years looking forward feels like eternity.

                  10 years looking back feels like yesterday.

 

I couldn’t agree more.  And of course there’s absolutely nothing magic about the number 10, it works equally well with 5, 15, or 20 (or insert your favourite number here).

10 years celebration text

Ages and Stages

For people in a family enterprise, including members of different generations of a family, a few things will remain forever “fixed”.

For instance, your sibling position, vis-à-vis your brothers and sisters, generally won’t change. Likewise, the difference between any two people’s ages doesn’t vary; I will always be 5 years younger than my oldest sister.

And whatever age you are at when your children are born, that gap will remain fixed until one of you stops having birthdays.

But even if some things are truly “fixed”, life goes on, and everyone ages according to the same calendar.

 

What’s your Halftime Speech?

As I write this, I’ve got a football game on TV (on mute) in the background, and it happens to be halftime now. I suddenly realized that when you play the “X years back, X years forward” game, it’s always halftime too.

So what happens in the locker room at halftime?

Well, if you’re winning, you talk to the team about what you’ve been doing well, and plan to do more of that.

If, however, you’re losing, or in a close game, now is the time to make adjustments and make plans for the second half.

 

A Different Game as it Progresses

Of course the second half is never the same as the first.  In real life, that’s even more true than in sports.

I’m 55, so it doesn’t make sense for me to expect years 55 to 65 to be the same as the ones from 45 to 55.

Likewise, my son, who just turned 20, will go through all kinds of new things from now until he’s 30 that will be markedly different than his years 10 to 20.

 

“Picture This…”

A exercise I like to do with families from time to time is to simply draw a basic family diagram with each person’s age written on it.  Simple enough, but now comes the fun part. First, label the page with the current year, say 2019.

Now re-draw another version and label it 2029.

Then have one of the family members put in everyone’s new age.  This is not a math exercise, it’s an exercise in picturing the family in a future state. Try it.

 

All Years Are the Same, Actually 

While the time it takes to go from January 1 to December 31 each year is very much the same, the speed at which it seems to be going varies depending you where you are on your path through life.

I remember thinking that 2000 seemed so far away when I was a kid, and when I look at it today, it’s also far away!

Okay, enough of the navel gazing, this blog is usually about business families, so it’s time I try to articulate my point for members of such families.

 

It’s All About Self-Awareness 

If I had to boil it down to one subject, it would be self-awareness.  But just to be clear, I am not talking about the “internal” or “selfish” aspect of self-awareness.

No, I’m talking about your awareness of your place in your family system.

Who you were, in your family, 10 years ago, and who you are, in your family now, are likely quite different.

Likewise, or furthermore, who you will be 10 years from now, will also likely be quite different.

 

What About the Others?

The same goes for the other members of your family.

Some people are still on the upslope of their arc of life, while others are very likely past their own peak.

The sooner everyone recognizes this reality, the sooner you can actually start to co-create a future where everyone can be part of a gradual transition from the way things are today, to a desired future state.

Because looking 10 years back, it does feel like yesterday!

guy with digestion issues

Digestion Time in the Family Business

A blog post about the timing issues involved in the “family side” of family business has been kicking around my brain for some time now.  I just needed a good entry point.

Then suddenly I got an email from one of the leaders of an online study group I belong to, around some changes we’d be making to our meeting format.

The leaders decided to add some time at the end of each call, for a “closing discussion”, because, as she explained:

                           “Like with food, the ideas that come to mind 

                           during the discussions need digestion.

    
Bang! There it was, “digestion time”, I finally had my hook!

 

Food for Thought

If the ideas that come up in discussions among colleagues in a study group require time to digest, then some of the things that come up in family discussions will certainly require even more time to be absorbed into the family system.

I’ve often written about how things need to “evolve” when working with families, and that idea isn’t very far away here. See: The Evolution of Family Governance

One subject I constantly harp on when discussing the ideas around working with families, whether with advisor colleagues or with family members themselves, is the speed, or rather lack thereof, of the work.

 

Pace and Cadence

Contrary to much of the work on the business side, including the “structural” pieces of the wealth transition projects that families often create, where speed is assumed to be good, the family work doesn’t typically run on the premise of “faster is better”.

When your lawyer and accountant are working on these elements for you, less hours spent will usually result in a lower invoice you need to pay, so that’s often a good thing (assuming that quality of the work is not being sacrificed).

But those who work with family members, where the resulting harmony is typically top of mind, need to work with a different time paradigm.

 

Think “Tour Guide” or “Waiter” Instead

For those who work on the family relationships, as opposed to the lawyers and accountants, our work is more analogous to that of tour guides, or waiters in fine restaurants.

Here’s what I’m getting at: The speed with which the job is completed doesn’t correlate at all with the quality of the result, especially in the eyes of the clients.

How often have you completed a tour and said, “Wow, that tour guide was great, she wrapped things up really quickly”?

Likewise, in most fine sit-down restaurants, the speed of service is valued much less highly than the quality of the service, including attention to detail, timely comings and goings at your table, and great answers to your questions.

 

Process Over Content

I mentioned the subject of “harping on” certain things earlier, and the idea of the process being more important than the content is another idea that’s I seem to be bringing up more and more.

Take that for what it very likely means, i.e. this is true, and important.

The kinds of issues that the family needs to deal with don’t necessarily run well on a strict timeline.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s no need to pay attention to the passage of time either.

Too often, when things get a bit “sticky” or “crunchy”, the process can grind to a halt, as many people will prefer to stop altogether, because now some tough subjects and hard decisions are staring them in the face.

 

The “Project Manager” Viewpoint

So we’ve talked about the fact that going fast isn’t necessarily appropriate, and now we mentioned that things can come to a quick halt.

How do you make sure you’re making progress even when there are obstacles?

Another “job title” now comes into play, although I’m not sure how many of my colleagues on the “soft side” do this.

Who Owns the Process?

One of the ways that I try to add value is that I will “own the process” for them, meaning that keeping things on some schedule is part of my job.

This includes staying in touch on a regular schedule, sending emails reminding everyone of next steps, and making sure that meetings are held and re-scheduled if necessary. Follow-up is so key.

It’s all part of keeping the family’s digestive system healthy and moving!  (Sorry for the unfortunate visual! OK, maybe I’m not sorry)

kid closing ears

“I Can’t Hear” or “I Can’t Listen”?

Most of my blog posts are inspired by real life occurrences that get me thinking more deeply about what just happened. 

They then become a platform that I use to try to tie in some lessons that are (hopefully) useful for families.

When I’m also able to bring in some humour and unexpected language twists, writing them becomes even more enjoyable for me.

Of course I always hope that readers get something from them too!

 

A Communications Problem Example

This week’s “inspirational” incident comes from a Zoom call I was recently part of with someone from a European country where English is not the main language.

We were trying to get the call started, but the person on the other end was having some difficulty, because of a technical issue.  I could hear her just fine, but she was unable to hear me.

For added context, this was a person I’d never spoken to before, although we had exchanged some emails around the scheduling of this call.  

Without delving too deep into the details, let’s just say that this person also wielded a certain amount of power over me at the time.

 

“I Cannot Listen to You”

So now imagine if you will, the feeling in my gut when the first words I heard out of her mouth are, “I cannot listen to you”.

She then repeated that a couple of times, seemingly louder each time, as typically happens when people with different first languages are trying to communicate.

It took a few seconds, which seemed longer at the time, for me to realize that what she was trying to tell me was that she simply couldn’t HEAR me.

She was indeed willing to listen to me, in fact that was the main purpose of the call in this case, but she had difficulty with the first essential element of that, i.e. hearing me.

The confusion was only felt on my end and it didn’t last long, thankfully. Just long enough for me laugh (internally) and to note the story for an upcoming blog.

 

Business Family Versions

Anyone who has ever been involved with family businesses and the business families who run them, will instantly be able to relate some anecdotes about the differences between hearing and listening.

The most common ones might involve someone we’ll call “Dad”, whose hearing is just fine, but who practises what some might call “selective listening”.

The frustrating part of this can be simple at times, but gets more complex as it becomes habitual.  Let me expand on that.

 

Acute versus Chronic

An occasional situation where someone says something but the intended receiver doesn’t properly hear them would fall into a category I’ll call “acute”, or “incidental”.

This could be looked at as the simplest version of my favourite quote about communication, courtesy of George Bernard Shaw:

               “The biggest problem with communication 

                   is the illusion that it has taken place”

Once the situation is recognized it can be corrected, hopefully before too much damage has been done, and maybe the people involved will even learn something about how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

The Same Old, Same Old

When these things happen all the time, the situation would be better described as “chronic” or “habitual”

Now you’re getting really frustrated because the person seemingly just won’t listen.

This can be tough in a family business, especially when the one who won’t listen is the parent, and their offspring (i.e. former “children”, now adults) still think that they can get the parent to listen.

If it hasn’t worked for the past 10 years, why would it work now?

 

Recognizing Your Limits

It’s usually better to recognize the limits of your persuasion with such people and find ways to get things done without expecting them to suddenly listen.

In fact, there are situations that could be worse, and we’re now going to close the loop from the start of this post.

This might happen more between siblings than between different generations, but the “I cannot listen to you”, in it’s true sense, is probably as bad a communication issue as you can find in any family business.

At that point, it may be best to figure out how each can go their separate ways. See:  FamBiz Conflict:  In PIECES for the Sake of PEACE?

Even big fans of family business need to recognize that nothing lasts forever.

Family sitting together and planning

Plans Are Useless; Planning Is Indispensable

Every now and then, I hear an expression that hits me between the eyes, and I know I’ve got to think more about it, and eventually write about it here. Such was the case recently during one of the weekly Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI) webinars I like to attend.

And once again, the quote that became a take-away had little to do with the main subject at hand.

I decided to make the quote the title of this blog post. It comes from Dwight Eisenhower, whose term as US President ended before I was born, but based solely on that quote, I like Ike!

 

So Many Contrasts, So Little Time

When I think about the differences between the plans we make and the process of making those plans, especially when considering my favourite subjects (business families), so many possibilities come up.

I’ll probably have to cut this short before I cover them all, so let’s get right into it.

Regular readers may notice that this post will have me repeating things that I’ve said many times before in this space, and that’s usually a good thing.

Someone recently complimented me on the fact that things I told him verbally and facts in my book were consistent.  I’m still shaking my head as to why he seemed to think that was special.

 

The “Journey” Versus the “Destination”

One way to think about the planning process being more important than the end result is the old “the journey is more important than the destination” idea.

As I wrote in There Is No Destination last year, when you get right down to it, we only live in the present, so it literally is all journey.

In fact, too many people have it wrong and focus so much on completing the plan, thinking that having a completed plan will actually provide some magic power.

The value in taking the time to work with others to make plans, and the shared experience that creates, should not be underestimated.

 

Process versus Content

This segues nicely into the next way I want to look at the planning versus plans question.  The whole idea fits so perfectly with the “process versus content” contrast.

The “plan” is the finished product, the content, or the “deliverable”. 

It makes me think of what a consultant would produce, and that then conjures up the image of a report that then sits on a shelf, gathering dust, i.e. useless.

Compare that with what a process consultant, like a facilitator or coach would be involved in.  It’s the entire process of working with a group of people, who together co-create that plan.

More often than not, the activity of working together as a team becomes a more important result than the plan itself.

 

Outdated Before It’s Even Finished

Yet another way to think about the reason plans themselves are overrated is that they are often outdated before the final version is even completed.

When the focus is on completing a beautiful plan, there comes a time when the planning itself needs to end, so that the final report can be crafted.

But once the planning stops so that the report can be written, life goes on, and the final version of the report may already be out of date.

Maybe it would have been better to just continue the planning, to stay on top of the changes going on?

 

Active versus Passive

Next, the activity of planning is by its nature, “active”.  It’s something that people “do”. A plan is something stagnant and inanimate, it’s something that’s been “done”, and it’s now passive.

I like the way that “activity” meshes so well with “journey” and “process”, and the whole “co-creation experience”.

 

The WHO

The unspoken element that I’ve had in mind now needs to be spoken.  A plan may well have been written by one person, perhaps a family leader or a hired consultant.

My bias, as I think I made clear in Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s is that very little good can come out of one person’s ideas and work, if the work is supposed to be for the benefit of a group of people.

The people for whom the planning is being done, MUST be involved in it if it’s expected to work

So please keep on planning as a team, and forget about the final plan.

When You’re Too Close to Help

It’s normal for people to want to help others with whom they’re close, like friends and family members.  

But sometimes, in some areas, it’s actually possible to be “too close”, where that closeness actually makes things more difficult.

That’s what we’ll be looking at here today, and as usual, we’ll be delving into the world of family business.

Whenever family members need to manage things (a business, property, wealth, etc.) together, things can get tricky.

 

Sometimes They Ask Us for Help

A few weeks back, I was on a Zoom call with a colleague I had met at a certain conference over the past couple of years.  “Phil” was telling me about a friend of his who was having some issues involving some family members with whom he co-owned a business.

Because Phil was a friend, and had also met the other family members on occasion, he felt like he would be able to help them resolve the issues they were having.  In fact, the friend even asked Phil for advice and counsel. So far, so good.

Except that’s about as far as it can go, realistically. 

Even though Phil might like to help his friend, Phil is actually “too close” to do much more than lend a sympathetic ear to support his friend.  For him to get more involved, say as a mediator of sorts, crosses into uncomfortable territory pretty quickly.

 

Sometimes We Just Want to Help

About a week later, I had a similar discussion with “Molly”, another colleague that I got to know at those same conferences.

Molly was asking me about being a resource to a friend of hers, who was in fact initially a professional acquaintance, but who had become a friend over time.  Let’s call him her “lawyer-friend”.

This lawyer-friend had been telling Molly about a situation that he was involved in with some of his family members, and because Molly is quite familiar with the types of issues families often face, she wanted to offer him some help.

Except that it quickly got to the point where Molly reached the edge of where she was comfortable.  Besides being a good friend and empathetic listener, there wasn’t a lot more that she could do.

While the lawyer-friend might indeed need an outsider to come and help him work things out with his family members, the best person for that role really couldn’t be Molly.

 

And Sometimes We’re Just Always Right There!

I’ve got a childhood friend I’ll call Geoff, who reads my blogs weekly.  He’s not part of a business family, but he’s a smart guy and, like me, he “married well”, in that his wife’s family has a certain level of wealth, along with some family complexities that make things interesting.

Geoff is “right there”, with a front row seat to watch a lot of interesting things that take place in his wife’s family.  But he’s really not well placed to effectuate any meaningful change in the family situation, other than by being a “good husband”.

Like I said, Geoff is a smart man, he knows better than to tread into that territory in his wife’s family.  I commend him for his restraint; I know how hard it can be at times.

 

Being a “Resource” Instead of the “Helper”

There are a number of things these people can do for their friends and family members, and the first one is to try to stop thinking about ways to “help” them.

Helping has a “one-up, one-down” connotation to it, like “poor you, down there, allow me, up here, to help you up”.  It can feel very condescending and isn’t actually that helpful, in most cases.

Instead, if they can have a mindset of being a resource to that person, that’s more of an even playing field.

 

Listening, without Judgement, without “Solving”

A good resource is always also a great listener, and as such, they know how to listen without judgement. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but you can learn to do it, with training and practice.

Supporting someone without jumping in to solve their problems for them is also worthwhile.  Again, it takes practice to get good at that.

A great resource will also be able to connect them with neutral, qualified professionals, like coaches, facilitators and mediators when necessary.

Knowing your limits is key, and sometimes being too close gets in the way.

Asking for Permission in a Family Business

Asking for Permission in a Family Business

The success of any multi-generational family business can usually be directly correlated to the quality of the relationships that exist between members of the different generations involved in the business at any given time.

As those relationships cascade down from the founding generation to G2, and then from G2 to G3 and so on over the decades, society continues to progress, with different norms evolving over time in the “background”.

With that contextual preamble out of the way, I want to discuss the ways that society’s evolution has affected the ways that family members relate to each other now, compared to the norms that existed in the not too distant past.

 

John A. Davis as Inspiration – Again

The idea for this blog comes from a series of posts I came across recently on LinkedIn, from none other than Professor John A. Davis, now of MIT.

For anyone new to the field of FamBiz, allow me to introduce you to one of our leading thinkers, going back to his co-creation of the Three Circle Model over 40 years ago.

His recent series, entitled Leading the Family Business System: It Takes a Village  may turn out to be another classic, and I suggest that serious students and practitioners in the field check out all four parts of the series.

This blog will look at a single quote from within the series that caught my eye, for reasons we’re about to get to.

 

“Based on a True Story”

Davis quotes a “G4” leader of a well-known FamBiz:

               “I used to ask my father’s permission to ask him a question. 

                 Now I ask my children’s permission to give them advice.”   


One of the first things that hit me upon reading those lines was, “Hmmm, that sounds like me!”

So what’s behind this, is it societal enlightenment, parents deferring too much to their children, “progress” as a family gets accustomed to wealth, or just a coincidence?  

Or some combination of all of the above?

I can’t say for sure, so I’ll leave it to readers to consider their personal versions of this, and I’ll move to a related discussion.

 

The Advantages of Courtesy and Politeness

 

I like courtesy and being polite as much as the next guy, and as a Canadian I feel like it’s part of my DNA.

I also know for sure that when you want something from someone, your success rate in getting it is typically much higher when you ask for it compared to when you simply tell people to do something.

Has it always been this way, I can’t say for sure, and it surely varies from culture to culture, especially when discussing situations between parents and their children.

In general, though, I’d say that the quote from the Davis piece above is not that surprising to me given where we are now as a culture.

 

What About the Downside?

 

With any progress in society there are often some unintended consequences that come along for the ride.

One family I work with is in the midst of discovering some of these elements as I write this.

Let’s just say that when the parents are extra careful not to put any pressure on their children to join the family enterprise or to stake their claim to important leadership roles within the business, they can sometimes end up lamenting that those same kids don’t seem interested.

The unintended consequence can also include the offspring not realizing how much the parents would actually love to have more family members involved at key levels of the company to ensure its continuity into the future.

 

There’s More Than One “Ask”

As I’ve been writing this piece, my thinking has actually evolved and clarified itself.  Frankly, that’s one of the reasons that I write my blog each week, because it forces me to think.  Everyone who then reads this and shares it is just a bonus, but I digress.

So yes, asking for permission is nice, it works both ways (with parents and children, in either direction) and it sure beats simply telling.

But equally important is to also ask for what you want to see happen.

If it is done as a request, as opposed to an order, at least the person or people will understand what it is you would like.

When that leads to a discussion of what each party wants, the clarity that brings will benefit everyone.

 

https://cfeg.com/insights_research/leading-the-family-business-system-part-1/

 

3 beakers of blue liquid on a white table

Re-Calibrating (with) your Business Family

Family Business: Re-Calibrating (with) your Business Family

This week I’ve got lots of ground to cover, so I’ll just jump right in. I typically talk about my inspiration for each post, but I’m not sure I recall what prompted me to put this one on the calendar. 

What I do know is that it’s important for families who are managing things together.

Such families would do well to implement some sort of family governance, i.e. structures and procedures to make sure they stay on track with all of their decision making.

When families institute governance, there are a number of “speedbumps” that typically and predictably come up, as the family tries to find ways to “get on”, and “stay on”, the same page together.  

 

We’re All Good, For Now

Progress can come in fits and starts when creating family governance, and regular readers know that my favourite way to describe the process is with the word “evolution”.  

It starts somewhere, and then slowly but surely grows and morphs with the family, as they get used to things. (See The Evolution of Family Governance)

But of course while the “family” is evolving, the various members of the family will also each be evolving at their own pace.

The title of this post noted “re-calibrating”, which of course pre-supposes that things were ever initially “calibrated” in the first place. 

So one of the potential problem areas in the evolution of family governance is timing and pace.

A family can come to agreement on processes, and be “all good”, but that won’t last forever.

 

Questions that Start with “Why, What, and Who”

So we know that timing, or “When” questions, can be a huge factor with families, but there are obviously many others, including questions that start with “Why”, “What”, and “Who”.

Hey, nobody ever said this family governance thing was going to be easy, just that it’s really important. (Okay, not many people say that either, but I know I do!)

The “Why” questions typically need to be answered pretty early on, in order to get the family on the path to actually creating some governance to start with, so let’s assume that’s been done.

The “What” and “Who” questions might have answers like “let’s have quarterly family meetings, with these people in attendance, to talk about how the business affects the family, and vice versa”.

That would be a pretty good starting point, and could constitute the original “calibration” for the family.

 

Revisiting the Why, Re-Calibrating the When

After a few such meetings, some family members may be gung-ho and ready to move into fifth gear, while others may still be questioning why they’re having these meetings.

This uncertainty should be considered normal early on.  

Even a few years in, things may be getting murky, and the family may begin to suffer from “governance fatigue”.  Yes, it happens, probably to every family that travels this road, at one time or another.

That’s usually a good place to think about re-calibrating.  Getting family members to re-engage could mean either slowing down or speeding up, always with the goal of working at the same pace again.

 

What About the “With” Part?

This brings me to another key point, one that I’ve made before and will surely make again.

I don’t often have a word in parentheses in the middle of a blog title, but this week I do.  It is not an accident.

Here is how I am using my “editorial licence”: you should be able to read the phrase with or without that word in brackets.

That is, you can re-calibrate your family, or you can re-calibrate with your family.

I think you can guess which version I advocate most families choose.

 

FOR the Family, BY the Family

One of my “go to” expressions is that family governance should always be “FOR the family, BY the family”.

That means that whatever the family decides, they are better off deciding together, as a group.

The family is on a long journey together, and their fates rest in their collective hands. That being the case, they had better take the time and make the effort to slow down and take stock every once in a while.

The family system is constantly affected by changes in the lives of all of its members, so periodically taking the time to re-calibrate together is always worth it.

Same map? Same destination? Same schedule? YES?

Okay, let’s keep going!