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A time glass in the ground

Is 10 Years a Long Time? (It Depends…)

Looking Forward, Looking Back

This week we’re starting out with a thought-provoking trick question.  It was inspired by something I saw on Twitter a few months ago and filed away.  

Its author is unknown to me, but it came from the @Wealth_Theory Twitter account.

Here’s the main content from the Tweet in question:

 

                   10 years looking forward feels like eternity.

                  10 years looking back feels like yesterday.

 

I couldn’t agree more.  And of course there’s absolutely nothing magic about the number 10, it works equally well with 5, 15, or 20 (or insert your favourite number here).

10 years celebration text

Ages and Stages

For people in a family enterprise, including members of different generations of a family, a few things will remain forever “fixed”.

For instance, your sibling position, vis-à-vis your brothers and sisters, generally won’t change. Likewise, the difference between any two people’s ages doesn’t vary; I will always be 5 years younger than my oldest sister.

And whatever age you are at when your children are born, that gap will remain fixed until one of you stops having birthdays.

But even if some things are truly “fixed”, life goes on, and everyone ages according to the same calendar.

 

What’s your Halftime Speech?

As I write this, I’ve got a football game on TV (on mute) in the background, and it happens to be halftime now. I suddenly realized that when you play the “X years back, X years forward” game, it’s always halftime too.

So what happens in the locker room at halftime?

Well, if you’re winning, you talk to the team about what you’ve been doing well, and plan to do more of that.

If, however, you’re losing, or in a close game, now is the time to make adjustments and make plans for the second half.

 

A Different Game as it Progresses

Of course the second half is never the same as the first.  In real life, that’s even more true than in sports.

I’m 55, so it doesn’t make sense for me to expect years 55 to 65 to be the same as the ones from 45 to 55.

Likewise, my son, who just turned 20, will go through all kinds of new things from now until he’s 30 that will be markedly different than his years 10 to 20.

 

“Picture This…”

A exercise I like to do with families from time to time is to simply draw a basic family diagram with each person’s age written on it.  Simple enough, but now comes the fun part. First, label the page with the current year, say 2019.

Now re-draw another version and label it 2029.

Then have one of the family members put in everyone’s new age.  This is not a math exercise, it’s an exercise in picturing the family in a future state. Try it.

 

All Years Are the Same, Actually 

While the time it takes to go from January 1 to December 31 each year is very much the same, the speed at which it seems to be going varies depending you where you are on your path through life.

I remember thinking that 2000 seemed so far away when I was a kid, and when I look at it today, it’s also far away!

Okay, enough of the navel gazing, this blog is usually about business families, so it’s time I try to articulate my point for members of such families.

 

It’s All About Self-Awareness 

If I had to boil it down to one subject, it would be self-awareness.  But just to be clear, I am not talking about the “internal” or “selfish” aspect of self-awareness.

No, I’m talking about your awareness of your place in your family system.

Who you were, in your family, 10 years ago, and who you are, in your family now, are likely quite different.

Likewise, or furthermore, who you will be 10 years from now, will also likely be quite different.

 

What About the Others?

The same goes for the other members of your family.

Some people are still on the upslope of their arc of life, while others are very likely past their own peak.

The sooner everyone recognizes this reality, the sooner you can actually start to co-create a future where everyone can be part of a gradual transition from the way things are today, to a desired future state.

Because looking 10 years back, it does feel like yesterday!

guy with digestion issues

Digestion Time in the Family Business

A blog post about the timing issues involved in the “family side” of family business has been kicking around my brain for some time now.  I just needed a good entry point.

Then suddenly I got an email from one of the leaders of an online study group I belong to, around some changes we’d be making to our meeting format.

The leaders decided to add some time at the end of each call, for a “closing discussion”, because, as she explained:

                           “Like with food, the ideas that come to mind 

                           during the discussions need digestion.

    
Bang! There it was, “digestion time”, I finally had my hook!

 

Food for Thought

If the ideas that come up in discussions among colleagues in a study group require time to digest, then some of the things that come up in family discussions will certainly require even more time to be absorbed into the family system.

I’ve often written about how things need to “evolve” when working with families, and that idea isn’t very far away here. See: The Evolution of Family Governance

One subject I constantly harp on when discussing the ideas around working with families, whether with advisor colleagues or with family members themselves, is the speed, or rather lack thereof, of the work.

 

Pace and Cadence

Contrary to much of the work on the business side, including the “structural” pieces of the wealth transition projects that families often create, where speed is assumed to be good, the family work doesn’t typically run on the premise of “faster is better”.

When your lawyer and accountant are working on these elements for you, less hours spent will usually result in a lower invoice you need to pay, so that’s often a good thing (assuming that quality of the work is not being sacrificed).

But those who work with family members, where the resulting harmony is typically top of mind, need to work with a different time paradigm.

 

Think “Tour Guide” or “Waiter” Instead

For those who work on the family relationships, as opposed to the lawyers and accountants, our work is more analogous to that of tour guides, or waiters in fine restaurants.

Here’s what I’m getting at: The speed with which the job is completed doesn’t correlate at all with the quality of the result, especially in the eyes of the clients.

How often have you completed a tour and said, “Wow, that tour guide was great, she wrapped things up really quickly”?

Likewise, in most fine sit-down restaurants, the speed of service is valued much less highly than the quality of the service, including attention to detail, timely comings and goings at your table, and great answers to your questions.

 

Process Over Content

I mentioned the subject of “harping on” certain things earlier, and the idea of the process being more important than the content is another idea that’s I seem to be bringing up more and more.

Take that for what it very likely means, i.e. this is true, and important.

The kinds of issues that the family needs to deal with don’t necessarily run well on a strict timeline.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s no need to pay attention to the passage of time either.

Too often, when things get a bit “sticky” or “crunchy”, the process can grind to a halt, as many people will prefer to stop altogether, because now some tough subjects and hard decisions are staring them in the face.

 

The “Project Manager” Viewpoint

So we’ve talked about the fact that going fast isn’t necessarily appropriate, and now we mentioned that things can come to a quick halt.

How do you make sure you’re making progress even when there are obstacles?

Another “job title” now comes into play, although I’m not sure how many of my colleagues on the “soft side” do this.

Who Owns the Process?

One of the ways that I try to add value is that I will “own the process” for them, meaning that keeping things on some schedule is part of my job.

This includes staying in touch on a regular schedule, sending emails reminding everyone of next steps, and making sure that meetings are held and re-scheduled if necessary. Follow-up is so key.

It’s all part of keeping the family’s digestive system healthy and moving!  (Sorry for the unfortunate visual! OK, maybe I’m not sorry)

When You’re Too Close to Help

It’s normal for people to want to help others with whom they’re close, like friends and family members.  

But sometimes, in some areas, it’s actually possible to be “too close”, where that closeness actually makes things more difficult.

That’s what we’ll be looking at here today, and as usual, we’ll be delving into the world of family business.

Whenever family members need to manage things (a business, property, wealth, etc.) together, things can get tricky.

 

Sometimes They Ask Us for Help

A few weeks back, I was on a Zoom call with a colleague I had met at a certain conference over the past couple of years.  “Phil” was telling me about a friend of his who was having some issues involving some family members with whom he co-owned a business.

Because Phil was a friend, and had also met the other family members on occasion, he felt like he would be able to help them resolve the issues they were having.  In fact, the friend even asked Phil for advice and counsel. So far, so good.

Except that’s about as far as it can go, realistically. 

Even though Phil might like to help his friend, Phil is actually “too close” to do much more than lend a sympathetic ear to support his friend.  For him to get more involved, say as a mediator of sorts, crosses into uncomfortable territory pretty quickly.

 

Sometimes We Just Want to Help

About a week later, I had a similar discussion with “Molly”, another colleague that I got to know at those same conferences.

Molly was asking me about being a resource to a friend of hers, who was in fact initially a professional acquaintance, but who had become a friend over time.  Let’s call him her “lawyer-friend”.

This lawyer-friend had been telling Molly about a situation that he was involved in with some of his family members, and because Molly is quite familiar with the types of issues families often face, she wanted to offer him some help.

Except that it quickly got to the point where Molly reached the edge of where she was comfortable.  Besides being a good friend and empathetic listener, there wasn’t a lot more that she could do.

While the lawyer-friend might indeed need an outsider to come and help him work things out with his family members, the best person for that role really couldn’t be Molly.

 

And Sometimes We’re Just Always Right There!

I’ve got a childhood friend I’ll call Geoff, who reads my blogs weekly.  He’s not part of a business family, but he’s a smart guy and, like me, he “married well”, in that his wife’s family has a certain level of wealth, along with some family complexities that make things interesting.

Geoff is “right there”, with a front row seat to watch a lot of interesting things that take place in his wife’s family.  But he’s really not well placed to effectuate any meaningful change in the family situation, other than by being a “good husband”.

Like I said, Geoff is a smart man, he knows better than to tread into that territory in his wife’s family.  I commend him for his restraint; I know how hard it can be at times.

 

Being a “Resource” Instead of the “Helper”

There are a number of things these people can do for their friends and family members, and the first one is to try to stop thinking about ways to “help” them.

Helping has a “one-up, one-down” connotation to it, like “poor you, down there, allow me, up here, to help you up”.  It can feel very condescending and isn’t actually that helpful, in most cases.

Instead, if they can have a mindset of being a resource to that person, that’s more of an even playing field.

 

Listening, without Judgement, without “Solving”

A good resource is always also a great listener, and as such, they know how to listen without judgement. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but you can learn to do it, with training and practice.

Supporting someone without jumping in to solve their problems for them is also worthwhile.  Again, it takes practice to get good at that.

A great resource will also be able to connect them with neutral, qualified professionals, like coaches, facilitators and mediators when necessary.

Knowing your limits is key, and sometimes being too close gets in the way.

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.

Guy taking a photoo

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

In 1985, Aretha Franklin released her 30th studio album, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”  I remember the title track distinctly, it was back during my undergraduate days at McGill, and many of the memories from then seem to be etched into my brain.

It’s not one of Franklin’s most famous or memorable songs, but lately I can’t seem to get it out of my thoughts, for reasons I’ll get to.

You see, I’ve become a bit of a “Zoom” addict. Not only that, I’m trying to get anyone else who’ll listen hooked as well.

 

Goodbye Skype, Hello Zoom

For the uninitiated, Zoom is a platform that allows you to make video calls from your computer, phone, or tablet.  It’s been around for a few years, but lately it has become very prevalent and I am absolutely in love with it.

I can still recall decades ago, people saying “you know, some day, we’ll be able to see the people when we talk to them over the phone” and I remember thinking “what do I need to see them for, I usually already know what they look like!”  Oh the naiveté of youth.

Like many people, my first exposure to video calling was with Skype, but there were typically quality issues with most calls. It was free, though, so who really cared?  Turns out, I do!

 

The Choice of Many Organizations

I belong to a lot of different groups and organizations, and as it turns out, they’ve all chosen Zoom as their video platform for webinars and conference calls, so it was a no brainer for me to choose it as well.

I do Zoom calls with my FFI (Family Firm Institute) study group, the weekly PPI (Purposeful Planning Institute) thought leader webinars are on Zoom, FEX (Family Enterprise eXchange) uses Zoom, and the Bowen Center and our BTO (Bowen Theory in Organizations) meets on Zoom too.

And I’m into the home stretch of my coaching certification with CTI (Co-active Training Institute), and all of our meetings are on, you guessed it, Zoom.

So I kind of didn’t have much choice in the matter, really.

 

Taking It to the Next Level

I’ve never been a particularly “early adopter” of technologies, but it seems like I may be here, at least as it applies to using Zoom as my default platform for even simple one-on-one calls with clients and colleagues.

I signed up last fall for $149 US and can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever spent my money more wisely.

I recall the 2018 PPI Rendez Vous where the venerable Jay Hughes was explaining that thanks to platforms like Zoom, “Geography” was no longer the obstacle that it used to be.

Now I’m certain that Hughes has participated in thousands of regular, audio only phone calls in his life, but what he was getting at was the fact that when you can look someone in the eye while speaking with them, it truly is as close as you can get to actually being with them in person.

And so now I’m on a mission, and have already broken many people’s Zoom “virginity” and been their first Zoom host. I’ve even Zoomed with my mother, and she was born in the 1930’s.

 

Scheduled Meetings > Random Phone Calls

Another societal change that’s going on is that people are doing a lot less picking up the phone and calling someone, and actually making scheduled “meetings” at a set time.

My one-on-one coaching clients are all done over Zoom, using scheduled calls, and this allows me to have clients in far flung places, some of whom I’ve never actually met face-to-face.

Even with sibling groups, it is a big time saver, as each person can participate in our calls from their office, home, or hotel room.

 

Take Off for a Week – Without Taking a Week Off!

By far the best aspect of working this way is that it allows me to head to my cottage and not miss a beat.  I can take off for a week, without having to take a week off.

I think my record is 6 Zoom calls in one day, and in a typical week I often get on 10-12 calls.

The personal touch and intimacy you can create when you meet people this way is so far beyond what you can do with audio only.

So, who’s Zooming who?

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?