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“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

Ownership usually doesn’t get much attention in the area of family business, and there are many reasons for that, and we’ll get to some.

Maybe I’m emphasizing it too much. I did a quick search of my website (www.ShiftYourFamilyBusiness.com) and found that I’ve already written 3 blogs with “ownership” in the title.

Everything is relative, though, and even with this fourth blog on the subject, that’s less than one blog a year about this “forgotten” circle. (see: Ownership: the Forgotten Circle of Family Business)

 

Status Quo That Lasts

The people who own a business have certain privileges that come with ownership, but with those, there are also responsibilities.

Most people who work for a family business know who the owners are, and they’re usually given certain deference.

The owners, in turn, try not to act like superior overlords, and this dance can continue for decades, as long as nothing changes.

 

Fast Moving World

While ownership remains fixed over time, the two other “circles”, family and business, are constantly in flux.

The business evolves, new products are launched, new locations opened, expansions bring in new employees, and new markets are developed.

Financial results are compiled monthly and quarterly.

The family also changes, as members find partners and have children, people get educated and find their passions, some join the business, and everyone grows older every year.

Oh, and some die.

Things are constantly evolving, and changes are part of life, and these days things seem to move more quickly than ever.

Yet ownership usually stays fixed, and rarely even gets a second thought.

 

Clunky by Definition

I chose the word “clunky” to describe the situation because it felt like the right word, and I’ve used it to explain this to people in the past.

Searching shutterstock.com to find an appropriate image for this post, I almost had second thoughts, as the photo choices for “clunky” were mostly 1980’s cellphones.

(I went “outside the box” a bit with my choice of hippos; not sure it worked (?)).

Then I Googled “clunky definition” and I was immediately sold on the fact that clunky was the right word.

Here’s what came back:

clunky: awkwardly solid, heavy, and outdated.

 

So What? 

I’m not suggesting that ownership should necessarily change more frequently than it does; that would be stretching it.

What I am saying is that the definition above includes a couple of words that many family businesses should be thinking about much more than they typically do.

There are only four key words in that definition, so you can probably locate the two that are ringing alarms bells in my head.

 

Awkward!

“Awkwardly solid” almost sounds like a backhanded compliment. Solid is usually positive, but when it’s awkwardly so, well, maybe not so much.

Family business relationships are often already awkward, simply because family and business overlaps cause complex situations.

Now throw in ownership overlaps, compounded by the fact that things are stuck in the past, and things get even clumsier.

 

Outdated

“Outdated” is probably the simplest word to describe the issues that I’ve seen regarding the ownership of family businesses.

It’s not hard to understand why things change so infrequently, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should just be cool with it.

Rising generation family members crave some clarity about their futures, but they often continue to put up with vague replies when they broach the subject.

“Don’t worry, some day this will all be yours”

 

When Exactly is “Some Day”?

Once again I feel the need to explain my views on this, lest readers get the impression that I think ownership changes absolutely need to happen more regularly and quickly.

I’m advocating for some thoughtful discussion and planning, and hopefully some transparency.

 

Transition Planning

As the business evolves and family members age, transition plans are contemplated to make sure that people will be prepared to assume their future business management roles.

Don’t forget that there needs to be an ownership transition too.

 

Two-for-One

Do you really think it makes sense to think about those things as completely separate discussions? I don’t.

And if you ask those being groomed for future management roles, I bet they’d agree too.

Look 15 years into the future. People will be that much older, and the business will have grown.

If nothing changes, your current ownership structure will be pretty clunky.

Start planning those changes now too.

Family of adults and kids sitting together

Realistic Family Governance Goals

Realistic Family Governance Goals

I recently spent a day in New York City at the second annual conference of the Institute for Family Governance.

It wasn’t only interesting, but in some ways inspiring. But upon further reflection over the following days, I almost felt like it might’ve been a bit too inspiring.

I’ll get back to that part later.

 

Generative Families

The opening speaker was Dennis Jaffe, who didn’t disappoint, as usual. His presentation was titled “Do you need a different mindset to create a fortune than to hold onto one?”

I love that title because it’s a question that answers itself, with an “of course” as soon as you read it.

Jaffe went on to talk about what he terms “generative families”, which others call “legacy families” and still others dub “enterprising families”.

Generative families, according to Jaffe, see themselves as a “collective entity”, who’ve decided to develop into a “great family”.

 

Great “Family” vs. Great “Business”

This reminded me of a line that some people like to use with successful business people, to convince them to shift their focus.

“You’ve already created a great business;

now, why don’t you create a great family?”

It also fits nicely with the question that served as the title of his presentation.

Jaffe has studied dozens of such generative families who’ve been successful at transitioning their wealth over several generations.

 

Examples and Role Models

The rest of the day continued with examples of families who’ve figured out that family governance is the key to having a great family.

Simply put, without any governance, a family’s legacy has virtually no chance to survive over generations.

In the past few decades, people like Jaffe have done the work of learning what these families do, and have written about it so that other people can follow these role models.

 

Too Inspiring

So here’s why I think that in some ways the examples we heard about might actually be “too good”.

I’m willing to bet that none of those families made the decision to create a governance model on one day, and then had created and implemented it successfully within a year.

I bet most of them still had lots of work to do even after a decade. This work takes lots of time and effort, over many years.

 

Family Culture

Mitzi Perdue was our closing keynote speaker and she talked about family culture, which includes the answers to questions like “who we are” and “how we do things”.

She also correctly noted that these things don’t just happen by chance.

This stuff takes lots of work, and it takes lots of time.

And it takes a different mindset.

 

Family Alignment and Vision

I know that in order for a family to be receptive to putting any sort of governance into place, they need to be aligned, and have a similar vision of what’s possible.

Regular readers of mine also know this to be true (assuming they’re drinking the KoolAid).

But I feel like many of the attendees at this conference might have had the impression that some of the examples we heard about possibly seemed “too perfect”.

Advisors to families, and families themselves, who’ve never heard of family governance often need time to grasp everything that’s involved in this work.

Likewise, the entire family will rarely buy in all at once; there usually needs to be an “early adopter” or “family champion” who “gets it” first, and then leads the way.

 

Ironman Inspiration to Get Off the Couch

I love analogies, and I think of these great generative, legacy families that are the role models, as if they were champion Ironman Triathletes.

They’re awesome and inspirational, and that’s why they’re on TV.

Most people will never get to that level, and if they choose to stay on the couch because they know they’ll never be an Ironman, then that’s a missed opportunity.

Lots of families could benefit from getting off the couch and just going for a walk or a jog.

 

One Step, One Person, One Family at a Time

Family Governance starts with a mindset, and a group of people who are aligned.

It takes lots of time and effort to get there.

The good news is that it’s very incremental in nature.

Start small, get another person on board, and grow slowly.

Don’t compare yourselves to the best and get discouraged.

It can be done, and it is so worth it.

 

toy train derailing

5 Things that Can De-Rail a Family Business

5 Things that Can De-Rail a Family Business

It’s been a few months since my last “5 Things” blog, so this might be overdue.

While I usually deal in positives because it’s my nature, this week we’re going to look at some potential pitfalls that many family businesses face.

Let’s get started.

 

  1. Assumptions

The word “assumptions” that I chose here might surprise some, but I wanted a word that stood on its own, without requiring a negating adjective.

So while I could have said “Poor Communications”, I chose instead to look at what IS there, as opposed to what is NOT.

The reason many families don’t think that they need to talk is because they actually assume that everyone else in the family knows what they are thinking, AND that everyone is in agreement.

That often turns out to be wishful thinking at best, and hides serious misunderstandings at its worst.

 

  1. Bad Timing

Another issue that can de-rail things is that family members from different generations will often have different views regarding timing.

I call it “bad timing” but it’s really about poor alignment of timing, different priorities around timing, and just plain waiting too long to get started on things that are important.

The rising generation needs to step into roles with a long runway so that they can learn while the elders are still there.

More often than not, the elders hang on way too long, telling themselves that the “kids aren’t ready yet”.

That usually has much more to do with their own sense of importance than anything else.

 

  1. “Us-against-the–World” Attitude

Business families are notorious for keeping things very close to the vest and having great difficulty trusting any outsiders.

They often think that they’re the only ones in the world who have family issues to contend with as they run their businesses.

They wrongly believe that everyone else is “out to get them” and have trouble trusting anyone who happens to have a different last name.

This can be harmful in terms of attracting good employees, qualified advisors, and of course eventually outside independent directors for their board.

 

  1. Jealousy and Superiority Complexes

You had to know that I’d eventually get to something in the area of sibling relationships, and here I’ve chosen to label it as jealousy.

When there’s a lack of harmony in sibling relationships, quite often it can be traced to some jealousy issues.

And even when one sibling isn’t really jealous, sparks can come from what I like to call someone’s “superiority complex”.

I’m not sure if that’s even a real term, but I like to use it as the opposite of the more familiar “inferiority complex”.

When a sibling occupies a leadership position in the business vis-à-vis their siblings, it brings about some potential difficulties, like jealousy, for example.

A humble sibling leader will face less issues with this, than one who boasts about his relative place with his generational peers.

 

  1. Stagnation

Family businesses can become stodgy and complacent with time and not quick enough to innovate. Lack of foresight and getting out in front of industry changes can become a problem.

This often accompanies the bad timing noted above, where the younger family members know that things need to change, but aren’t able to convince the current leaders that changes are needed to be profitable in the future.

 

Wait, Where’s “Conflict”?

Just guessing here, but I assume that some readers may be surprised that “Conflict” did not make my list.

It certainly isn’t because conflict doesn’t exist in business families, nor because I don’t think conflict needs to be addressed.

Of course conflict is an issue, and it exists in almost every family business. But, in and of itself, conflict won’t de-rail a family business.

Unresolvable conflict, due to an unwillingness to work on resolving it, can certainly be a huge risk.

Likewise, unexpressed conflict that lays beneath the surface for years or decades has certainly sunk more than one family business.

 

Manage the Conflicts, Look Out for the Other Five

Conflict can be healthy (see: Embracing Conflict in Family Business), so I suggest concentrating on the other five areas.

No. 3, only trusting insiders, can be the biggest one.

Regular, honest, open communication is the best antidote to all of these.

Recognizing everyone’s interdependence is probably the “magic bullet”, if there is one.

 

What keeps you up at night?

Shifting FamBiz Time Horizons

Shifting FamBiz Time Horizons

Family businesses are known for looking at things from a much longer time perspective than larger, publicly traded companies.

They aren’t concerned with how their decisions will affect their next quarterly earnings release, and instead focus on how things will look in a quarter century.

 

How Fixed Is a Time Horizon?

The long-term view can stay the same for decades, but sometimes events occur that make changes desirable over a much shorter timeframe.

One of my continuing roles in managing our family office is handling the asset allocation to various professional outside investment managers.

We recently decided to divest one position and I was surprised to learn that there would be an early withdrawal penalty for not having held it for the 5-year minimum.

Hmmm, I wondered, why had I not noticed that back then (it’s been over four years)? Simple, at the time it did not seem like it could ever be an issue.

Things change…

 

Time Flies

In another sphere of my life, a couple of years ago I was in Boston with the family, and we went to the Harvard bookstore to look at their swag.

I curiously asked my kids if they’d ever thought of attending that school.

I’ve since done campus tours at most of the Ivy League schools, plus a bunch more, with both of them, and yet in a few months that important chapter of my life will also be behind me.

How could my focus change so quickly? It feels like just yesterday we were looking at daycares.

 

Teens, Seniors and the Sandwich

Maybe it’s just that I’m part of the sandwich generation, with two teens and an octagenarian mother who depend on me.

During those life stages, a few short years can change many aspects of one’s life.

But every family has people at various ages and life stages, and that’s part of why business families are so complex.

 

Family Life Cycle

If you read some of the books around family wealth and making it last over generations, you’ll surely come across authors who talk about “100 years” as a timeframe to consider.

I have to admit, when I first saw this a few years ago, I thought it would be difficult for most people to grasp.

Heck, I was working in this space, and I was having trouble wrapping my mind around it.

I’m pretty sure I “get it” now, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve become used to hearing it, because I’m a few years older myself, or because I’ve “matured” into a different life view.

 

Legacy Families 

If you want to learn from families who’ve been successful in transitioning wealth from one generation to the next, and done so more than just once, well, you almost have no choice but to look at those who have lasted a century or more.

At the recent Institute for Family Governance conference, one speaker mentioned that a 20-year investment time horizon for a family might be considered “short term”, and I agree.

But if I want to look at things that way, first I need to almost be able to remove myself from the equation.

I now realize that maybe the investment we were divesting shouldn’t ever have been made because it did not fit such a long time horizon.

 

My 100-Year View

Or maybe for my family, a 100-year horizon isn’t appropriate, because our family never quite reached the wealth level necessary to become a “legacy family”

Maybe another lesson here is that it’s easier to help some other family deal with these questions than it can ever be to look at this for your own family.

It’s really difficult to look at these kinds of multi-generational issues when you and your life are part of the equation.

It’s much easier for me to draw out your expected lifespan and matter-of-factly talk about how things will look decades later. Doing that for me, um, not so much.

 

Not Fun? Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Need to Do It!

Realizing that things are complex and potentially not fun does not absolve you of the responsibility to actually take care of important things, though.

Thinking about the importance of this is the first step to getting started. Now go and find someone who can keep you on track.

Then together you can take the steps needed for a true 100-year plan.

Even If It Hurts

Even If It Hurts

Last week, in The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”, while writing about people who are “Reliable”, I stumbled upon an idea that I promised to revisit in a future blog.

As I put it then, As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question”.

So expound I will.

 

Hurting Me, Hurting You

The key point at the root of my “eureka” moment came from this sentence:

“I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.”

These are two completely separate points, yet I’ve never seen them addressed together. That’s what made it so compelling for me to look at this again this week.

 

Tell Me the Truth, I Can Take It

One of the biggest problems that people at the top always face, no matter what kind of organisation they’re in, is having people tell them things that they “don’t want to hear”.

The CEO of a company will not always hear the truth from their underlings, not because those people are liars, but because most people have an aversion to telling their boss things that are not pleasant to relate.

The interesting part about this is that more often than not, they actually DO want to hear those things.

In fact, good leaders don’t want to be surrounded by “Yes-Men”.

 

How Long Will It Hurt? 

The reality is that hearing the truth, if it’s something that you really do need to know and you really cannot see yourself, only hurts for a very short time.

Strong leaders realize that they’re not in a popularity contest, and that sometimes you need to hear things that hurt.

In order to make progress, a reality check is often needed, and folks at the top actually need to have MORE people who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

It’s great if you have people upon whom you can rely to play that role.

 

Despite My Self-Interest

That was one side of the “hurting” question, now let’s get to the even trickier part.

The “even if it hurts them” aspect can best be summed up in one word, “self-interest”. Not sure if a compound word really counts as one word, but I’ll use my “editorial license” to make it so here.

If you aren’t familiar with the “Trust Equation” or the “Trust Quotient”, I suggest you visit this site:

TrustedAdvisor.com  so that you don’t just think I’m making this stuff up.

The denominator of the Trust Equation is “Self-Orientation” as they put it. “Self-interest” and “self-orientation” may not be identical twins, but they are most definitely close siblings.

 

Not Placing Blame

Business families are served by a variety of professionals from different industries, including legal, accounting, insurance, investment management and banking to name a few of the major ones.

Every person naturally brings their own perspective to the family’s situation, and that perspective is naturally rooted in their professional training, background and orientation.

It’s next to impossible for a banker to look at your family business from any other perspective than that of a banker, and likewise difficult for your attorney to look at things from a viewpoint other than that of your legal counsel.

I believe these things to be true in general in just about every profession, even though there are exceptions in all of them.

 

So What?

Well, if you’re looking for “reliable resources” you can count on, you really have to understand that getting 100% unbiased advice, especially if it might go against their own interest, will almost never happen.

And I’m not saying that any of your advisors are unethical or crooked in any way. They very likely believe that everything that they suggest to you is actually best for you.

 

What Are You Paying Them For?

Unfortunately for leaders of business families, most of the professionals upon whom they rely are paid for certain products and services that these people sell them.

Those who truly have their client’s interest as their top concern and only interest, are few and far between.

There aren’t many people who play that role but if you can find one, keep them!

Finding a reliable person you pay only for their counsel can be done.

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

There are plenty of qualities we look for in people we want to work with. A few weeks ago I had an interaction that made me realize that there are 3 I find to be near the top of my list.

I was working on a project and needed some feedback from a potential partner, “Tom”, who hadn’t responded to my email request for almost a week.

So I emailed Tom’s colleague, “Nicky”, asking if the email address I had for Tom was current.

I got a reply within an hour, with a new email address for Tom, plus an explanation as to why Tom wasn’t checking that old email address very often anymore.

I replied to Nicky with a “thank you”, noting that I appreciated her being a “Responsive Reliable Resource”.

Hmmm, I thought, this could be a blog post!

 

Three Distinct Qualities

The three qualities all begin with the letter “R”, and there are also definitely some overlaps.

But today, I want to look at each of them separately, because there are aspects of each that are important enough to emphasize individually.

 

Responsive

Let’s start with “responsive”. This one has everything to do with timeliness in getting back to you.

In today’s world, things move more quickly than ever, so a timely reply when you need something can be extra important.

Sometimes even after just a few hours, the usefulness of whatever you were asking for has disappeared.

In my example above, I’d already been in limbo for a few days, so a quick reply was what I was hoping for, and what I got.

 

Reliable

Reliability is a kind of “catch-all” word, often encompassing the responsiveness mentioned above.

But I want to talk strictly about the quality of what people can deliver, without attaching the timeliness of it.

Not that the time element isn’t important, but because it is, it deserves to be looked at separately.

When I think about reliable people, I’m usually assessing them based on whether or not I can count on them.

 

Count on them for What? 

So let’s think about what it is that we’re counting on people for, besides, of course, responding in a timely fashion.

Well, first off, I want to believe that whatever I ask of them, they’ll tell me the truth, even if it hurts.

That works both ways, by the way. I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.

As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question.

 

Resource 

The third of my 3 R’s is “resource”. Here’s a quick definition I just Googled:

       a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or    organization in order to function effectively

I’ve gotta admit I don’t love it, because the main thing that most people I deal with are looking for in resources, would have to fall under “other assets”.

I love the part about “that can be drawn on”, because that fits nicely. I’m usually looking for information and/or direction, often to other resources.

 

A “Resource” as distinct from a “Helper”

While doing some of my personal work with coaches over the years, I’ve begun to try to remove the word “help” from my vocabulary.

This arose once when working with Amie, my Bowen Family Systems Theory coach, when I mentioned wanting to “help my wife” with something.

Her reply was simple, “What if you were just a resource to her, instead of trying to help her?”

“A-Ha”, I thought.

 

What’s the Difference?

I hope some readers will get this instinctively and quickly, but I assume many won’t, so here’s my view on the difference.

A resource is there for you, to be drawn upon, if and when you need it.

A helper is there to help, but it often turns out that the help they’re bringing isn’t the help needed, and comes on their terms.

It also puts the helper in a “one up” position to the “helpee”, which has its own negative consequences.

We all need “Responsive Reliable Resources”.

And in a family business, it’s great to have at least one who isn’t related.

2 angry men facing opposite directions

Avoiding the “60% Problem”

Avoiding the “60% Problem”

A few weeks ago one of my “tweeps” (Twitter peeps) shared a news article about family business that quoted an interesting statistic.

The field of family business as a specific “unit” of study still being relatively new, there aren’t necessarily lots of stats to choose from when someone sits down to write such an article.

It seems like the same studies, usually decades old, have their stats recycled and re-used over and over again. But that’s a problem for another day.

Sixty Percent of FamBiz Failures

Here is a quote about the main stat from the story:

 

“Sixty percent of the failures were due to breakdowns in

trust and communication within the family unit”

 

I’d like to address the 60%, but first I need to fill in some of the context. The sentence before the one quoted above read: “A comprehensive study identified reasons why family businesses don’t last.”

If we wanted to add to the list of things that “don’t last”, we could add businesses in general, and of course, people, because we will all eventually die.

Okay, now that I dealt with my pet peeve on how family business stats are thrown around by some writers, let’s get to the good stuff.

 

Breakdowns in What?

Let’s look at the “problems” with family business that were mentioned as being the most prevalent, i.e. 60%.

“Breakdowns in trust and communications” is how it was worded, and I take that to mean “breakdowns in trust” and “breakdowns in communications”.

Of course one could make the argument that “trust and communications” are so intertwined that they are actually inseparable in this context, and I would not argue against that either.

The fact that they were “lumped together” in the first place sort of makes that point already. But just for this exercise, let’s begin by looking at them separately.

 

Breakdowns in Trust

In order for there to be a “breakdown” in trust, there needs to have been some trust to begin with.

Here is the presumed scenario: 1. There was trust; 2. It broke down; and 3. Eventually the family business was no more.

Presumably, if the trust had remained strong and not broken down, the business would still be around.

It would be really interesting to look at the details around the trust breakdowns, because I have some theories I’d like to check out if we could see the actual data.

I’d be willing to bet that the trust level between individual pairs of people did not change very much over time, because in my experience it usually stays pretty constant.

However, changes, over time, in the make-up of the overall group running the business, can certainly result in a trust level that gets worse.

 

Breakdowns in Communications

Communications breakdowns are often easier to see than trust issues. That’s because when the issue is trust, that fact tends to be kept mum.

When we picture communication problems, we may be inclined to think about screaming matches and altercations that people in the office can see and hear.

I’ve known some family businesses that are no strangers to these types of scenes.

But I think that the kinds of communications breakdowns that are at the root of family business failures are more often the silent type.

Sometimes the screaming doesn’t happen anymore, because nobody is even talking to anyone else anymore.

 

Reasons and Opportunities to Talk

The good news is that trust and communications issues don’t usually just show up one day. They are usually gradual. Why is that good news? Good question.

To me, if a situation is slowly degrading, there is an opportunity to address it and try to rectify it. Of course there does need to be a willingness to actually work on it.

Family members who are involved in owning and/or managing a business together have plenty of reasons why they need to be in regular communication with each other.

Sometimes they don’t create enough opportunities to talk.

 

Regular Meetings

My best advice for families that are worried about these “trust and communications breakdowns” is to schedule regular meetings to talk about working ON their business.

Usually at least once per quarter, key family members need to come together and air things out, so that things don’t get worse.

If you need a “referee”, find one. But please do it.

 

Link: Family Business: When business is personal – Smart Business Magazine

2 kids on a side walk sharing a red apple.

“Sharing”: My Theme Word for 2018

“Sharing”: My Theme Word for 2018

Happy New Year 2018

The fact that this blog would be going out to subscribers on Monday, January 1, helped spark the idea for this post.

I’ve been working with a coach for a long time now, and I recently had my last Skype of the year with her. As usual for this time of year, she asked me some questions about my accomplishments in 2017, as well as my intentions for 2018.

Her final request is for one single word that will be my theme for the coming year. I thought about it for over a day (she had sent the questions to me in advance, from her blog) and I came up with “sharing”.

 

“Spreading the Gospel”

Back in 2013, when I was actually just starting to discover this field, I wrote a blog entitled Spreading the Gospel vs. Cornering the Market and my feeling about this subject has only become stronger.

Not only has my belief in the importance of sharing grown, thankfully my ability to share useful ideas has also increased.

Just today I was involved with two separate groups of colleagues on calls as we prepare to submit proposals for the 2018 conferences of some of the major organizations in the family business/legacy space.

 

Content Creation and Dissemination

I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as a content creation machine in this space and I wear that badge with pride.

So I recognize that “sharing” may not seem like a new theme for me, but there are a few other things I have planned going forward to hopefully “kick it up a notch”.

In addition to possibly presenting at some of the conferences that I attend regularly, I’m now looking at other ways to get in front of other advisors in the family business space to share some of my ideas and tools as well.

This is still in the embryonic stage for now, so I’ll just leave this here as a bit of a tease, but there are some other aspects of sharing that I’d like to highlight here too.

These thoughts about sharing are directed at the enterprising families themselves.

 

Business Families Should Share More

Most business families could also stand to share more too. You may think that I’m talking about being more philanthropic, but that’s not my angle here.

The more I learn about the subject of philanthropy, the more I realize to what extent business families are already among the leading givers in our society.

No, I’m talking about sharing internally, family member to family member. So what kinds of things should they be sharing?

I put these into two major categories; Past and Future. Those labels are pretty good for conceptualizing the differences, but aren’t very descriptive.

How about “History” and “Dreams”?

 

FamBiz History Lessons

Leaders of a family business often take for granted that because they lived the beginning of the company and its growth, and came home every night and shared their day with the family around the dinner table, well, everyone already knows the company “story”.

But most of the key events from 20 years ago will be lost today on those who were teenagers at the time. An occasional sharing of how we got to where we are today can be helpful.

Naturally, it’s nice when the audience plays along and is in an accepting mood to hear the stories, so don’t forget the word “occasional” I used above.

 

Dreams of What’s Possible

Having family members share their dreams is also something most business families could stand to do more of from time to time.

The rising generation may not be enthralled by the particular business that Mom or Grandpa started, and they may have their own entrepreneurial dreams.

Asking them to share those in a safe space can be very enlightening, and provide future growth paths for the family to invest in.

 

Family Interdependence

I’ll end here with a word on “interdependence”, which I might suggest any business family use as their “Theme word for 2018”.

The “NextGen” and the “NowGen” depend on each other for different things, and the balance of that equation changes over time.

Realize this, share the history, share the dreams, and build the future together.

The balance will shift some day, if only due to ageing. Sharing nicely now will beget sharing nicely later.

Santa Playing with the ipad

Christmas Resolutions for a Family Business

Christmas Resolutions for a Family Business

I hope everyone reading this has a great Christmas, or whichever other holiday they celebrate at this time of year.

I also hope nobody thinks that I actually wrote this on Christmas Day.

I’m a creature of habit and pride myself on being consistent, and my blogs have been going out to subscribers on Mondays for years now, and I’m not changing that just because it’s Christmas.

Recently I started writing them a week ahead of time to take the pressure off my website/social media team.

And if you’re wondering if there’ll be another blog in your inbox on New Year’s Day, stop wondering, because that’s a Monday too.


Timing Is Everything

Because I knew that this would be arriving in people’s inboxes on Christmas, and realized that many people wouldn’t be reading it until later, the “Resolutions” part that’s normally associated with New Year’s feels less clunky.

And it should help me make my point. So what is that point? Glad you asked.

During a recent exchange with a potential client, a lightbulb went on in my head as I realized they had some possible similarities with one of my current client families.

And in fact, I know of a few other families who could benefit from the kind of work I’m doing with them.

 

Rising Generation Group

The family client in question is one where I work with only the third generation sibling group. I’ve met with the parents only once, and this is an engagement that began almost two years ago.

The parents of the four Millennials from that family decided to hire a coach to work with their children, and that is what I’ve been doing with them, almost exclusively without their parents’ involvement.

I admit that this is a bit of a “non-standard” type of engagement, because most parents would not think of doing this in such a “hands off” fashion, but they put their trust in me to work with their offspring and haven’t looked back.

The other family I mentioned, the potential client, is one where the third generation family members are a larger group, and it includes four groups of cousins. But I’m going to suggest they try something similar.

 

Budget for Development

So the holiday tie-in I’ve contrived is that giving a generational group of people the gift of hiring them a coach to work with them could be a great Christmas gift.

But the gift can be even better if it is combined with a resolution (New Year’s tie-in!) to essentially stay out of trying to direct what the group works on with the coach.

If you are hiring someone to tell your kids what to think and do because they aren’t listening to you, save your money and time and forget it.

If you want to establish a budget for their development, especially to work on things together, that’s a pretty cool angle to take.

 

A Leap of Faith with the Right Attitude

My client family kind of took a leap of faith with me, but it was combined with the right attitude of trusting their kids enough to let them figure things out with me together.

My premise with them has always been that parents who have built up a business or great wealth all have the same fear:

that after they‘re gone, the kids will fight over things

and the wealth will destroy the family.

Having me as an independent, unrelated outsider to work with them has been a great exercise in teamwork for them, as I am essentially mostly a guide and mentor, as they do the real work of planning activities for the extended family group.

 

Early Stages

The early stage work we’ve been doing is also paving the way to the future important discussions that they will soon be having with their parents, once their parents recognize that they are ready.

After they’ve gotten to know each other better, and have learned how to work together as a team, those future “tougher” steps will be soooo much easier for everyone.

 


Xmas gift, NY resolution…

If you’re a family with the worry I noted above, why not resolve to look into this idea in 2018? I’ll gladly share some of the secrets of what I’ve been doing and see if it could work for you too.

Someone playing ganja and one of the blocks has governance written on it

FamBiz: Management vs. Governance

FamBiz: Management vs. Governance

In a family business, there can often be confusion around the questions surrounding the management of the business, and the separate, but equally important area of its governance.

I see it in many places with family clients and this post will hopefully help clarify the differences.

 

Management = Day-to-Day

Management of the business starts with all of the day-to-day actions and decisions that it takes to keep the business running.

It’s about what you can see happening in many areas, and it usually involves all of the activities that are done by the vast majority of the employees.

The management of any business is all about the short-term execution of the company doing what the company has decided its business is.

 

Who Decided?

So in case you didn’t notice, the key word in the last sentence is “decided”. I purposely said that “the company decided”, but in reality it isn’t decided by “the company”.

There are people who “govern” the company and what it does, and then the managers of the company implement those decisions via their management functions.

But then that just begs the next question, which is, who gets to decide? And then there’s another level of that, which I‘ve already addressed here: “Who gets to decide who gets to decide?”

 

Corporations Are Easier

In contrast to a family business, if we look at a big corporation, things are pretty clear. The shareholders elect the board of directors, who decide who the management will be.

There are plenty of layers and checks and balances and there are formal structures and procedures in place to guide all of these decisions.

In a family business, well, usually, not so much.

 

Informal Governance

I used the word “formal” intentionally just there, because it reminds me of the expression I like to keep in mind:

“Formality is your Friend” 

I need to thank Ruth Steverlynck, one of the instructors in the Family Enterprise Advisor Program, for that expression. I’ve used it a lot and will continue to do so.

Family businesses often resist formality because they don’t want it to slow them down. Sometimes it’s simply the founder who has a preference for flying by the seat of his pants.

 

Governance sounds Formal

Regular readers will be familiar with my personal struggles with the word “governance”, and the fact that I have a sort of “love-hate” relationship with it.

It sounds almost TOO formal, to the point where it can actually scare people off.

I try to soften it by repeating that you don’t necessarily have to be overly formal, and that any governance you choose to put in place is best done incrementally.

 

Constitutional Crisis

I read a lot of stuff from the academic field of family business and I see people using the term “Family Constitution” a lot lately. A family constitution CAN be a great thing for a family to have.

BUT, and it’s a huge but, that shouldn’t be the place that you start the governance process.

In fact, I personally would probably never even mention the term “constitution” during my first year of working with a family.

 

Management Confusion

Sometimes company management acts as if they are also in charge of governance, because, well, frankly, they can.

But a family business is a complex system, involving not only the business, but also the family, and the ownership.

These interdependent systems are where some formality and definition of roles and responsibilities comes in.

In fact, the part about figuring out, deciding, and writing down who decides which questions is what governance is all about.

 

Clarity goes a Long Way

There can be lots of ambiguous situations in a family business, and when things aren’t clear, people step on each other’s toes a lot, which can create conflict.

It’s important to clarify which groups of people will be responsible for which decisions.

But sometimes that’s really hard to do.

It really needs to be “hashed out” as a group. Some “horse trading” and compromises may end up needing to happen too.

 

“Don’t Try This at Home”

What can happen is that families will try to work these things out by themselves and end up making things worse.

An independent person, who has no stake in the systems, can go a long way to making these discussions more productive, and more civil! It’s worth trying.