Questions Don’t Always Require Answers | Family Business Guidance

Questions Don’t Always Require Answers

I sometimes use this blog to talk about abstract ideas that seem only tangentially related to the fields of family business and family legacy.  This will likely be one of those posts.

The genesis of the idea for this piece came back in October in London, at the FFI conference, when I was speaking with a friend and co-presenter about the role she plays on a family business’ board of directors.

During that conversation she related some feedback she got from the family patriarch, who told her that he liked the fact that she “asks great questions”, and, here is the good part, she “often doesn’t even care what the answers are”.

Of course I quickly thanked her for a great blog idea!

Reasons for Asking Questions

This of course got me to thinking about why people ask questions in the first place.

There are plenty of different reasons that people ask questions, depending on lots of different elements, and the context in which said questions are being asked.

But simple logic would seem to dictate that when someone asks a question, they are interested in the answer!

Indifference Versus “Not Caring”

This brings us to an important nuance in what I’ve written above.  First of all, I’m not sure that my quote from the patriarch is verbatim.Questions Don’t Always Require Answers | Family Business Guidance

But more importantly, I want to make it clear that neither he, nor she, nor I, believe that she truly doesn’t “care” what the answers are.  It’s more about the fact that she is indifferent to the answer.

And that of course makes me think about how often people ask questions where they have a predetermined expected answer that you will either get “right” or “wrong”.

Coaching Questions

When you ask someone a question, there are literally an unlimited number of ways you can phrase it.  And we won’t even get into the tone of voice and other non-verbal aspects, because that could be a whole other blog, or even a book.

Those who have taken coaching courses have learned that there are certain types of questions that typically yield better results, and I’m pretty sure that these are the kinds that my colleague uses in her role on the board of that family business.

Most people have heard about the idea of avoiding questions that can be answered with Yes or No, i.e. open ended questions.  That’s a great start, and it also requires that you then listen to the answer, which will then be longer than a single word.

Don’t Ask Why

Another “rule” that I try to hold myself to is not to ask questions that start with “Why”.

Even though it’s not always the case, very often the person hearing a question that starts with “Why” will feel put on the defensive, and feel the need to “explain themselves”.

When people answer questions from a defensive stance, it doesn’t necessarily add to a productive discussion.

If you truly want to understand what someone was thinking, because you are curious, and not simply judging them, there are better ways to ask these types of questions.

What and How

Simply abolishing the word “why” and replacing it with a much softer “what” or “how” can make a surpringly big difference.

“How did you come to the decision to do that?” or “What was going on at the time that lead to that decision” are not that much different in terms of the insights that the asker of the question wants to know.

But these last two questions will likely land much more softly, and in turn yield a more useful answer, that can then send the conversation into a more positive direction.

Past Versus Future

A board of directors will normally spend much of their time looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past, and this is where some really interesting opportunities for questions can arise.

Some of the best will start with “What if…” and they bring up many possibilities that make people think about what could be.

Whatever the circumstance or context, the best questions are usually driven by real curiosity, and not with any judgement.

This is sometimes easier said than done, but like most things, practice makes you better at it.

The curious attitude of the questioner usually comes through loud and clear.

Family Business Meeting Advice

Calm, Clear, and Connected

Each week in this space, I talk about things that affect the world of family business and family wealth, especially for families who are planning for a successful transition to the next generation.

This week’s subject is family meetings and three ways to assess them after the fact.

My premise is that you should strive for “calm, clear, and connected” meetings.

Let’s take them one at a time.

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On

I’ve written a couple of blogs on the subject of calm, including Calm is Contagious earlier this year, and Calm-fident Advice for your Family in 2016.

When a family can meet calmly and discuss important matters while everyone remains composed, the results are usually much more satisfying than when voices are raised in anger.

It is normal for some contentious subjects to arise, on occasion, where things get a bit louder and more animated.

When the loud and angry meetings outnumber the calm ones, it’s usually not a good sign.

Ideally, there can at least be some calm parts of each meeting where the family can truly benefit from everyone’s best thinking and ideas.

 

birds flying in a V-shaped form

My Kingdom for Some Clarity

Another subject that I talk about regularly is clarity and the need for things to be clear.

Most people think that they have a clear picture of things in their own head, and that’s probably a good thing.

When we talk about a family though, it’s also important for everyone to have the same clear picture, and that’s very rarely the case.

There are many valid reasons why different people have different pictures of what they believe to be the reality.

Problems will arise when people who are working together to make decisions about important matters don’t have a common understanding of what they’re dealing with.

And a huge underlying issue here is that people often simply assume that their view is not only correct, but also that the others share their view.

One of the benefits of having an outside person present at family meetings is that this person can ask the “stupid questions” that the others would likely be afraid to ask, because they don’t want to risk appearing ignorant.

Of course, this presupposes that you can find an outsider who is prepared to act this way in the interest of clarity for the family.

I laid out some of the questions that you might ask in I Can See Clearly Now in 2016.

 

 

Connected: The State of the Relationships

The third element that I think is important for family meetings is connection.  I realize that this one may seem a bit less obvious to some, but please stay with me here.

Families work best when everyone is on the same page and everyone has an opportunity to be heard.

When I facilitate family meetings a big part of my role is to ensure that each person has the opportunity to speak and contribute.

You may wonder about my choice of the word “connected” here, and I guess I must confess that part of the reason I chose it is that “calm, clear and connected” evokes the old “cool, calm and collected” expression most of you are probably familiar with.

But the connection angle also stems from my understanding of the importance of family systems theory.

 

Family meeting

Interdependent Parts of a System

The members of a family are all interdependent parts of the family system.  I actually try to focus more on the relationships between the people than I do on the people themselves.

I try to notice all the non-verbal cues that I can when sister speaks to brother and son speaks to mother, and so on.

When everyone relates well with everyone else, meetings are more productive and the decisions that are made are more likely to stick.

 

 

Recap: Calm, Clear and Connected

No meeting is ever perfect. In fact, the focus shouldn’t be on any single meeting, but on having a series of regular meetings.

Try to get better from one meeting to the next, as the process evolves.

More calm is generally better than less calm.

More clarity, even if it takes a bit longer to make sure everyone understands things the same way, is better than less.

And when everyone actually connects with everyone else in meaningful ways, that’s ideal.

Think back to your last family meeting.  How did you do? Where can you improve?

2 kids drawing on a kitchen table

“Arts” and “Crafts” in Advising Families

This week I want to look at a couple of different concepts in the domain of family enterprise advising.

They are two separate ideas that happen to also be related, and I want to see what we can learn from the intersection.

 

 

Art AND Science

In 2014 in Family Business Advising: Art vs. Science I wrote:

 “What it comes down to in many ways is that it is an art to deal with the family, while dealing with the business is more of a science.

To be a good family business advisor, you need to be able to bridge both of these, art AND science.”

 

I’ve repeated this often since then, and still believe it today.

Many people who work with family businesses have a preference for the art aspect or the science side, and I think that’s only normal.

 

 

Honing your Craft

While constrasting art versus science is pretty easy for most people to grasp, the other idea may be less clear, and that’s the idea that advising families is a “craft”.

When I first heard this from a respected thought leader in our field, I tilted my head to the side to consider it, and then began nodding in agreement.

 

Arts and Crafts

Arts AND Crafts?

So the intersection of “art” from the world of “arts and science” and the concept of a “craft” that one hones over a career, has been simmering in the back of my mind for a while now.

Ergo this blog post on “Arts and Crafts”, which is a pretty common term, but from a completely unrelated area.

Could it be that working with families on transitioning their wealth to the next generation is akin to “arts and crafts”?

 

 

“OK Google, What’s a craft?”

According to Google, a craft is:

noun, “an activity involving skill in making things by hand”.

While I like the first part about the need for skill, the second part, about making things by hand, may not fit with where I thought this was going.

How about “craft”, the verb?

There, we get “(to) exercise skill in making (something)”.

Again, there’s an emphasis on what the craftsperson is making, which brings up a whole other set of issues when the subject is family enterprise advising.

What are we trying to “make”, a harmonious family?  (That may be a future blog post.)

 

 

How About an Artisan?

What if we switch languages?

A “craftsman” in French is an “artisan”, which also happens to be a word used in English.  Maybe we’re on to something.

An “artisan” is a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. Hmmm, feels like we’re back at the same place, until we see the next line:

Artisan (of food or drink): made in a traditional, or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.

I think I finally found what I was looking for!

The “non-mechanized way” that an artisan does something is essential to it being a craft.  Let’s run with that.

 

Arts and Crafts

The Non-Mechanized Art

The art of working in the family circle has always felt to me like there was some sort of “flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” quality to it.

I always liked that aspect of it, being confident in my ability to respond to whatever presents itself in a meeting with a group of family members in a way that promotes calm, clarity and connection.

The “non-mechanized” aspect of a craft just adds to that understanding.

There is no checklist or flowchart that tells me what to do next.

 

 

Arts and Crafts = No Accident

Bottom line, I guess I had never thought of arts and crafts as being a part of what I do.

Then again, I have been fascinated by another French/English term that I have heard used in recent years; Bricolage.

My primary schooling was in French, and on Friday afternoons we did plenty of “bricolage”, while friends of mine going to English schools were doing “arts and crafts”.

So, from oxforddictionnaries.com,

          Bricolage: noun, construction or creation from a

                                diverse range of available things.

 

 

Developing Family Governance

When I think about what it takes to support a family through the efforts of developing their custom-made family governance systems and structures, the term “bricolage” actually fits pretty well.

There’s lots of art, and also plenty of craft.

And if the family was involved in it, they will like the result, even if it isn’t beautiful to outsiders.

Building a Bridge vs. Buying One

Analogies have long been one of my favourite ways of trying to convey interesting ideas to audiences.

Most are quick “one-shot-deals” that come up in a conversation and never get used again.

Others have more staying power, and become part of my “go to” arsenal of tales I use to get important points across.

Today’s blog should become part of the latter group, as I will surely find opportunities to use the story behind it with plenty of families, and their advisors, going forward.

 

 

Team Building Exercise

The setting for this story is a campsite in the woods, the week before school starts up again in the fall.

The main characters are 10 High School Seniors, along with a few adult chaperones from their school.

The students had been chosen by their classmates, and approved by school staff, before summer break, to act as prefects for the coming school year.

The trip itself was designed as a team-building exercise above all, and included a major project: building a bridge together.

 

 

Inside Info and Unplanned Events

I was not part of this trip, but I did have someone close to me who provided me with inside information about it, after the fact.

As a parent, I had known about the trip in advance, but the details of the project only came up afterwards, thanks to a number of bee stings that my daughter and a few others had the misfortune to experience.

If you have teenage kids and you’ve ever tried to get information about an incident they were involved in, you know how these discussions go.

“You got stung?  Four times?

How did that happen, what were you doing?

A bridge? In the woods?

Why the heck were you building a bridge in the woods?”

Train crossing a bridge with a steam coming out of it

 

Photographic Evidence on Social Media

A few days later, the school tweeted out a photo of the students and their handiwork.

I’ve gotta say, the picture I had in my head before I saw the tweet was of a more “substantial” bridge.

But it was technically a bridge, so I can only assume that it met whatever expectations had been set.

More importantly, by all accounts the experience they went through together, including the unplanned parts, did have the desired effect.

They’ve been working together and leading all sorts of school activities since then, and while everything doesn’t always go perfectly according to plan, that trip, and the bridge project, did serve a very useful prupose.

 

 

The Magic of Co-Creation

The end result was not so much a bridge in the woods, but a cohesive group of people who knew how to work together.

If they had really needed a bridge, the school could certainly have found other ways of getting one built.

But the overall goal was to have the teens work together on making decisions, communicating, and solving problems together.

The entire exercise was one of co-creation and teamwork.

 

 

Similarities to Governance

If you’re a regular reader, (thanks!) then you may recognize the three elements that I just outlined above:

  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Problem-solving

They are of course the main elements that we include when we define governance.

Family governance is something that can and should evolve from within the family group, and it is best done with as many of the key family members as possible.

Please see: The Evolution of Family Governance for more.  (That blog also includes links to previous posts on the topic.)

Girl with a backpack crossing a bridge

 

Can’t We Just Buy the Bridge?

If your family has recently decided that governance is an important part of your intergenerational wealth transitions, I urge you to heed the lesson here.

Yes, you probably could “buy” some elements of a governance plan from some professional advisors and consultants.

There are those out there who are willing to sell you a “family constitution” or a “family charter”.

Be forewarned that you may be buying a “bridge to nowhere”.

 

 

It’s All About the Experience

Like our teens in the woods, it was never about the bridge.

Families often need the experience of building

something together more than they need a bridge.

Once again, I’m arguing that process is more important than content.

The key family members who will have to live with the agreements they make over the next few decades need to be key actors in their design and construction.

Even if they do get stung a few times along the way.

money disintegrating

Stopping the Disintegration of Family Wealth

I’m writing this blog on US Thanksgiving weekend, and it strikes me that one of the things I’m most thankful for is this weekly project of mine, which has forced me to keep my antennae up, so that I can share fresh thoughts every seven days.

I began this habit in 2012 and while many of the early posts have been dropped as my website moved from one place to the next, this process has been nothing but beneficial for me.

I can selfishly say that even if nobody ever read a single one of these posts, I know that simply writing them has been a useful exercise for me, because it has been essential to the way I integrate everything that I’m learning, reading, and thinking about.

It’s also nice to be my own editor and publisher, giving me free reign over all subjects and how I present them.

 

 

Just One Word as Inspiration

As I’ve done at times in the past, today I’m writing a post that was inspired by one word.

Well, actually, it’s a pair of related words, and it’s the juxtaposition of the two words that created the A-Ha moment that became the spark for this blog.

Those words are:

Disintegrate and Integrate

A few weeks ago I was on a long drive, listening to an audiobook to make sure that I stayed awake, and there it was.

I’m not even sure which book it was anymore, and I don’t know if it was the way the author wrote it or simply the way the reader pronounced the words, but I was struck.

 

 

Cartoonish Disintegration

Something about the word “disintegrate” that had never ever registered in my head was the fact that it is the opposite of the word “integrate”.

Hunh…

I had always had a mental image of disintegration that probably came from watching cartoons.  Picture someone with a ray gun, pointing it at an enemy and pulling the trigger, and they’re reduced to a pile of dust.

If you wanted to put them back together, presumably you’d need to integrate them, or maybe re-intergrate them (?)

 

Family Wealth Disintegration

I typically write about family business and family wealth, and the issues that come with transitions from one generation of a family to the next.

One of the biggest concerns of the Now Generation is always that the Next Generation will not be able to grow or maintain the wealth sufficiently, and that the wealth will eventually disintegrate.

They may not use those words, but that’s a common thread that runs through just about every family whose concern is wealth continuity.

Their top concern may lie in the lack of ability of rising generation family members, it may be that the family is growing faster than the wealth, it could be a stagnating business, entitlement or family discord.

 

 

The Opposite of Disintegration

Back in 2014 I wrote Solid Wealth vs. Liquid Wealth, where I talked about wealth that was “locked in” to an operating business and contrasted that to a post-liquidity event and the challenges around managing liquid wealth.

While I still like that analogy, I think that disintegration vs integration can give us a bit more to sink our teeth into.

So:

If we’re worried about disintegration, why don’t we 

consider ways that we can use integration to counter it?

 

A boat in the water

FOR the Family, BY the Family

A favourite saying of mine is “FOR the Family, BY the Family”.  Let me explain the context of that.

If a family is going to have any chance of having their wealth continue for generations, then they can substantially increase their odds of success by involving as many family members as possible in the plans for how that is going to happen.

In short, the family members need to be integrated into the planning.  That means having conversations with them, which includes more listening than talking.

 

 

Co-Creation Makes Better Plans

I’m not saying that this path is easier than simply dictating all the terms and conditions to them.  I’m saying it has better odds of succeeding.

You cannot expect that this process will all happen quickly or without any bumps along the way either, that’s also true.

But how important is this to your family, after all?

If you fail to integrate those for whom you are planning into the exercise of that planning, you can expect the wealth to disintegrate.

 

Don’t “Transfer” Family Wealth; “Transition” It

For years now we’ve been hearing about the huge multi-trillion dollar “wealth transfer” that’s occurring thanks to the demographics of the Western world.

As baby boomers age, there’s no escaping the new realities that this huge demographic shift is causing.  But hopefully, we can escape some of the negatives that might accompany it.

I believe that when we think about how a family’s wealth should move from one generation to the next, we shouldn’t be thinking about a transfer, we should be thinking about a transition instead.

 

 

Is It Just Semantics?

I’ll leave it to interested readers to Google these words in an attempt to parse all of their differences, and will instead concentrate on some simple and observable comparisons and contrasts.

The most fundamental aspect to consider is the time that something takes, from start to finish.

When I was a kid, one of my friends moved away because his Dad was transferred.  One day he was working in Montreal, then suddenly, he was transferred to Toronto.

He finished work on Friday in one place and started up his new job 500 kilometres away on Monday.

 

Wire The Funds

If you’ve ever wired funds somewhere you know that one day the money is in your account, and then the next it is not.

Somewhere during the day (usually at around 2 PM for some reason) the funds instantaneously go from one account to another.

They have been transferred. Boom.  Here one minute, gone the next. A single event has happened and is now complete.

When a family’s wealth, including the financial wealth and everything that comes with it, is transferred as a one-shot event, it can be a real shock to the system.

The word “shock” is rarely used as a positive in the area of family business or family wealth.

 

Arrow on wall

 

Slower, Smoother Transition

So what do I mean when I say “everything that comes with it”?

I actually wrote about a few of these details back in 2015, in Transition Planning: No Day at the Beach.

In that blog, I wrote about the transitions of management, leadership, and ownership.

Strictly speaking, a transfer typically deals with the ownership of the wealth.  When someone suddenly owns something, they are then usually expected to also manage it as well.

 

Ownership Is the Big One

One of the problems that can arise with intergenerational wealth is that the ownership sometimes goes from one individual to a group, who are often siblings.

This is where the questions surrounding management and leadership come in.

When more than one person now owns the wealth, how they will manage it, and who will take the lead are also questions that get put on the table.

If the word “governance” is suddenly coming to mind, congratulations, because that’s certainly where my mind is heading too.

 

Respect My Authority

Another related concept that doesn’t necessarily get discussed enough is that of authority.

With ownership of any asset comes certain authority, but it can depend on so many details.

And when you talk about authority, there is of course explicit authority and implicit authority, which do not always go hand in hand.  (Note to self: there’s a whole blog right there!)

Numbers and pie charts

Interdependent Wealth

The distinction between transfer and transition came up for me recently as I continue to make progress on my next book.

My working title is “Interdependent Wealth”, with a secondary title as follows:

How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions

That’s nine words in a secondary title, which feels like a lot, but I can assure you that a great deal of thought went into each and every choice that I made, right down to the final one, Transitions.

 

A Gradual Handover

It was during the choices I was making about these words that the whole transfer thing really hit me.

On a macro level, society is certainly witnessing a huge transfer of wealth.

But what’s more important to any family is what occurs on a micro level, and families should be concentrating on their wealth transition.

 

Event Versus Process

Bottom line, a transfer is more of an event, or one of many components or things that need to happen.  It is a tactic.

A transition is a process, it is the overall strategy required to make the right things happen, in the right way.

Focus on the whole transition, not just the transfer.

People standing as a group watching sunset

Improving Together in a FamBiz

Writing these blogs each week for six years, my weekly habits continue to evolve.

I still get questions from colleagues about the source of ideas to write about, and my answer remains consistent: I write one blog a week, but I usually get at least two new ideas.

Sometimes the ideas come from somewhere unexpected, and sometimes they morph from one thing to another along the way.

Such is the case this week.

Better Investors

I’m guilty of spending more time than most people on social media.

I like to know what’s going on in the world and Twitter and LinkedIn allow me to follow the people and sources that I like and trust, on a variety of subjects that interest me.

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Twitter from Carl Richards (@BehaviorGap)

“It turns out our job is
not to find
great investments,
but to help
create great investors”

A Blog Idea Is Conceived

My first “A-Ha” came right then and there.

An “Investment” is a product or a piece of content, and it is the thing that many professionals in the investing space specialize in selling.

But as Richards points out, that focus is misplaced.

An “Investor” is a person, and such persons are better served by those who will help them with the entire process of the whole scope of being investors.

 

Teach Them How to Fish

It comes down to the old Bible story about not simply giving a person a fish, but instead teaching them how to fish for themselves.

Do you want to feed them for a day, or for a lifetime?

That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, but unfortunately many of the business models still followed by many professionals, seem to prefer feeding on a day-to-day business, and being paid for it over and over as well.

Process Over Content

So the thing that grabbed me, as far as this idea being good fodder for a blog post, was the whole Process Over Content question.

It’s certainly not a new idea for me to discuss, but it was from a different angle.

The content pieces that I often deal with are things like legal or accounting structures or trust vehicles, or contracts such as shareholder or partnership agreements.

Strategy of Tactics?

The process part of putting all of these tactical pieces together into a strategy will often be given short shrift.

Too often the concept of making sure that all these pieces will fit together properly is either completely ignored or simply assumed to be sufficient.

In reality, though, this is where many plans fall apart.

 

Blogging Brings Clarity

So here is where this post took a bit of a turn.

I was set to write about the “process” part, but then realized that there was a “people” component that I simply couldn’t ignore.

My blog title was still a big question mark too, and then it came time to search for an image to accompany the post, with a surprise of its own.

A-Ha # 2 – Improving Together

I’ve been using Shutterstock for a while and am usually quite satisfied with the results I get when I search for the right image to go with each post.

This time my search actually kicked things up a notch, as it created another A-Ha moment for me.

I was looking for something using “process” and “people” and there it was…Improving Together.

Holy crap, that’s even better than anything I had come up with so far.

Families Learning Together

When Richards was talking about investors, I imagine that he was referring to singular people, or perhaps to a couple.

My work is always about families, whether I’m actually working with all family members directly, or working with one person, helping them organize and coordinate their family.

The key to finding success for most families, is for them to find reasons, ways, and opportunities to work together and learn together, so that they can eventually get really good at deciding things together.

Co-Creating the Family Strategy

The families who are most successful at transitioning their wealth to the next generation are those who have mastered the practice of involving as many family members as possible in the process.

The co-creation of the strategy is what ensures the buy in, so that the plans actually work.

The time and effort required are always worth it.

Celebrating the Global FamBiz Community

Celebrating the Global FamBiz Community

I’m writing this post from a park bench in London, the morning after the conclusion of the annual FFI Conference, (my fifth).

The Family Firm Institute has been around for a little over 30 years, and I feel privileged to be a part of its truly global community.

The word “community” created the most resonance while reflecting on an angle for this post-conference blog post.

 

Global in Scale

Here I was, a Canadian in London, checking in to the conference on Wednesday, where I meet Richard, from Australia. As we chat, Xavier from Spain arrives, so I introduce them.

How would I ever have made such a variety of connections if not for these annual trips during which I have built and nurtured this group of friendly colleagues?

From Washington in 2014, to London 2015, Miami 2016 and Chicago last year, I was back in London again.

Regular readers know that I also make an annual pilgrimage to Denver each summer for the PPI Rendez Vous, and also attend the FEX symposia closer to home.

But the global reach of FFI is unique.

 

Let Me Count the Countries

Over a dozen Canadians were there, most of whom I already knew. And because FFI was founded in the US and remains headquartered there, the American presence is quite significant. But its scope goes far beyond North America.

Just last night I was out throwing darts with a Venezuelan who now lives in Brazil, another Australian living in the UK, a couple of Norwegians and five American colleagues.

Others I met along the way hailed from South Africa, Denmark and Switzerland, plus too many European countries to count.
Word has it that 40 countries were represented in all.

Special mention goes out to Edvard, who told me that he and his colleagues have been using my Family Continuity BluePrint all over the Netherlands, after he saw me present it last year in Chicago.

 

 

So Much to Share

Along the way over the three days, so much great information was shared, and so many ideas were presented in the many breakout sessions.

It was a pleasure to join great friends and colleagues Natalie, Elle, and Mairi as we got to lead one session from the front of the room, as we celebrated the Practitioner’s Spectrum.

Our discussion was about the variety of styles we use as practitioners when working with clients, from Counselling and Coaching, to Facilitation and Mediation, to Mentoring and Consulting.

 

The Big Deal about Community

As I stated at the outset, I was thinking a lot about the aspect of community this week.

A few months ago, upon returning from Denver’s PPI conference in fact, I also wrote about that subject, in part, in Wanted: Purpose, Passion and Community.

And as I wrote there, a big part of community is that the people need to want to spend time together.

Towards the end of any of these meetings, discussion invariably moves to “so, how was this conference for you?”

My reply usually includes a favourable rating, adds a few minor complaints, and concludes with the fact that I wouldn’t want to miss it.

 

Building Something TogetherGroup of people walking with yellow background

Between FFI, PPI, and FEX, it feels like we’re on the front edge of a wave of progress and change.

The worlds of family business and family wealth are facing important challenges, as families do the work of transitioning their assets to succeeding generations.

I love coming together with others who work in these areas, to share ways that we can all do a better job. We all want to be reliable resources for these families who are trying to do things better.

It truly does feel like we are building something together, not just for our lifetimes, but for those who will succeed us.

 

 

Many Parallels

There are many parallels between us, and the business families we serve.

We come together regularly because we enjoy doing so, and we have a common cause we are working for, which will likely outlive us all.

Many of our family clients feel as if they are the only ones experiencing their family issues, which of course is false.

As practitioners, we can also feel a bit lonely at times.

Getting together with like-minded colleagues to share ideas and re-energize only makes sense for us as well.

Why not join us?

See you in Miami, October 23-25, 2019.

Dog Holding leash in-front of the door

Ready to Lead > Ready to Leave

Certain topics come up over and over again in the world of family business.

Today we’ll be looking at two of them, although when you get right down to it, maybe it’s really just one, because they’re often wound pretty tightly together.

As you may’ve already gathered from the title, I’m talking about a changing of the guard at the top.

Some Batons Are Sticky

As I wrote in my Quick Start Guide on this subject, Sticky Baton Syndrome(Ask Prince Charles) there are plenty of cases where the person at the top of a family business is just not ready to leave.

There are all sorts of excuses that are typically mentioned as to why they must remain in place.

Some of them are even true, and some of them are actually good reasons. Many, however, are just excuses, given by people who are simply scared to face certain realities.

bird leading other birds

The Father of the Three Circle Model

In September I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the annual Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX) symposium, featuring John A. Davis as one of the keynote speakers.

If you don’t know who Davis is, he’s one of the co-creators of the Three Circle Model, of which I am a big fan.

See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

He regaled the crowd with a presentation about the “Future of Leadership” and then led a discussion with Philippe DeSerres that was also very well received.

But my take-home message from his talk was something he only mentioned briefly in passing, right near the end, which was the inspiration for this post.

The Money Quote

He was talking about getting the timing right when it comes to transitioning the leadership of a family business.

He noted that more and more these days, and from his decades of experience as a leader in consulting to this field, there is one factor that trumps the other.

According to Davis, it makes more sense to make the leadership transition of a family business when the rising generation is

Ready To Lead,

than to wait until the current generation is

Ready To Leave.

Notably, he took the time to spell it out, i.e. “lead, l-e-a-d” and “leave, l-e-a-v-e”, just to be sure we all understood him.

I understood. I hope you do too. But just in case, I will continue…

A man leading other people

Too Soon or Too Late

At the outset of this blog, I noted that these two topics are often connected.

The biggest way this happens is that the current leaders will sometimes subconsciously hold back on giving the rising generation the opportunities to show what they can do.

And one of the major reasons that they do this is because of their own desire to remain important.

What Else Is There?

So many business leaders attach so much of their identity to their role as the leader of their business.

I like to think that this might just be too narrow a viewpoint.
Let me explain. The key to this lies in the Three Circle Model.

Note that the Business circle is only one of the three systems that intersect, and that the “big picture” also includes Family, and Ownership.

Step Back to See the Whole Picture

If the leader of the “business” steps back and looks at the whole picture, including the Family and Ownership systems as well as the Business system with which they are already intimately familiar, they will see many other, greater, opportunities.

If the business is a huge success, yet the family falls apart and the owners end up in a dispute that has various family members “lawyering up” against each other, then just how important will the business success have been in retrospect?

Three Circle = Three Systems = Three Leaders?

If you’re trying to create a true multi-generational family business, you cannot neglect any of the circles.

Each circle ultimately needs its own governance structure, and likely its own leader, or leaders. Someone needs to foresee all of this and line up and prepare those future leaders.

There comes a point in the life cycle of any business leader when their focus should shift from running a successful business to overseeing a complete enterprising family (i.e. all 3 circles)

So you built a great business, congratulations.

If you want it to continue to survive as a family enterprise for generations, you’ve still got more important work to do.

Stop working IN your family business,
Start working ON your business family.

Suggestion box

From Suggesting to Managing in the FamBiz

Being fluent in more than one language has many benefits, most of which are quite obvious.

Having lived in Montreal my whole life, I experience this daily. Not a day goes by where I don’t use both French and English.

Facilitation = Making Things Easier

Every language has words that come from other languages, and when you’re fluent in both, some things can seem obvious to you that others might miss.

Years ago in the Family Enterprise Advisor program that I was taking in Toronto, we were in the module on “facilitation”, and some of my unilingual colleagues were a bit unclear on the meaning of the word.

I shared my take, which is that the word “facile” in French typically translates to “easy”, so facilitation is simply “making things easier”.

Some Are Less Obvious

Examples like that one are pretty easy to spot, but others are less striking, such as the one that inspired this post.

The genesis was a documentary I watched this past summer, in French, about Felipe Alou, who hails from the Dominican Republic.

Alou had a great career in baseball, first as a player and eventually as the manager of the Montreal Expos.

Promotion to Manager

Alou started the 1992 as the “bench coach” for the Expos, essentially the “assistant” to the rookie manager, Tom Runnells.

Runnells was the boss, and Alou was there to support him.

But this manager was in over his head, and often sought input from Alou, who was older and had much more experience.

When Runnells was fired less than two months into his first season, Alou was given the top job as many fans had hoped.

Giving Suggestions

Here is where the language thing comes in. The documentary was in French, but most of the interviews were in English, so there were French subtitles.

Alou was explaining, in English, how things were at the start of the season, when he was second in command.

He mentioned that he was suggesting things to Runnells, but then suddenly he was managing the team himself.

The French verb “to suggest” is “suggérer”.

And the French verb “to manage” is “gérer”.

Wait, what?

So, is “giving suggestions” tantamount to “sub-managing”???

male and female business people talking

Sub-Titles as a Visual

If it were not for the sub-titles I was reading (for no real reason, actually, since I understood spoken English!) it would not have hit me.

But there it was for all to read, about the big step Alou had to take to go from “suggérer” to “gérer”, from suggesting to managing.

Stepping Up, One Step at a Time

Now is the time for me to bring this blog into the family business realm. I trust that some readers are already with me here.

Let me relate my recollection of some of my own story as I worked with my Dad, decades ago.

Initially, my suggestions on some subjects were welcomed. As my ideas proved to be good, they were agreed to without much debate.

From Talking to Doing

At a certain point, some of the implementations were also left to me, as I demonstrated that I could be trusted.

Sure, at the early stages, I would clear things with him first before acting, and then eventually I would act and relay the information afterwards.

Eventually, I would do what needed to be done, and sometimes not remember to even inform him.

In many ways, I took the “suggesting” to “managing” steps as Felipe Alou did, but over a longer period of time.

I was afforded this longer timeframe because my Dad and I had planned for a longer overlap.

male and female business people talking
Radical Changes: In Case of Emergency Only

The firing of a baseball team manager is not at all like a family business succession, at least in terms of the way it should be done.

Except in cases of sudden death or accident, a family business will hopefully have the timeframe required to go the slow route.

“They Aren’t Ready”

We hear a lot about the leading generation being unwilling to let go of the reins (see Sticky Baton Syndrome –ask Prince Charles)

Sometimes those who have been running things just don’t know how to get started?

Handing things off to the younger ones needn’t be done in one step.

Accepting suggestions, and even asking for them, could be a great first step. It’s never too early to begin, either!

The longer the overlap, the easier it is to make it a smooth transition.