When the “Next Gen” Becomes the “Rising Gen”

This week we’re looking at an issue involving vocabulary because sometimes the particular words we use can have a big impact on how we’re understood.

Regular readers will already be familiar with the term “rising generation”, as I’ve been using it for about five years now, ever since I heard James E. (Jay) Hughes use it during the first PPI Rendez Vous I ever attended, in 2014.  The Rising Generation in Family Business

Hughes had explained that using terms like G1 and G2 (first-generation, and second-generation) was very limited and sometimes confusing, and suggested instead that we in the industry use the expression “rising generation”.

 

Look at the Life Cycle Instead

Here’s a paragraph from that blog from five years ago:

“So here comes the “Rising Generation” to the rescue. Hughes pointed out that when we refer to the rising generation, it helps keep everyone focussed on the fact that every person, and hence every family, and every business, has a life cycle.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself (see what I did there?).

So I started using “rising generation” or “rising gen” about five years ago, after some others like Hughes, but before many who have “caught on” more recently.

The field is evolving and so is its vocabulary, and “better words” can help people make important progress.

My favourite example of this remains “continuity planning”, which is slowly replacing the term “succession planning” which has way too many negative connotations, especially when it comes time to get people to have the conversations that are necessary. See: Continuity Planning: Who’s at the Table 

 

What About on a “Family Basis”?

Okay, enough with the industry vocabulary, let’s get into the more important aspects of this, i.e. in a particular family, when does the “next generation” actually become the “rising generation”?

I’m glad you asked, because it’s an important question.

And in many ways, it’s mostly a question of mindset. The interesting thing about a mindset, though, is that each person has their own mind, and therefore their own mindset.  The trick is to get the entire family to come to share the same mindset.

Let’s look at it from each generation’s perspective first, while recognizing that different people in the same generation will have slightly different mindsets, but that the most glaring contrasts are usually found when comparing the mindsets of the different generations.

 

Mom and Dad’s View of Their Offspring

Let’s start with the “NowGen”, who are the ones currently “in charge” of things, especially in the business, and typically even in the family.

When their offspring are young, little thought is given to their eventual ascendency to key roles in the business family. At some point, though, there comes a mental shift, where ideas about roles that these young ones might one day play, as their “human capital” matures, begin to take form.

But even then, those first thoughts are usually about them as the “next gen”, i.e. as people who will make a contribution “some day”, far in the future.  It’s almost like they are parked there, and one day, their parents will beckon them and they will arrive on cue.

 

The Rising Generation’s View of Themselves

Meanwhile, those offspring have their own views, and they are often more realistic, maybe because they are the main actors in this play.

As those actors think about their lives and potential roles, they are more likely to think of the progress that they have already made and will continue to make, because they are living the “action” of rising.

Their view of the process of the “rising” is truly “first person”.  They will more easily feel like they are on their way somewhere, and are hopefully well on their way to shaking off the label of “children”, which connotes being “stuck” at some age that typically starts with a “1” or worse, is a single digit.

 

When My Mindset Becomes Our Mindset

So here we are, back to the question of the differing mindsets in the family. My premise is that the rising generation’s mindset is the more enlightened one, and that it behooves them to do the work necessary to convince their parents’ generation of its validity.

The two key points there are these:

  1. The onus is on the Rising Generation
  2. It will take work to do it.

It won’t happen overnight, it’s a process. And it’s never too early to begin.

 

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.

 

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountain High: Best Is Yet to Come

Notes from my 6th PPI Rendez Vous

As I write these words, I’m returning from Denver, after attending my favourite event of the year, the Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute

During my first, in 2014, I vowed to return each year if at all possible, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to keep my streak perfect thus far.

As I’ve shared with anyone who’ll listen, this is where I go each July to “fill up” my proverbial tank, hanging out with like-minded peers who all also “get” the importance of putting family members at the heart of the work that goes into intergenerational wealth transitions.

While I fully recognize that a vast majority of the activities that go into the world of “family wealth preservation” are still comprised of “structural solutions”, I can tell you that more and more professionals are seeing the light and recognizing the many shortcomings of those methods.

All those who want to meet, share and collaborate with others who recognize that this planning should be purposeful in nature, i.e. centered around the family’s purpose, please plan to join us next year (July 21-23, 2020).

 

Too Many Highlights to Mention

No blog post could ever do justice to all the great sessions and learnings from any single Rendez Vous, but I’ll try to report on some parts that I personally found special.  

I also know that each attendee will have their own list, and most of those will surely be pretty long.

When PPI founder and head John A. Warnick took the stage to talk about the state of the organization, one of his Powerpoint slides had the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Come” on it, and I found it quite powerful and pertinent.

Indeed, it feels like the best IS yet to come, for PPI, for the field of of professionals serving ultra high net worth families, and even for me personally.

 

Podcasts: THE Big “New” Content Format (?)

A theme that seems to be emerging in the professional space in general is the appearance of more and more podcasts. 

At dinner one evening, I sat next to two podcast hosts who have had me on as a guest recently (Family Business Podcast ep.59) and (Crafting Solutions to Conflict, upcoming episode), and the evening before I was invited to be a guest on a future episode of the Business Sustainability Radio Show.

I guess it helps when you have a new book out that you want to talk about, and when you like to talk about the important work being done in an emerging profession.

The book was central to many conversations I had with colleagues and friends (new and old) while there.  I wrote the book to fill a gap in the literature and based on what people told me, it does that. 

Some who had purchased copies, brought them for me to sign, which I was honoured to do.

I also gave several copies to people who seemed likely to follow up my gift with an Amazon review, of which I’m hoping some will be forthcoming.

Some More Random Highlights

 

  • Wolf Packs

I honestly can’t recall which mainstage presenter mentioned it, but the expression “The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack; and the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf” was mentioned.

I can think of few expressions that better capture what it means to be part of a family who’ve agreed to continue to work together, so I always welcome any opportunity to share it.

 

  • Meditating Vs. Sleeping

Perennial presenter Ian McDermott had us run through a cool exercise on conversations, in triads, but not before leaving me with a great sentence that I noted because it captures something that’s also become a habit in my life.

As he described his daily ritual, he noted “I wake up and then I meditate. People ask ‘why do you meditate, you were just sleeping?’ And I say ‘Yes, but meditating isn’t the same as sleeping’”. 

Amen, Ian, thanks for putting it so simply.

 

  • Mentor Mixer

Kudos to Amanda Koplin for instigating the first ever PPI Mentor Mixer. I’m pleased to have found a match in a young woman who is older than my daughter (but not by much) with whom I’m certain future exchanges will prove mutually beneficial.

 

Until PPI Rendez Vous 2020

Having reconnected with many colleagues, I am once again “full”, and ready to continue spreading the purposeful news for the next 51 weeks. A la prochaine!

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!

 

Constitution book

Behind the “Flawed” Family Constitution

Behind the “Flawed” Family Constitution

This week’s post is about the wonderful world of the “Family Constitution”.  I thought about doing a “5 Things to Know…” blog, but decided against it.

There’s a lot to get to, so let’s dive in.

 

Just Who Are “The People”?

As I searched Shutterstock for an image to accompany this post, I entered the word “Constitution” and was amazed (but not surprised) at how many of the pictures featured the words “We the people” at the top of an old document.

Those are of course the first words of the U.S. Constitution, and they really sum up the importance of getting the preamble right to set the context properly in the creation of any important document. 

See: Co-Creation and Values in the FamBiz

It’s not hard to deduce from the expression “Family Constitution” that “the people” here would be “the family”.

 

“The Family”; OK, Thanks, Now It’s Clear. NOT

That’s all fine, of course, until it comes to defining exactly who all the individual people are, especially as definitions of family continue to evolve.

If that were the only issue to resolve, this wouldn’t actually be that difficult.  We’d need to start with the family leaders and then expand the group slowly, and then work together to come up with definitions and rules, and come to a consensus on who’s included.  Surely not an insurmountable problem.

 

Putting the “Con” in “Constitution”

Having a family constitution can be a very useful thing for some families, assuming their governance has sufficiently evolved and the family members have actually been key players in its development.

For every “Pro”, there are also many “Cons”.

The inspiration for this blog came from an article I saw on LinkedIn a few months ago, by Professor Enrique Soriano, who works with families on their governance, mostly in Asia. I’ve never met him, but we have 174 common connections on that network as I write this.

His post, Elements of a Flawed Family Constitution, is essential reading for anyone truly interested in this subject, especially for those who see the Family Constitution as the “be all and end all” of things that every family “must have”. 

The fact that many of those who believe this also peddle their services to families, and offer to create these documents for them, should not be a huge surprise.

 

One Person is NOT “People”

As I wrote last year in Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s, if one person writes the constitution, alone, without major doses of input from people from different generations of the family, it simply will not work.  

Sure, you can fool yourself that you’ve got something worthwhile, but it won’t last.

Similarly, if the document was largely put together by a consultant, or even a team of consultants, it will not serve its intended purpose.  And this is true even if you hire the best consultants and pay them a lot of money to do this work for you.

As I always say about family governance (of which a family constitution is but one possible component) it really needs to be FOR the Family, BY the Family.

 

Cultural Differences?

Soriano notes at one point that perhaps the phenomenon of “flawed family constitutions” is more prevalent in Asia, where he is based.  That may be the case, as there could be more of an attitude towards the forced creation of a document that everyone is then expected to abide by in those cultures.

But I don’t care what country you are in, unless the family members were heavily involved in its creation and implementation, no family constitution is going to be worth much.

 

My Own Pet Peeve

The one thing that I personally hate about this subject, is that it’s so often based on the assumption that keeping the business and family together forever is desirable and doable.

There may be some cultural biases in this aspect.

If the attitude behind the creation of a constitution is to “force” people to remain in relationships that they otherwise would rather not be part of, then trouble will likely be ahead.

 

My “Family” Bias

My bias is always to make sure that the family relationships survive for generations.  If that means that changes need to be made to the business and ownership, then let’s figure out how to make those and keep the family intact.

If a constitution that reflects that can be created, then great.

Of course any family with that attitude might never think they need one…

2 kids whispering to each other

The Secret to Success for Family Businesses

Family businesses by their very nature are very diverse.  No two families are alike, and the variety of businesses that they own and operate are likewise very different.

So as someone who writes a weekly blog that always comes back to families and how they work together, I think it’s normal that my inspiration for ideas to write about is also “all over the map” and quite eclectic.  

This one comes from something I heard on the radio, but it wasn’t a country song! (Please see Blame it on Cinderella and Humble and Kind for examples of those).

No, this time it was talk radio, on a sports station.  But for some reason, they had Larry King on as a guest.  I guess he was in town for something and he popped into their studio.

 

“You Know What the Secret to this Business Is?”

Larry King was a long-time TV show host on CNN (1985 to 2010) and so he knows a thing or two about the broadcasting business.

He was chatting with the guys who host the afternoon drive show and suddenly he said, “You know what the secret to success is in this business?”

You could almost sense the anticipation as they waited for the punch line in the studio.  As I was driving, I too was intrigued and awaited the next words out of his mouth.

“The secret is”, he continued, finally, “that there is no secret”.

And so it is, dear readers, with those of us who work with family business.

 

What Questions Should I Ask?

When I work with a family business or a family office, I try to steer clear of the business end of things.  I do this not because I’m not qualified to help them there, because if I chose to, I know that I could add value there too.

I just prefer to stick to the area surrounding the family members, because that is where there is typically a crying need for some outside input.

But when I run into other professionals who also work with families, but who concentrate on business matters, they sometimes think that the work I do on family dynamics is something they could easily do as well.

It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes they will even ask me for some of my “secrets”. 

“So can you just tell me what questions I should ask?”

If only it were that easy.

 

Listen, Ask, Listen Some More

There are no “secret questions” to ask.  It’s much more about being truly curious when you ask whatever question you choose to ask, and then listening to the answers.

It’s about wanting to find out what’s important to the family members, and I’m not just talking about the family member or members with whom you have your business relationship.  

If it truly is a family business, then the other members of the family are also important.  This is true even if there are some family members who don’t work in the business, and even if they are not currently owners of the business.

To truly serve a business family properly, you need to understand the family.  And to understand them, you actually have to meet them, and speak to them, and get to know them.

This can’t be a secret, can it?

 

Regular, Clear, Transparent Communication

I was just talking about advisors who work with families, but what about the families themselves?  Are there any “secrets” to success for them? Once again, I don’t think there are any secrets per se, just lots of common sense.  

And in the same way I was telling advisors that they should take the time and make the effort to learn about the other family members and their thoughts about the business, it’s even more important for the family leaders to do that too.

But they surely already know that, right?

And nothing worthwhile ever happens without some planning and intentional effort.

Making an effort to instill regular, clear and transparent communications within the family group is a great idea, and always worthwhile.

More families should probably do it, and not enough of them do.

So maybe it still IS a secret.  You can start changing that, now.

P.S. That “11-year-old daughter” in the Blaming Cinderella blog just turned 18 and will be off to college in the coming weeks.