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.

 

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.

You Want an X-Ray? I’ve Got an MRI!

You Want an X-Ray? I’ve Got an MRI!

I pride myself on finding interesting topics to write about here weekly.  While the major thrust of my message targets the world of family business and family wealth transitions, the inspiration for my blogs can come from just about anywhere.

This week’s post simply comes from my everyday real life. I always keep my antennae tuned to things that are a bit out of the ordinary or counterintuitive.

These stories can then be artfully turned into useful metaphors, or at least that’s what I’m trying to do.

A Real Pain in the _______

My knees have been an issue for almost as long as I can remember.  My Dad had both knees replaced in his 60’s, so I suppose that’s something else I inherited from him.

Of course the “misspent” years of my youth when I played baseball and was usually the catcher surely didn’t help me preserve whatever parts of my meniscus that were there to begin with.

I had arthroscopic surgery a few years ago and it helped, but relief was only temporary.  My exercise options are now limited, and lately even riding a stationary bike results in pain after only short stints.

My doctor tells me that I should lose weight and that will help, and of course he’s right.  But I can’t help think that there may be something they can easily “fix” in my joint, to minimize the pain of exercise, which should help with the weight loss.

I know, I’ll get an MRI!

What’s Covered, What’s Not

In Canada, our health care system is run and paid for by the government, and it’s generally very good.  But not everything is covered, so sometimes when you want special services, you need to pay for them out of pocket.

No big deal, I think, I can afford the MRI, because this is what I need to allow the doctors to really see what’s wrong with my knee, and then devise a treatment solution.

Where’s the X-Ray?

Imagine my surprise when the orthopedic surgeon looks at the MRI and asks me “Where’s the X-Ray?”

WTF?  Is he joking, I wonder?  I feel like I sent an email attachment and was then asked to send a fax instead.  Are we going backwards?

Evidently not.

So I ended up going back to the same place I had the MRI done again, and instead of paying $500, this time it was “free” with the simple presentation of my Medicare card.

The Family Harmony and Governance Angle

The first metaphor that comes to mind when I put on my family business consultant hat is one that I touched on a while back, in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution.

The essence of that post was that some families who are unsure of what to do, but who know that they should do something, (and they can afford to do whatever it takes) will often overdo it and decide that what they need is a full-fledged family constitution.

Some of the biggest, most successful families do it that way, so we will do it too.

It’s actually a pretty good sentiment, but it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how those successful families went about it.

Start Early, Start Small, Start Slowly

There is nothing wrong with having a family constitution. But, and it’s a big “but”, it is not the place to begin.

Families who decide that they need to institute some form of governance should instead follow the steps I outlined in a 2017 blog post, Start Cleaning Up your M.E.S.S.

The acronym “MESS” was something I came up with almost by accident.  But I think it’s a useful way to remember things about “getting started” with big changes, such as instituting governance.

The letters in MESS each follow the word “Start”, as in “start moving”, “start early”, “start small” and “start slowly”.

Start with the X-Ray, Then the MRI

In the same way I went straight to the MRI, many families think that they can take a shortcut, and get someone to help them write up a family constitution, and then all will be right with the world.

But just like the clinic that gladly took my money for an MRI I probably didn’t need, there are plenty of people out there who will take your money and write you a family constitution.

A family constitution needs to be done BY the family, FOR the family.

There are no exceptions.

The Sledgehammer Versus the Chisel

This week we’re back to an “A vs B” blog, which I love because the format fits so nicely with my way of explaining things and the nature of a weekly blog, where I share quick insights into various aspects of family wealth transitions.

There’s also a cool back story to the genesis of this idea, and, to top it all off, it involves a couple of tools that we don’t use every day.

Let’s get into the way this came up for me first, and go from there.

 

Searching for a Family Champion

About six months ago, I was looking for someone who fit the bill of a “family champion”, as I was planning, along with colleague Joshua Nacht, to lead a breakout session at this summer’s Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

I should probably direct you to a blog I wrote around that time on the subject of the Family Champion, which is a term that still is not as well known as it should be. 

See The Unsung Role of the Family Champion

It was as a result of our search for someone to join us at the conference to better explain and demonstrate this concept and role that we came upon the perfect specimen.

Because people from business families typically prefer not to be written about in random blogs, I’m going to refer to the young woman we found (and co-opted) simply as “Terry” (not her real name).

 

Champions Are Motivated

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that a family champion, like anyone who wears the title “champion”, not coincidentally, is typically a very motivated person.

When Joshua and I had our first Zoom call with Terry to start planning the details of our session, Terry impressed us both with her story about how she emerged and evolved into the champion role in her business family.

She shared some stories about how when she first began to ask questions of others in her family, and in the business, about how things were set up and how they were being run, she actually had a bit of a “sledgehammer” approach.

I love a great metaphor, so this one really resonated with me, and I made a note of it to make sure that she would mention it during the presentation. (I also made a note about it as a blog topic)

But the metaphor, as I would soon find out, was not yet complete.

 

Evolution to a Calmer Approach

As Terry continued to detail the progress she has made over the years at becoming a more effective family champion, she shared that she had to learn to soften her approach over time.

“Now, I find that the “chisel” can be much more effective than the “sledgehammer”” she said.

That combo metaphor just has to become a blog post, I thought.

Many Tools in Every Toolbox

My love of great metaphors is only enhanced when they also conjure up blog posts from the past, such as this one: The Tradesman and the Toolbox.

That blog was about how the person wielding the tool is usually a more important component in the success of the mission than the tools themselves.  And this is also the case for Terry.

It wasn’t that the chisel she was now deploying was sharper, or better constructed, it was that her approach to the task had her evolve to a place where she now recognized that using a chisel was a more appropriate tool than the sledgehammer that she had chosen at the outset of her journey.

 

One Tool Is Rarely Sufficient

This also brings up the question about the sequence and selection of tools.  Had Terry started out with just a chisel, we can be almost certain that she wouldn’t be where she is now, because at the beginning, the sledgehammer served its purpose.

Likewise, had she continued to swing the sledgehammer and never switched to a softer, more meticulous approach, I have no doubt that she would have run into different problems, and have only herself to blame.

 

Focus on the Process, Not the Content

 

She used different tools along the way, and will certainly need to deploy others going forward for optimal success.

Being proficient with the tools, and knowing when to use each, are more important than many realize.

 

Expectations vs Aspirations in the FamBiz

Expectations vs Aspirations in the FamBiz

This week we’re going back to an old standby of mine, the “this versus that” blog format, where we compare and contrast two words, kind of like many of us did in High School English class.

And naturally, we’ll look at the words in general first, and then move into how they play themselves out in the context of family business.

Of course I typically begin with a set-up around my inspiration for my posts, which I love to do to provide some background and context, which can sometimes be interesting, entertaining, and useful, and hopefully occasionally all three.

Here goes.

Meditation Phone Apps

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve become a regular meditator.  My streak on one of the meditation apps I have on my phone is over 500 straight days, which I sometimes find pretty remarkable.

I actually begin each day with at least 20 minutes on one or two apps that I use, and I feel like my day gets off to a good start.  I alluded to this back in Rocky Mountain High: Best Is Yet to Come.

I like the App called “10% Happier” for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that creator Dan Harris has aimed it directly at people like myself.  He pulls no punches and states upfront that it’s “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics”.  

Tell Me the Story So I’ll Believe 

I know that there are plenty of skeptics out there, including Harris himself.  I had first “met” him on his 10% Happier audiobook last summer. I only learned about the related app later from a colleague as we compared notes on meditation apps.

I want to side track onto Harris’ book because not only has he helped me understand meditation better, he actually inspired me in the way I approached the writing of my recent book, Interdependent Wealth: How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions.

In his book he spends a lot of time telling the story about how he learned about meditation, including all the ups and downs along the way.

I hope those who read my book will appreciate how this style of storytelling can add so much to a reader’s enjoyment of a book.

Context and Background in the App Too

Each meditation session on the app also has some background that gives context to the session. These are videos of Harris asking questions of the meditation expert.

It’s from one of those videos that this blog post’s inspiration arose. Joseph Goldstein, a meditation teacher widely featured on the app, talked about the difference between our expectations and our aspirations.

I knew immediately that there was a blog post in there!

Expectations: What We Believe Will Happen

Our expectations are essentially what we believe will happen, they’re what we “expect”.  They’re typically what we think will likely occur, say, on average; not the best result, not the worst either.

Aspirations: What We Hope Will Happen

In contrast, our aspirations are based more on our hopes, and what we would like to see happen; more of a best case scenario.

Goldstein states at one point that we “plan for the worst, and hope for the best”, so he and I may differ a bit on the expectations part (worst vs average) but that’s not the most important aspect, so we’ll leave that aside.

The Family Business Version – Whose Expectations?

In so many family businesses, including the one I grew up in, the biggest issue is often that one person often has great expectations, but not for their own self, but for their children.

There are plenty of people who are working in businesses who feel like they really never had much choice in the matter; it was simply expected of them, and so here they are.

Of course in some circumstances, the offspring joining the family business was truly not a choice, but a matter of survival.  I like to think that in the developed world, in this day and age, that doesn’t occur as often as it used to.

Human Capital – Maximizing Each Person’s Potential

Lately more families are starting to think about the term “Human Capital”, and how each person in a family can contribute what they do best, to the family’s wealth.

Usually when each person can live towards their own aspirations, they will be happier and more productive than those who are pursuing the expectations of their parents.

Is there an important conversation you need to have with a family member around this?

 

My Planning “Preposition Proposition”

My Planning “Preposition Proposition”

Choosing the best title for a blog post can be “hit and miss” at times, as I’ve learned over the past 350 weeks or so (!)

Today’s topic sounded a bit lame when I looked at my notes, so I kicked around some headline alternatives to add some punch.

On the surface, the main subject seems a bit basic, but it’s so important that I felt the need to address it again in this space. 

And I felt like I needed to try to find a way to make it stand out, hence the alliterative title I chose.

 

Lots of “Planning FOR” Going On

In the world of family wealth transition planning that I work in, much of the time and effort spent by both families and their professional advisors involves activities that would fit nicely under the heading of “Planning FOR”.

Parents go see their advisors to make plans for their eventual wealth transition to their children.  They then typically make plans FOR the wealth, FOR the children.

 

Is Planning FOR the Best Approach?

As a hint of where this is going, keep in mind my promised “preposition proposition”, and see if you can guess where I’m heading.

A few weeks back, my social media folks posted a blog on LinkedIn that I wrote in 2018, called “Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s”.

One of the unexpected benefits of having another person write the text of those content re-posts on Twitter and LinkedIn is that the word choices they make are often better than those I would have made on my own, because they see things in my writing in new ways.

That post, which included a link to that blog, was neatly set-up and prefaced with the question: 

When planning for the next generation… shouldn’t you involve the next generation?”

 

LinkedIn: Where it’s Safe to Read the Comments

That question then elicited the following question, from Ian Marsh, with whom I often exchange comments on that platform: 

 

                    Marsh: “Planning for versus planning with?”

 

I replied that his simple reframe had likely inspired a future blog post, and alas, here we are.

 

Proposing a Preferred Preposition for Planning

So while planning FOR has been most people’s default approach to this important subject, I hereby propose a new preferred preposition.

The first order of business for every family should instead be, planning WITH.

This idea also conjures up other blog memories for me, because I’ve stated this viewpoint numerous times before, notably here, in 2015,

“Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?”

 

Hurricane Survivors, Meet Family Members

That post from four years ago featured a quote from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that was painted on the outside of a damaged house that was partially under water.

It read: 

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

It seems that many government officials had been scrambling around to do things for those affected by the disaster, but had neglected to ask the survivors what they really needed, or involve them in any of the solutions.

If you still need me to draw the parallel with the way most families prepare their wealth transitions, I’ll suggest that you just try a bit harder.  It’s right there.

 

Too Much Hard Work

I’ve spoken about this subject with enough people to know that this message is typically met with great skepticism.

This is not for every family.  The vast majority of families do not have the complexity or level of wealth to warrant the work that goes into this type of “purposeful planning”.

But even for those families for whom this type of planning could be and should be done, there is still a great deal of hesitation to embrace this approach.

It is hard work.  It does take time and effort. And it takes leadership.  Most families are lacking in at least some of those.

 

What’s It Going to Take?

I know that my “preposition proposition” will feel a little too “out there” for most families, and like I said, I know this isn’t for every family.

And even if you, as a solitary person who is a member of a business family, would be interested in this, how would you ever get the other family members to “see the light”?

I wish that I had a simple, “silver bullet” answer to that, but I don’t, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

But if nobody starts talking about it with the others, you can be sure it won’t happen!

 

Conversation between family members

Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

This week’s post was inspired by a recent Zoom call that I was on with a group of like-minded colleagues.  The group consists of people trained in Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), which became an interest of mine about five years ago.

Actually, I was more than just “interested” in BFST; I recently published a book about how it illuminates the field of intergenerational wealth transitions. (See Interdependent Wealth)

In the book, I also share my journey of learning and discovery of the fascinating world of BFST.

 

“Uncomfortable Conversations”

On that call, one colleague related a story about a recent meeting that she had had at her workplace, where some “uncomfortable conversations” took place.

She shared her reaction to the conversations, and how she was able to maintain objectivity towards the subject, not allowing her emotions to derail her thinking, thanks to her understanding of, and training in, Bowen Theory.

During the ensuing discussion, someone referred to that conversation, and dubbed it a “productive conversation”.

And suddenly in my head, there it was, “A-Ha!”, there’s definitely a blog post in this idea. 

I know that lots of business families face these issues around “tough” conversations all the time.

 

Of Productivity and Discomfort

In the example from above, that conversation was deemed uncomfortable, and also productive. My understanding of the productive aspect is that it likely resulted in an ability to move forward on some important matter(s).

If I frame this question around just the area of conversations, I might ask, “Does every productive conversation have to be uncomfortable?”

Or, turning it around, “Is every uncomfortable conversation productive?”

I think everyone would agree that the answer to both questions is a resounding “No”.

 

Avoiding the Tough Conversations

So if we’ve determined that “uncomfortable” and “productive” are simply two adjectives that can be used to describe conversations, and that even though there is some overlap of these groups, it is not a perfect overlap, what is this really about?

My guess is that it’s really about the fact that even though we know a conversation could be productive, it will often be avoided if it is expected to also be uncomfortable.

I know there’s no rocket science in that last sentence.

 

Necessary Conversations

In my notes to capture this as a blog topic that morning, I included the word “necessary”, because that word also came up for me as I considered the idea.

How many “necessary conversations” are being avoided, simply because they’re expected to be uncomfortable for someone?

Probably way too many to even begin to count.

 

Preparation and Culture

I want to share a few ways that we can have more productive conversations, that won’t necessarily be “comfortable”, but will at least be less “uncomfortable”.

First off, when people are prepared for a conversation, they can be more ready to hear things that they don’t always like to hear. When you can brace yourself before you fall, you won’t get hurt as badly as when you can’t.

Another important element that you can work on, is creating the proper culture for these conversations.  If you can be in the habit of creating a safe and supportive space, that can certainly help with the comfort issue.  

The more often you get together with people, raising some difficult issues and dealing with them positively, the more this can become a habit, and eventually part of your culture.

 

Make It a Regular Forum

In fact, one of the recommendations I typically make to families who say they really want to get serious about their planning for their eventual intergenerational wealth transition, is to begin to have regular family meetings.

These meetings don’t necessarily need to be held frequently (monthly or quarterly) but there should be at least one or two a year.

The important thing is to make sure that everyone knows that there will be an opportunity to have important conversations, around matters that will affect the whole family, over the very long term.

 

Start Slow, Add “Big” Topics Later

The initial few meetings can be used to get the attitude and culture right, hopefully dealing with simpler issues at the outset.

With time, some of the more sensitive topics will typically be added to the agenda, as people will have become used to working on important aspects around how things will evolve.

Hopefully, you can be productive, without being uncomfortable.

 

Family Getting together

“We’re Here to Improve, Not to Impress”

“We’re Here to Improve, Not to Impress”

Each week in this space I write about subjects relating to families who work together for their long term benefit.

This can be in a family business, a family office, a family foundation, or any combination of these and other scenarios.

But when individual family members work together on these matters, they aren’t always coming in with the same goals or attitudes.

 

Blogging About Enterprising Families

The idea for this particular post, which I used in the title, comes from a situation that has nothing to do with families at all, but rather from a real life experience of mine that I recently noted.

Of course I needed to find a way to take that message, tell that story as background, and then relate it to the world of enterprising families.

I’m pretty sure that I found a way to do it, but I will leave it to readers to evaluate my success.  

 

Coach Training Example

Those of you who also read my monthly newsletter (and care enough to pay attention to the details of my life that I sometimes relate therein) may know that I began a coaching certification program in April, with CTI.

During our very first session with our CPL (Certification Pod Leader), he made a statement that I wrote down and vowed to keep in mind throughout the program, and beyond.

He asked all nine of us to remember that we were there “to improve, NOT to impress”.

I’m pleased to report that it has stuck with me, and I’ve repeated it to myself, and others in our group, on a few occasions.

 

What About Family Members?

So where can we use this idea when working with family members? I’m glad you asked.

I think that the best way to begin to look at this, is to actually think about the expression in reverse.  Wait, what?

Well not really in reverse, but let’s think about the “here to impress” part of it first.

I have seen my share of family businesses, and in many of them, there are certain family members who expend a lot of effort and energy trying to impress others.

Now this might be fine if all these efforts were being made in order to impress outsiders, like customers, suppliers, bankers, etc.

But when they spend so much of their time and effort trying to impress their parents and their siblings, that always leaves me feeling at least slightly disappointed.

 

Poorly Focused Efforts

That disappointment arises mostly because it feels to me like many of these efforts would be better put to use for the common good of the family.

Instead, they often have at their core a need for certain family members to boost their own worth within their family.

When people feel the need to act this way, it is usually disappointing to me.  

But this isn’t about me, it’s about the families. So let’s look at it from their viewpoint.

 

How About Improving Together Instead?

Now I want to go back to the expression in the title, and examine the first part. “We’re here to improve”.

Imagine that instead of certain family members attempting to bolster their personal superiority over others, they would simply act first and foremost as team players, concerned with the success of the entire group.

Every group of people who work together, in whatever form, will have people with varying levels of abilities in different areas.

It is rare to find a group in which one single person is the best person in that group at every task they undertake.

 

Going Far, Going Together

As I wrote that last line, I flashed back to a blog from 2016, which remains one of my favourites.

Going Far? Go Together, was inspired by an African proverb that reads, 

“If you want to go FAST, go alone. If you want to go FAR, go together”

As someone who writes regularly about families who work together, and who has admitted repeatedly to having a “family first bias”, I hope you can see why this proverb is close to my heart.

 

Improving Together Impresses the Outsiders

When families can keep their focus on making things better for the whole group, they will actually end up impressing many outsiders.

While that may not be their goal (and probably shouldn’t be) it is a nice side effect.

Hopefully other families can then watch and learn!