sometimes you just need to say no written on a piece of paper

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

Family businesses sometimes get a bad rap because of the way they often do things less formally than a “more professional” company would.

The less formal nature of any business can be a plus in many ways, but of course it can turn into a negative too.

When they do turn negative, it’s usually because someone has agreed to something (i.e. said “Yes”) that they really should have said “No” to.

Today we’re going to look at some of those cases.


Summer Jobs

Quite often the children of the “boss” get their first real exposure to the business as teenagers with a summer job.

When a teen asks “Can I have a summer job?” the best answer is usually “Yes”.

The part where it can be hard to say No is if there are follow-up questions like, “Can I take Fridays off?” or “Can I take a couple of weeks off” or “Can I start a bit later than everyone else?”

If the job is to work with other regular employees who all follow certain rules, every time you make an exception for them, you’re setting a bad precedent, that not only affects your child, but also everyone else who sees the special treatment.


Full-Time Jobs

When you’re dealing with adult children, the idea of consistency and no special favours also often comes into play.

“Can I get a job at the company?” will often be answered with a Yes.

But, “Can I have the same pay as my sister for less work, because I have family obligations?” should probably be greeted with a No.

“Can I come in later, work from home most of the time, take Fridays off, etc.” are things that other employees see and if they become standard perks for family employees and no one else, these are huge morale killers.


The Other Side of the Coin

Lest you think that it’s only the next generation who ask for things to which the parents should be saying No, I’ve got a more drastic scenario for you.

This one also occurs far more often than it should, and it involves the parents taking advantage of their kids.

Picture the daughter and/or son, who have been diligently working for the family business for decades, not only following the rules that exist for all of the employees, but going above and beyond.


Some Day this Will All Be Yours

They work evenings and weekends, never take a vacation, and do everything that’s ever asked of them.

They ask the owners, their parents, for a raise or some time off, but they are rebuffed with something along the lines of “Some day this will all be yours”.

That can be an acceptable answer, for a while.

Five years later, when it comes up again, and the answer is still just as vague, that’s where the children need to be able to say NO.


When Exactly IS “Some Day”?

At some point, some clarity, especially around the “when”, is needed. But just because you want clarity, and even need clarity, that doesn’t mean that you automatically get clarity.

Sometimes you need to demand it. And that begins with a firm NO.

As I write this, I’m picturing the old sitcom plot where the mother is tired of being taken for granted and decides to go “on strike”, and finally the husband and kids realize how lucky they are to have Mom around taking care of so many things.


Respect the Interdependence 

As the years and decades go by and family members age and grow into new roles that fit their evolving life stages, the “power balance” shifts.

The people and the roles are very much interdependent all the way through, but the nature of that interdependence changes too.

It’s usually so gradual and incremental that you barely notice it, but it is happening. Sometimes you need to take the time to stop and notice and decide that the way things have been going doesn’t work anymore.

In this circumstance the “NO” is not necessarily the answer to a question, it’s more of a statement.


NO, I’m Not Settling for That Anymore

Many people get to the point where they feel this way. Not all of them have the courage to make the statement though.

I’m not saying that it’s easy, but at some point it needs to be said.

Informal Authority in Family Business

Informal Authority in Family Business

I like writing about aspects of family business that sometimes get overlooked “in real life”.

Some subjects that you can learn about in business school work OK in most places, but somehow, when looking at a family business, things aren’t that way at all.


The Standard Org Chart

Nowhere is this more apparent than with a document that you’ll find in just about any company, the good old organization chart.

There are usually lots of rectangles, connected together by lines, and often looking a bit like a pyramid.

Simple enough, “this person is in charge of this department”, “these people report to this person”, “those department heads in turn report to this VP”, you know what I’m talking about.


The FamBiz Org Chart

A family business, especially early on in its lifespan, may not even have an org chart.

When someone finally insists on creating one, the founder may not like it and may even ignore it.

Eventually, as the company grows, they’ll reluctantly agree that one is needed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll respect it.


Respect My Authority!

The person at the top of the chart will often simply prefer to rely on the fact that they’re at the top and therefore, everyone else is below them and in turn reports to them.

While this is often factually correct, the reporting lines at the lower levels are there for a reason, and employees come to expect that those lines will be respected.

When the owner or founder walks into a department and sees something they don’t like, it’s pretty hard for them to bite their tongue and seek out the person below them on the org chart to relay a message.

In order to “save time” they’ll usually give instructions that the lowly employee feels they have no choice but to follow.


Giving Up Formal Authority

The good news is that while this type of scenario is rather commonplace, it is often harmless.

That is, as long as the person who’s giving the instructions is still truly the top person in the company.

When leaders step back, whether formally retiring or just cutting back to let others build their leadership, this can get a bit trickier.

The employees who are given instructions to do something will ususally feel beholden to the oldest person, and do as they say.

But what if what they’re being told goes against what their “real boss” (according to the org chart) has told them?


Formalize the Authority

One of the things I like to suggest to family business clients is to formalize the authority.

What does that look like? Glad you asked.

When a business leader steps back or steps out, it is essential that the employees know who is now in charge.

There are several ways to do this, and it may be best to use more than one:


          – Leadership Handover Ceremony

A formal ceremony in front of the employees, during which the outgoing leader is thanked and acknowledged.


          – Bulletin Board or Newsletter

A written message posted on a company bulletin board and sent to employees via a regular newsletter publication.


          – A Simple Email to Employees

If there is no newsletter, an email explaining the changes at the top, with appropriate thanks and best wishes.


Culture and Leadership from the Top

The new leader needs to be able to put their cultural stamp on things, and it’s next to impossible for them to do so unless and until the former leader has officially stepped aside.

“Officially” is a big word, though, so it’s important that both parties, the one leaving and the one coming in, be part of any such announcement.

The more people who witness it, the better. This is why I have a strong preference for the ceremony.


Group Decision, for the Good of the Group

For all employees to be able to buy into the new reality, it needs to appear to be a joint decision, and not any sort of “coup” or forced take-over.

The outgoing leader will hopefully see this as “closure” and resist the temptation to return to a leading role.

If a support role can be identified for the outgoing leader, to still retain some presence (at a much lower official level) that can also be good.


Clarity is Key

Few things in any organization are more important that clarity. Clear lines of authority are a must.

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?

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.



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.



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.



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.

Women in a work enviroment

Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

Guest blog from Kim Harland – Thanks Kim!

Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

Family businesses account for 50%–80% of all jobs in a majority of countries worldwide.[1] And it seems women are leading the way, doing far better in leadership and management positions in family businesses than those in the non-family business sector. For example, 80% of family-owned businesses have at least one female director whereas only 17.7% of companies in the FTSE 100 have female directors.[2]

To celebrate the key role women play in family businesses, we spoke to a number of leading ladies and asked them to share their advice on range of topics plus give you a few tips on how to apply them to your family business.


What makes family business successful?

Across the board, all the women we spoke to felt three important principles underpin family business success – communication, a clear family vision and trust.

According to Lea Boyce, a key advisor at Boyce Family Office (5th generation family business), family businesses also have a crucial competitive advantage over the corporate sector – their nimbleness.

“While non-family businesses are busy having layers of meetings, a family in business has made the decision, got family buy in, done the deal and moved onto the next opportunity. As a result, they are able to be more entrepreneurial,” she says.

Another factor vital to family business success is the induction process for the next generation of family owners. On this topic, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski (author and executive director at MPIL Steel Structures Ltd, a 2nd generation family business), has some important advice.

“As you bring your daughter or son into the business, remember that you are unsettling an existing framework – things will change and you have to be willing to let them. It is important to let your children make their own mistakes. Sometimes their screw-ups will be of enormous magnitude – but remember, at least the worst is happening while you’ve got their back,” she says. “Whenever possible, help your children calculate and mitigate the risk without taking away their sense of ownership of the project.”


Your family business check-up

  1. Do you have a formal structure to allow open and honest communication as a family group?
  2. Has your family group articulated and documented shared business and family goals?
  3. Are you harnessing the opportunities presented by your next generation?

What’s the biggest challenge for women in family business?
Many of the women we spoke to believe the greatest challenge they face in business is the struggle to be taken seriously.

Lea says when it comes to families, patriarchy remains the dominant world view so when clients encounter a matriarch running the business they find it very confronting and challenging.

Priyanka feels that even in 2017, there is still a lack of role models for women in business. But she has an interesting idea for change.

“What is needed is a community of feminist men in family businesses who help women along the way by challenging the opinions of other men,” she says.


Your family business check-up

  1. Look for role models within your own or other family businesses.
  2. Consider a mentor – it is always helpful to work with others who have been there before you.
  3. Keep in mind that many women in family businesses can draw great inspiration from the men in their lives – their fathers, brothers and husbands.

The benefit of hindsight.

Everyone loves a bit of hindsight and when asked what advice they would give to their 25- year-old selves, our interviewees provided some excellent food for thought.

Looking back, Sara Pantaleo – CEO of 2nd generation family business La Porchetta – has this counsel for young women.

“Fight for what you believe. Gender doesn’t matter so just go for it. Don’t be mediocre. Strive to achieve. I sometimes see amazing, intelligent young women just accept things and I think that’s quite sad.”

Finally, Corrina, a 6th generation member of the Oliver winemaking family, suggests reflecting on one’s partner to see how they can help – rather than hinder – your family business.

“Recognise the key role your husband plays in enabling you to succeed in business and life – with support, not competition or jealousy, and contributing his share to the family.”


Your family business check-up

  1. What can you learn from the elders in your family? Ask your older family members the same question we did – “What advice would you give to a 25-year-old version of yourself?’ You might be pleasantly surprised at the answers and what they can do for your business.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these Insights from a few prominent women in family businesses. We have recently published our “Women in Family Business E-book”. If you’d like to learn a bit more about what we do, head over to our website.

[1] Global Data Points, Family Firm Institute,, accessed 18/10/17

[2] Imperial College Business School, Leeds University Business School and Durham University Business School, , Accessed 4/10/17

Bird on a Cords aligned together

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment

This week it’s time for another installment of the “5 Things you need to know”, and the subject is one that I consider to be tremendously important: Family Alignment.

I’ve written about Family Alignment a number of times in the past, but I decided to attack it again just because it needs to be better understood.

Much of the content of this post comes from a “Quick Start Guide” (“white paper”) I wrote on the subject in 2016. If you want a broader and deeper look at Family Alignment, please feel free to read and share it.

Without further ado, here are:

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment


  1. There are 2 Parts: “Intra” and “Inter”

The first thing to look at is making sure that the family members are aligned amongst themselves. I call that the “Intra” part.

I’m talking about general agreement on the family’s values and goals, along with the important questions regarding whether or not they really want to continue to work together.

Once you’ve answered that one, then there’s the all-important element of aligning the family with its external partners.

Here is where we want to make sure that the family is working with and investing in businesses that are aligned with the values and goals that everyone agreed on in the first part.


  1. Do the “Intra” BEFORE the “Inter”

It’s important to work on the “intra” part and make sure the key family members are all on board with each other first.

If you haven’t worked out what you all agree on, there will be issues that could derail things going forward.

The term “collective responsibility” is one I heard recently that conveys this well.

The family members need to develop a consensus that they are responsible to each other, and only then decide on what outside businesses, causes, investments and partnerships they’ll work on.


  1. Starting Down the Road to Governance

Governance is kind of a loaded word that I’ve written a lot about, and it still has some negative connotations when people hear it.

To me, family alignment and family governance go hand in hand. Working on getting a family aligned necessitates getting into the questions around family governance.

Working on family governance is a good thing, and it’s actually THE key to any family being able to successfully transition its wealth to the next generation.

It’s impossible to have an aligned family without some governance, and, by the same token, it’s impossible to institute governance in a family if there’s no alignment.


  1. It Takes a Lot of Time and Effort

Nobody ever said this stuff was going to be easy. It isn’t, and it takes lots of time and lots of effort.

You know those stats you always see about the high failure rates around intergenerational wealth transfer? This is why.

Most families aren’t willing to do the work required to make sure that family members figure out how they’re going to make decisions together, how they’re going to communicate clearly and regularly, and how they’re going to solve problems together.

I’m actually talking about a considerable amount of time, not just in terms of hours, but in terms of months and years too.

For a family to figure out all this stuff is actually a pretty big project. Those who undertake it seriously soon learn that it really is hard work, BUT, they usually see great progress quickly once they begin.


  1. Process is Much More Important than Content

Unfortunately family alignment isn’t something you can just buy off the shelf. It isn’t some piece of “content” that you can pay your lawyer and accountant for.

The process of figuring out the answers to all of the important questions, together, as a group of relatively equal family members, is the most important thing.

If the Smith family has a beautiful family mission statement and a 50-page family constitution, but they haven’t had a meeting in years because one half of the family isn’t speaking to other half, that’s nice content with zero process, and a disaster waiting to happen.

If the Jones family meets regularly, has great exchanges during which they work together to define and achieve goals as a group, even if they don’t have anything in writing, then they’ve got the process down nicely.

Which family will succeed in passing the wealth down?

The family that is aligned and has taken the steps to determine its governance will have better odds.

Family Business meeting where there is confusion between members

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

This week I want to look at the question of clarity.

My premise is that when you can see things clearly, there are plenty of potential benefits, so taking the time to make sure that you are truly seeing things clearly is usually well worth it.

Family businesses are full of ambiguous situations that can often exist for years or even decades. Many roles and responsibilities are poorly defined, but somehow, sometimes almost miraculously, things still manage to get done.

Family businesses are notoriously resilient.


Communication Breakdown

One of the major challenges that most business families face is clear communication. It has always been that way, and probably always will be.

Of course each person has their own communication style, and some are simply better at it than others.

When I work with a family, I’ll often spend more time at the outset just working with them to make sure that they all really understand each other than on anything else.

I also believe that just about anyone can improve their communication abilities, if they want to. Part of my job is usually to make them understand why it’s worth their effort to do so.


It Starts at the Top – But…

We’ve all heard that everything important starts at the top. I agree with that, in general, but that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t the one at the top, there’s nothing you can do.

Communication is a two-way street. To me, that means that the “sender” and the “receiver” of any communication have a responsibility to make sure that the message was understood.

One of my favourite expressions is this one, is attributed to George Bernard Shaw:

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


Allow Me to Clarify

Now, in the interest of being “ultra” clear, I will try to make sure that everyone reading this understands what this means.

The biggest problem with communication is that very often the person who has spoken or written something truly believes that the person to whom they were speaking or writing actually received and understood the message as it was intended.

Unfortunately, far too often, in reality, the person either did not receive the message, or they got it, but didn’t understand it.

I personally drive my family members crazy sometimes with my obsession to handle my end of any communication. “Did you hear me? Could you please acknowledge that you understood?”


Getting Back to Confused Versus Concerned

The idea for this blog came from seeing someone’s face and trying to evaluate what was going on in their mind. I do this a lot, and you probably do too, even if it is only done subconsciously.

The particular situation isn’t important (and, truth be told, I don’t even recall what sparked it) but it struck me that sometimes people appear concerned about a situation, but if only they were less confused, they would end up less concerned.


Clear Up the Confusion

My “prescription” for many families is pretty much the same.

Clear up the confusion, the ambiguity, the “fog” and the uncertainty, and everyone will have less things about which to be “concerned”.

This is why families so often feel “stuck” in a situation and then due to inertia, they remain there.

It is usually only when something changes that they get propelled into action.


Shine a Light

Quite often what the family really needs is an additional perspective on things. Each person in the family is naturally preoccupied with their own situation, which they typically only see from their own viewpoint.

When they bring in a person from the outside, who can then shine the flashlight onto some of the areas of confusion and ambiguity, things get a bit more clear.


Shared Viewpoints

If the person with the flashlight is also skilled at facilitating a conversation around ways to determine a collective shared viewpoint that everyone can buy into, then they can really start to make progress.

The word “consternation” came up when I was thinking through this “confused vs concerned” idea. I wondered why the word “consterned” doesn’t exist. Maybe I just invented it.

So, if you are consterned with things going on in your family business, I suggest that you work on ways to clarify things first.

When things are clearer, you’ll have fewer things to be concerned about.

The Dimmer Switch

The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

This week I’m going to touch on a very big topic that I haven’t written nearly enough about. It’s also a subject that lots of families face, whether they have a business or not.

The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago while listening to the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

As I had stated in Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?, there was going to be at least one other blog that came from that call.

The great nugget for this blog actually came from the Q & A at the end of the call. (Many Thanks to Matt Wesley of Merrill Lynch)


Having the “Money” Talk 

One of the call participants asked a question about helping their client families have the big talk about wealth.

You know how this goes. Wealthy parents talk to their advisors, the advisors strongly suggest that the parents begin to share information about their wealth with the kids, and the parents usually balk.

They understand that they should have the talk, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to do it.


The Dimmer Switch Analogy

The man who asked the question was looking for ways to help his clients begin the important stage of sharing information about the family’s wealth with their children.

The answer that came back was brilliant, and it is one that I plan on using. Parents often think about this “talk” as an all-or-nothing proposition. They shouldn’t!

It’s not a binary situation, where you go from complete “secrecy” to “full disclosure”.

It’s NOT a regular light switch, where the family was in the dark, and you flip the switch up and now everyone sees everything.


Time for your Pupils to Adjust

If you’ve ever gone to the movies during the day and you walk out into the daylight, you know that it takes time for your eyes to adjust.

In the same way, you really don’t want to “blind” your children with everything in one shot.

There is no need to quench their thirst for information with a firehose.

I like the dimmer switch analogy for a couple of reasons.


Shine a Little Light

I think the idea of “shining a little light” is the perfect antidote to the idea of “keeping them in the dark”.

And everyone knows what a dimmer switch is, and what it does. It allows you to control the amount of light.

So where should you begin?


Why Are We Here?

So let’s say you’ve decided that you can’t wait any longer and you need to talk about your wealth with the next generation of your family. Great. It’s not rocket science.

A frank and open way to get started is to tell them that you love them and that you care about them, now, and for the rest of their lives.

You could also share that you understand that if things go as they usually do, they will very likely outlive their parents, and that’s a good thing.

So, given that, there’s a lot of “stuff” that you have accumulated over the years and you need to begin to figure out what’s going to happen with it all after your gone.


One Step At a Time

The stage is now set. You have made them aware that you will be having some important discussions going forward.

And you control the dimmer switch, on both “how much” and “how fast” you’ll shed the light.

You don’t have to do it all today. Or even this week. Or this month. But preferably once you start, you do continue again sometime this year.

They may ask questions. That’s a good thing. You need to respond to all of their questions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to tell them everything they want to know.

Take your time. Turn that dimmer switch very slowly. But do turn it. And don’t turn it back the other way, although I’m not even sure if you can turn this metaphorical dimmer switch back towards darkness.


Dialogue > Monologue

You may have pictured yourself giving your family a speech about this subject. I strongly urge you NOT to look at it this way, or to act this way.

The “go slow” approach works well because you can adjust as you go. A dialogue, where you take the time to listen to their questions and concerns, is what you should be going for here.