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!

Shopping bag handle

When “Buying In” is > Being “Sold”

 

This week we’ve got another one of my this” VERSUS “that posts, but I’m trying out the “>” (greater than) sign instead of the “Vs”.

I find contrasting two opposing ideas or viewpoints perfectly conducive to this blog format, so I continually return to it.  

There’s a certain satisfaction in starting with one aspect of something and then immediately looking at the other side for confirmation of what you’ve learned, by seeing an opposing view.

I’ll also share the catalyst for the idea for this blog, because that context is often germane to the discussion. 

And it’s no surprise that once again, a social media post from a colleague is at the origin of this week’s piece.

sold sign

Great Insights from LinkedIn Connections

Back in June, on LinkedIn, friend and colleague Russell Haworth, of Family Business Podcast fame, had uploaded one of his informative videos.  I watched it and made a comment, then another colleague replied to my comment, and voilà, here we are with a blog post.

Haworth’s video presented a modified version of the Three Circle Model, directed specifically at advisors to family businesses, and he noted that some of the family’s advisors from the more technical side of planning could actually also be good at understanding and working with family members on the emotional side of things too.

I added that in cases where those advisors had been involved in crafting the plans with the parents’ generation only, even if they were comfortable with the family side, they might still be conflicted, because they could be in a position of “selling” their plans, as a sort of “fait accompli” to the rising generation.  

When you’ve had a huge hand in putting the plan together as an advisor, it can be difficult to then be open to the criticisms that may arise when the plan is then shared with those for whom it was prepared.

A reply form another colleague followed up my idea of getting the offspring involved before the plans were finalized, stating that when the rising generation are involved in the planning, they’ll actually “buy in” to the plans, while in the alternative scenario, they’re “being sold”. 

BANG! There It Is!

Rarely has a blog idea come to me so clearly. (Thanks, Daniel).

As someone who’s skin begins to crawl at the first hint of feeling like I am “being sold”, this resonated with me immediately.

It also had me flash back to this blog from a few years back where the idea was also laid out for readers. That post included this quote: 

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

And so here we are again, with a familiar subject on the table, the one where a certain group of people are organizing and leading a process where they’re making plans that ultimately affect a group of people that does not include them, but they choose to do this without involving the people who will be most directly affected.

 

Umm, OK, Thanks (?)

As parents of young children, it’s all well and good to meet with your lawyer to draft a will to figure out and decide what will happen in case you die an untimely death, without involving those young children.

But, when those “children” become adults, and therefore now become better described as “former children”, or better yet, “offspring”, then making plans FOR them, without consulting them, becomes a recipe for problems.

Oh, and stating that you’re doing this because that’s the way your parents handled things won’t necessarily fly either (not with me, and not with your offspring either).

Your parents likely had you sitting in the back seat of their car without a seatbelt too.

If there’s any chance that the reaction from the beneficiaries of your planning might be “Umm, OK, Thanks (?)”, then you probably didn’t make enough of an effort to involve them in the process.

 

Being Involved = Buying In

Everyone can understand that people who are involved in the creation of a plan will be more likely to “buy in” to the result than those who simply have things handed down to them from above.

This is not rocket science. 

Yes, it’s more complicated and will take longer.  But it is well worth the extra effort. If they feel like they’re “being sold”, good luck.

 

A situation may look difficult and drastic from the inside, but a neutral third party can be just what you need to work you all through to the dénouement you all need.

Untying Knotty Business Family Problems

There are lots of good metaphors that one can use to talk about things that happen in business families, and when I hear a new one it’ll usually make its way into one of these blog posts.

I often talk about the eclectic inspirations for my posts, and this one actually came during a meditation recording that I was listening to one morning recently.

The meditation leader was working listeners through a visualization, and began talking about untying a knot.  He then went on to the idea of starting on the outside, and working your way into the middle.

Hmmm, I thought, this could be a nice metaphor for a blog post, I hope I remember to note this idea when the recording is over.  (I did).

Another Bilingual Twist

Regular readers will also know that whenever I come across an interesting translation item, I love to flag it here as well, and if you like it when I do that, you’re in luck.

There’s a word that’s sometimes used in English, “dénouement”, which means “the final part of a play, or movie, in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.

People who know some French may recognize the root word in the center of “dénouement”, i.e. “noeud” (trust me on this one), which is the literal translation of “knot”, so it’s actually about untying a knot.  

Well I thought it was pretty cool…

 

Family Business Issues

The way I think about all this with business families, is mostly about how an outsider often enters into a system with many players, and immediately gets confronted with a confusing mess.

As I like to say when explaining the basics of family systems theory to people, yes, you need to look at all the components of the system, i.e. the various people, BUT, more importantly, you need to look at the relationships between the people, because that’s where all the action is.

I sometimes refer to this as each person being a “point” (of a triangle, for example) and the relationships being the lines that join the points into a shape (i.e. the triangle).

If we now turn these lines into pieces of rope, string, or wire, we get our proverbial knot.

 

Going from the Outside, In

So now let’s go back to the meditation idea that talked about starting on the outside and working our way in.  It seems only logical to proceed this way, right?

Well, as an outsider, yes, it is obvious.

If, however, you’re one of the people involved, and you are dealing with your sibling, parent, child, or cousin, how obvious is it?  And what if you add an “s” to each of those (siblings, parents, etc.) and what about changing the “or” in that question to an “and”?

Those are rhetorical questions of course, but my point is that when you are in the middle of a big mess, or knot, if you prefer, the idea of looking at it from an outsider’s perspective is rarely top of mind.

 

Neutral Third Party

When the members of a family business are stuck in a “knot”, I think it makes plenty of sense for them to reach out to someone on the outside, someone who is neutral, who won’t take sides.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of where a family might find such a resource, let’s think about what this person could bring to the situation.

The family members who are involved will surely have challenges with viewing things with the objectivity required to find a resolution, and so objectivity is clearly one of the greatest benefits an outsider can bring.

 

Calming Presence

But in addition to an objective, unemotional perspective, what this person can also offer is a calming presence, which should allow all participants some time to breathe and think more clearly.

The outside is definitely the best place to begin to untie any knot, and if you can find someone who is already on the outside, then you can be well on your way to starting to make some progress.

A situation may look difficult and drastic from the inside, but a neutral third party can be just what you need to work you all through to the dénouement you all need.

 

People playing with a puzzle

On Family Alignment and Family Alliances

I’ve written about Family Alignment a few times in this space, notably here: (blog) 5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment and on my website, here (whitepaper) Family Alignment:What IT Is, Why You Need It, How To Build ItAnd I even recorded a video (or Vlog) about it.

Lately, though, there’s a related word that’s been popping up in my life, so I want to talk about how the two words and concepts fit together, or not!

That word, as you can guess from the headline, is “alliance”

 

Designing the Alliance

Some readers know that I’m well into the 6+ month journey of my professional coaching certification process.  This has helped me up my “one-on-one game” when working with client families, and, consequently, the individuals who make up those families.

An important concept in the coach-client relationship is always the “designed alliance” that they co-create, which then defines the relationship they have and how they’ll work together.

It’s not unlike the “ground rules” that a family or any group working together might design to govern their meetings and their working relationship.

 

Dispensing with the Dreaded “Survivor” Analogy

Of course there are other places where the word “alliance” comes up with a different meaning altogether, as reality TV fans will recognize.  I’m a huge fan of Survivor, where being in the right “alliance” is often the difference between winning and losing.

On that show, each week someone is voted off and sent home, while those who remain continue to fight each other for the million-dollar prize that gets awarded to the lone survivor at the end of each season.

Can we all please agree that family business in its best form bears little resemblance to this format?

 

Alignment of Values, Vision and Goals

Families in business together can always benefit from taking the time to define their common values, and to make sure that many of their individual values are aligned for the good of the family enterprise.  

Likewise, a family vision, and the goals the family sets for itself, are typically easier to reach when all of the family members are united and aligned behind a common vision and common goals.

So alignment, in general, is good, and should be worked on.  How about alliances?

 

Where Alliances CAN Work in FamBiz

Alliances in business families can be a bit trickier, especially when certain sub-groups of people, possibly from various branches of the family, begin to work at cross purposes to others.  This is when things can begin to go off the rails.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any ways where certain types of alliances can be beneficial.  Here are a couple…

 

Sibling Groups

When I work with rising generation sibling groups, I might not necessarily use the word “alliance” with them, but it’s usually pretty clear that what I’m encouraging them to do is to act as much like an “alliance” as possible.

Such sibling groups are usually much more likely to get the cooperation with their parents than any single son or daughter would be on their own.

Realistically, sibling relationships will usually be the longest lasting relationships that most people will have in their lifetimes, longer than the relationships we each have with our parents, or with our children.

It stands to reason then, that care should be taken and time should be spent on making sure that these relationships are as strong and healthy as possible. When a group of siblings can begin to think of themselves as an alliance, I think that’s a good thing.

 

Teamwork in Each Circle

When people work together in any of the three circles (family, business, ownership) it can be useful for them to think of themselves as an alliance as well.

If a niece and her aunt are the ones who take care of things for the family council, it can make sense for them to design their work in an allied way.

Likewise, if there is an ownership group that meets periodically, those who lead that set of activities can find strength in allying their activities as well.

 

Design an Re-Design as Needed

And of course let’s not forget the importance of designing and then re-designing all of these alliances as needed, on an ongoing basis.

The time taken to reassess how groups of people work together is always worth it, and the need for these systems to evolve over time as things and people change cannot be overstated.

Get aligned, AND create the alliances you need.