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Roles and Rules for Enterprising Families

Back in January after the Institute for Family Governance’s third annual conference, I noted in Family Governance: One Step at a Time that that one day would end up being the source for a number of future blog posts.

I’ve officially lost count already, and here’s another one.

Its inspiration was the second presentation of the day, by John Ambrecht and Michael Whitty, entitled “Governance Structures that Actually Fit a Psychological Model of Human Behavior”.

Looking over their 75-page slide deck some 10 weeks later, there was a LOT of information in their talk.

 

From Roles to Rules ©

The psychological model they referred to is detailed in a 2004 paper that was published in the California Trusts and Estates Quarterly titled “FROM ROLES TO RULES©:† A NEW MODEL FOR MANAGING FAMILY DYNAMICS IN THE ESTATE PLANNING PROCESS”

I’ll leave it to the most curious readers to examine this in more depth, and I’ll simply talk about family business roles and the importance of eventually making rules that everyone needs to learn to abide by.

 

In the Beginning…

When family businesses start, things are usually rather informal, with few real rules and with poorly defined rules, if any.

As the business grows, the division of work necessitates that roles become clarified, and many family companies have some difficulty even with this roles component.

When that man tells me what to do, is he my boss, or is he my Dad?  (Of course the answer to that question is “Yes”)

Role Clarity and Making Rules

You may be thinking that in order to properly define each person’s role, making some rules around things would make a lot of sense. And I think you’d be correct.

While Ambrecht and Whitty suggest that there’s an evolution “from roles to rules”, they certainly don’t mean that you finish with roles completely and then arrive at the rules stage.

It’s more of a change in emphasis as the family business matures.

 

Formality is your Friend

Regular readers will recognize the expression “formality is your friend” as one I return to from time to time, and this is another such occasion.

Both roles, when they are well defined, and rules, when they are clear and are actually enforced, certainly help out with formality.

I hope that you noticed that I just added some conditions to both roles and rules there.

If the roles are poorly defined, they won’t do much good, and if the rules aren’t clear, or worse, if they aren’t enforced, it may be worse than not having any rules at all.

 

Rules Lead to Governance

Sticking with the formality, that feels like it fits really well with the rules idea.  And as a family makes more formal rules, they can (hopefully) eventually end up in the wonderful world of family governance.

Recall that this post began with a mention of a conference devoted to the subject of family governance.

As I wrote a couple of years ago in Family Governance, Aaaah!, my personal views and feelings around the “G-Word” have evolved.

Families will often have a negative view of governance because it sounds way more formal that what they are ready for and for what they think they need.  And they are often right about that.

 

How Are We Going To…..

When someone explains to them that family governance doesn’t have to be that complicated, and that it really involves answering three simple questions, people can get on board more easily.

Those questions are:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

Three questions that can have some pretty long answers, agreed, but still only three categories to worry about.  And the third one is really mostly a repeat of the first one, but with an added emphasis on trickier situations.

 

Back to the Roles and the Rules

While governance feels like it’s more about rules, it is also very much about roles too.

All those decisions that need to be made will be made by people, and the bigger and more complex the family’s wealth becomes, the more important it is that they find ways to make those decisions in ways that satisfy the family group.

Business decisions can often appear much simpler than those that affect the family.  Please see The Unsung Role of Family Champions for more on key roles in enterprising families.

As families approach key generational transitions, it becomes especially important to pay close attention to these ideas.

 

Business Families: Looking for Glue and Grease

Business Families: Looking for Glue and Grease

This week we’ll look at some characteristics of successful business families, with some analogies to hopefully make my case more compelling.

Longtime readers with great memories may recall that I’ve noted this “glue and grease” idea before.

In late 2017, in My Notes from a Great Keynote, I touched on this idea for the first time.

The keynote speech in question had mentioned that one of the benefits of clarifying a family’s values is that they provide some “glue” that is important in keeping a family united.

I added that in addition to keeping things together, it’s also important that things continue to run smoothly, so that “grease” is also a key element, in addition to glue.

 

My Kingdom for Some Greasy Glue?

At the end of that post, I asked if any readers could provide me with examples of substances that had qualities of both glue and grease, in the hopes that there would be some product that I could point to when talking about this subject.

Alas nobody come forward with any ideas, which was a bit disappointing, but certainly not surprising.

The idea has continued to simmer in the back of my head ever since.  I was determined to revisit this and so here we are.  I wish that I could claim that I had a “eureka” moment, but alas, I haven’t.

But I may be getting closer.  We’ll wrap up this post with that, but in the meantime, let’s talk about those important qualities for enterprising families.

 

“Family-Ness”: Finding Goldilocks

For any family hoping to succeed at keeping their wealth together over generations, they really need to have enough “family-ness” to keep everything and everyone together to a certain degree.

In the first generation or two of the building of the family wealth, this is usually much easier, since most of the family members will have grown up in the same household, or at least in close proximity to one another.

When you get to the third and fourth generations, it’s quite common for people and family branches to have spread out to different geographical locations, and even other countries.

When family members don’t see each other as regularly, it can get more difficult for everyone to feel like they’re still a part of the same family.

That’s why it’s necessary to ensure at least some recognition of this, along with the intention to make enough of a sustained effort to be sure that some family events are always on the calendar.

But can there be too much family-ness?

 

Krazy Glue is NOT Ideal

While many family members love spending time together, there’s always the possibility of having too much of a good thing.  There are limits.  I enjoy spending time with my family members, and I hope that they enjoy spending time with me. But I’m not sure that I’d invite them to stay with me for an extended period of time either.

Even siblings who get along famously can run into issues after they each get married and you throw the in-laws into the mix.

Trying to force the issue of family time can be worse than not having enough.

 

Grease: Communication and Flow

When people feel too stuck together, because the glue has hardened and now they can’t escape, new problems can arise.

As important as it is for everyone to feel comfortable to enter the family space, they need to also feel just as comfortable to exit.

While my grease analogy is certainly about lots of clear communication, including making sure all family members understand what the glue is that is keeping them together, it’s also about the flow of people into and out of the system, each according to their own comfort level.

Salad Dressing: My Little Eureka?

Salad Dressing: My Little Eureka?

The best analogy that I’ve managed to come up with for my glue and grease is salad dressing. I’m a huge Costco fan, and they always have a variety of salad kits, of which I’ve tried a handful.

When you open them up, some of the leafy greens typically find their way onto the counter.  Until you add the dressing and mix it in.

Then things hold together better. And when you add in the other ingredients, they all hang together nicely, while still sliding around freely.

Salad without any dressing is clearly missing something.

Likewise families need glue AND grease.

A hand making the sign of peace infront of a sunset

FamBiz Conflict:  In PIECES for the Sake of PEACE?

Many advisors who work with business families have their own inherent biases.  This isn’t a big problem, especially when we recognize them and admit them openly when the situation warrants.

Personally, I love it when both a business AND the family behind it can remain together for the long haul, including through an intergenerational transition.  Of course, such transitions are a point where many family businesses face their longest odds, because it isn’t always easy (or even possible) to get everything “just right”, as one generation leaves the scene and another one follows in their place.

When the family and their advisors, recognize that it probably isn’t going to work, that’s when some key decisions need to be made.

Family or Business as Priority?

The main question that often arises, even if it’s seldom expressed this way, is whether they’re going to prioritize the business, or the family.

The outside professionals who are working with the business are much more likely to prioritize the survival of the business, even if it’s at the expense of the family.

The business is the “main entity” of concern, they’re business specialists first, their client is the business, that’s the circle that they understand the best, that’s who they invoice, that’s what they know.

In contrast, I work in the family circle, so my bias is always to find ways for the family to be the major priority, not the business.  In my view, the business is an asset, that happens to be owned by the family.  Assets can be bought and sold.  Family harmony?  That’s a very precious intangible asset, and you can’t buy it, especially when you really need it.

 

Who Needs a Monolith?

Thankfully, the era of one monolithic company is not as common as it was decades ago.  As noted a couple of weeks ago in “On Enterprising Families and Family Wealth”, it’s much more common these days for successful families to be involved in more than one enterprise.

In addition to diversifying the family’s financial risk into different industry sectors, another great benefit can be that there are more places for family members to excel in their own part of the overall family wealth spectrum.

Different Paths, Similar Destinations

Over the years we’ve all heard stories about the family with two kids and one store, who opened another store so that each of the siblings could have “their own”, or the brother who moved away to open a new location in a different territory.

Occasionally there would be a company that needed to be “split into pieces” to accomplish the same result, and it was this type of situation that I had in mind when conceiving this post, with the “pieces” and “peace” play on words.

These days it may be more likely to be one of the rising generation members becoming an “intrapreneur” and creating a start-up in a new industry but within the walls of the “mother house” company. Or it could be a family member pitching the “family bank” with an idea that needs funding, which could become the next key growth piece in the enterprising family’s wealth strategy.

It could be some family members looking at diversifying the family holdings into private equity or impact investing, or simply having those rising generation members who are so inclined, taking an active role in the family’s philanthropic initiatives, rather than remaining with other siblings or cousins in one of the businesses.

scrabble letters put together to form the world peace

Many Ways to Achieve Peace

Of course the bigger the enterprise the more places there are for people to assume roles that suit them, where they’re less likely to clash with other family members.

In cases where rival siblings feel “stuck” together in one place that’s beginning to feel “too small”, figuring out how to cut the entity into the right pieces can be a struggle.

But my bias will always be to work to find a way to get that done and keep the family harmony intact, even if the business has to “suffer” some consequences.

 

Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners

It’s hard to put a value on family harmony, but I always like to think about important family gatherings and the fact that these are places and occasions where you need everyone to be comfortable coming together.

If working too closely together makes this impossible, please consider trying some of the ideas here.

 

Buildings and corporate offices

On Enterprising Families and Family Wealth

Today we’re going to look at a couple of subjects that have been brewing in my head for a while.

I’m going to combine some elements of vocabulary and evolution, which may sound a little more arcane than what I have in mind.  So let’s get going.

 

 

Family Business: Been Around Forever

We all recognize that family business has been around since the beginning of mankind.

Centuries ago, out of necessity, the family used to be even more of a “unit”.

As economies developed, they also became an “economic unit”, as it was natural for families and tribes to work together for their own advancement.

 

 

Business Families: More Recent

More recently, as society has evolved and as economies have advanced and matured, we’ve seen more and more “business families” emerge.

There often comes a time when the people leading a family business actually make a shift to thinking of themselves as more of a “business family” than simply a family business.

There are a couple of elements at play here:

  • Prioritizing the family over the business
  • Working ON the family, instead of IN the business

This shift usually comes only after certain success has been attained in the business that allows its leaders the luxury of time to make this shift.  (Many never make it this far.)

Lots of family businesses remain a family business forever, and of course still serve a great purpose for their members and for society.

See my 2014 book: SHIFT your Family Business: Stop working IN your Family Business, Start working ON your Business Family

 

 

Enter the Family Enterprise

Once a family achieves a certain amount of success with their business, all sorts of possibilities open up.

From growing the original business into more geographic locations, to vertical or horizontal integration, to developing completely new lines of business, the combinations and permutations are literally infinite.

The common thread is often a family, for whom all this wealth is being created.

When a family is involved in more than just its original business, the term “family enterprise” is often the one that describes them best.

This can also be the result of a liquidity event, where a major business is sold, and the proceeds are reinvested into other ventures.

It can be very important for a family to get to a point where they can view any of their businesses as simply another asset that the family owns.

 

Cartoon showing people standing on coins

Enterprising Families

We’re getting into vocabulary and semantics a bit, but there’s a good reason.

Finding the right label for something is often a key to getting members of a group to develop a common understanding of who they are, what they are doing, and where they are going.

I mentioned off the top that we’d be looking at evolution as well.  Let me expand on that now.

Just as a family can go from concentrating on one business during it’s family business stage, and then “evolve” into more of a business family, there can be a similar evolution to the enterprising stage.

These “stages” of evolution often take decades, and can coincide with generational transitions as well.

A recent edition of the FFI Practitioner highlighted a couple of case examples you may be interested in.

 

 

Family Firm Institute – Business or Wealth Focus?

In the same way that any family may evolve from one stage to the next, the organizations of professionals who serve enterprising families have also evolved.

The Family Firm Institute began over 30 years ago, and in the beginning their target was essentially family businesses.

In the intervening decades, they have also concerned themselves much more with family enterprises as a whole, including the world simply defined as “family wealth”.

 

 

Designations and Certifications

FFI now offers certifications in Family Business Advising and in Family Wealth Advising.

In Canada, FEX, through its FEA program, offers the designation “Family Enterprise Advisor”.  Thanks to their “later mover advantage”, they were able to use the more holistic term “family enterprise”, which became more current in this century.

The common thread through all of these is the existence of a family with enough wealth and complexity to worry about.

 

Different Labels, Similar Issues

Families evolve from one decade and generation to the next, and the industry that serves continues to get more sophisticated.

Working together, we are trying to get better results for families everywhere.

And those who can figure out the family dynamics usually make out best.

 

 

 

Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two?

A few weeks ago in Family Governance: One Step at a Time I noted that the Institute for Family Governance’s 3rd annual conference would end up inspiring at least a handful of future blog posts.

So here we are with the first of those.

It comes from the presentation by David York, who was making his first visit to IFG.  I was already familiar with York’s work from his books and his past presentations at the annual Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

I find York to be one of the more compelling speakers in the family wealth space, and you can see for yourself by checking out one of his TED talks, A new way to think about inheritance”.

 

Estate-Planning Assumptions

At IFG he talked about some of the important assumptions that estate-planning attorneys typically make that should be questioned.

One of the main ones is that if transferring some wealth to the next generation is good, then transferring more wealth is better.

I think it’s perfectly understandable that most people make that assumption, because most of the time it makes sense.

But “most of the time” is not the same as “all of the time”, and that was York’s point.

 

A Dynamite Analogy

His analogy to explain this resonated with me so strongly that it became the inspiration for this blog post.

York stated that for some parents, handing down a huge chunk of wealth to their children can feel like giving them a lit stick of dynamite.

And, because of the prevalence of the “more is better” assumption, by the time all the technical specialists do their thing to maximize the size of the proverbial pie, instead of simply handing over one lit stick of dynamite, they can look forward to handing their kids two of them!

 

Parental Desires Meet Professional Customs

Part of the problem stems from the fact that most professionals have fallen into the same habits of treating their wealthy family clients in a homogeneous way.

For families that fall into a certain range of financial wealth, say the “seven figures” area, this would normally be sufficient.

But once you get into “eight figures”, and on up into nine and ten, those same rules just can’t be applied the same way.

Those parental fears about dynamite are real, but that doesn’t necessarily make them easy to discuss.

See video:  How Much is Too Much?

 

Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two?

Focus on Financial Wealth

The real issue is that so many of the family’s advisors focus solely on their financial wealth.  It’s easy to see and to count, and it is pretty important.  But it isn’t the only thing that the family cares about.

Sometimes the family leaders have an inkling that they should be trying to work on some of the family dynamics issues, but their advisors typically aren’t well versed in those issues and so the focus continues to be on the size of the pie.

One of my favourite ways of talking about this is the simple equation that I wrote about a couple of years ago, in Is Your Continuity Planning PAL in Danger?

The equation is this:

 

People + Assets = Legacy

If you don’t include any planning around the people, and you only figure out what to do with the assets, you are missing out.

 

 

Family Office: Problem or Solution?

I’ve started to write more about Family Offices here, so let’s look at how things look from their point of view.

Is a family office part of the problem, or are they part of the solution.  The answer, of course, is, “it depends”.

If the family office is mostly about financial wealth management, it is likely part of the problem, since it will be focused on producing more sticks of dynamite.

If, however, the family office also helps the family with their governance, their values and vision, and family alignment, then they can be a big part of the solution.

 

 

Human Capital

This all comes down to looking at those inheritors in terms of their human capital.

As York noted, most families would love it if their rising generation would be able to do just fine even if they did not inherit a single dollar from their parents.

And, he went on, those same parents would also love it if they had so much confidence in their children that they wouldn’t fear leaving them everything.

Is there anyone in your circle of advisors helping with those issues?

 

 

 

family business champion

The Unsung Role of Family Champions

This week I’m introducing a subject I first heard about a few years ago, but that has recently been put back on my “front burner”.

I first heard about the concept of a “Family Champion” about five years ago, which would’ve been right around the time that Joshua Nacht was completing his PhD on the subject.

Nacht’s supervisor was Dennis Jaffe, who is quite well known in the circles of the Family Firm Institute (FFI) and the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI), both of which I was then just discovering.

 

Like a “Product Champion”?

Decades ago I recall coming across the idea of a “product champion”, while reading some business books.

As I recall, the concept was that you needed to have one really interested and motivated person who really cared about the development of a new product within a company, if it was to have any hope of succeeding.

Later in my career, when our family’s business had successfully licensed one of our patented products to a large company to manufacture and sell in the US, we learned about the importance of a champion, the hard way.

 

Champ Doesn’t Work Here Anymore

The company we licensed was acquired within the first year of our agreement, and both the VP and product manager we had been dealing with soon left for greener pastures.

Our agreement “survived” the acquisition, but without a “product champion” around anymore, the product we were expecting them to make and sell (and pay us a royalty on) soon became their 99th priority.

We ended up cancelling the agreement shortly thereafter.

From that point on, the idea of a “champion”, as someone who cares about something and who will assume a leadership role in making sure things happen, became seared in my memory.

Family Circle Issues and Governance

When we think about a family business, we can safely assume that in the business “circle”, there are a number of champions around, whether they be for a product or a project.

The role is actually most often actually part of someone’s job, and something that someone is specifically paid for.  In fact, if they do it well, they may even get a nice bonus.

But every family business has another key circle, the family circle, where things are often much less clear.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly, knows that I always bring things back to the family and how tricky it can be to make sense of things there.

 

Trophys

 

Momentum and Making Things Happen

Because it isn’t normally part of anyone’s “job”, making sure that things get taken care of in the family circle requires someone to be an instigator and a leader, and this person is often referred to as a “Family Champion”.

Joshua Nacht, who now works with the Family Business Consulting Group, has recently updated some of his PhD work and released a book entitled Family Champions and Champion Families.

In the book, he gives some great examples of who these champions are and the roles that they play.

 

 

The 100-Year Family Businesses Project

I asked Nacht how he came up with the idea for his PhD and he explained that Jaffe was his PhD supervisor.

Because Jaffe had recently launched a years-long project of finding and interviewing 100 family businesses that had each lasted a minimum of 100 years, he employed some of his students to conduct many of the interviews for him.

It was after doing a number of these in-depth interviews that Nacht and Jaffe realized that one of the keys to family business survival was to have someone who is interested, motivated, and capable of making sure that the family circle was never neglected in favour of the business circle.

 

 

Advisors Supporting the Family Champion

As an advisor who typically works with families who are beginning to work on family alignment and family governance, I am always on the lookout for those family members who are most open to the ideas that I bring.

The family champion role is often a lonely one, because many family members are preoccupied with their own lives and those of their nuclear family, rather than that of the extended family.

Outside advisors who learn to team with family champions, the ones with whom their messages resonate the most, are best positioned to create a lasting impact for the family, by supporting one another’s efforts.

 

 

Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital

This week we’re going to look at an interesting model that I came across last year, and talk about how it might apply to enterprising families.

When I first saw it, I mistakenly thought that it was already quite well known, but it doesn’t seem to be.

At the FFI conference last fall in London, one of the presenters had it on a Powerpoint slide and asked how many people were familiar with it.  With dozens of people in the room, I was one of less than a handful of people to raise my hand.

The model comes from Japan and is called Ikigai, and the sub-title of the graphic I found calls it “A Japanese concept meaning ‘A reason for being’”.

Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital

Pretty Heady Stuff

I guess that makes it seem like pretty heady (and potentially “heavy”) stuff, but I promise not to go too far afield here.

As usual, I want to look at how things affect families, whether they run a business, have a family office or are simply part of the “ultra-high-net-worth” set, and are concerned with raising their offspring to have meaningful lives.

For most parents, few things are more important than raising our children, with the long-term goal of having them turn out to be well adjusted and happy.

Some adopt a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards their offspring’s career goals, while others are quite directive.

 

What You Love, What You’re Good At

The old standards of “do what you love” and “find something that you’re good at” are still as pertinent as ever when we try to guide our children as they make choices while they’re coming of age.

Of course there are a number of other considerations that also come into play, and the Ikigai brings up a couple of them.

Some people will look at the other dimensions and quickly agree that they are also important, but my point here today is that they don’t necessarily apply equally to everyone.

 

Show Me The Money

In addition to loving what you do and being good at it, for most people it’s also important to get paid for their work, so finding something that you can be well paid for is often very important as well.

Notice that I said “often”, and not always, because I’m not talking about “most people”.

Families that have already succeeded at accumulating significant wealth can prove to be important exceptions here.

 

What the World Needs

Personally, I’ve seen other models that noted the three aspects we’ve already covered, but the one “new” or added dimension is the one where you also consider “what the world needs” in the mix.

This seems to fit quite nicely with the way many Millennials are typically portrayed.

More than ever, it seems that many in the younger generation truly care more about the collective than they do about increasing their own riches.

So in some cases, people may find it more compelling to look for careers where they feel like they are making a positive impact on the world, as a higher priority than making a lot of money.

 

Different Generation, Different Drivers

Trying to find something that checks all four boxes may seem like a low-percentage game.

That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done or that it isn’t worth trying though.

Plenty of people have done well and lived very rewarding lives while only really “succeeding” in a couple of the four areas, thank you very much.

Many parents have sacrificed a lot and worked at jobs that they never loved but needed to do to provide for their families, with the hope that someday, their kids could have a better life.

 

The Resource Generation Set

I recently came across an organization that’s attracting many young people from financially wealthy families who want to make a difference in the world.

They call themselves Resource Generation, and appear to want to help create a world with more equitable social justice.

I’m sure that those who are involved must have some very interesting dinner conversations with their families.

It appears that there are indeed some people who are more concerned with the way the world works and less concerned with making money, because they already have plenty.

And I think that the Ikigai model can go a long way in helping families discuss these important subjects together.

Questions Don’t Always Require Answers | Family Business Guidance

Questions Don’t Always Require Answers

I sometimes use this blog to talk about abstract ideas that seem only tangentially related to the fields of family business and family legacy.  This will likely be one of those posts.

The genesis of the idea for this piece came back in October in London, at the FFI conference, when I was speaking with a friend and co-presenter about the role she plays on a family business’ board of directors.

During that conversation she related some feedback she got from the family patriarch, who told her that he liked the fact that she “asks great questions”, and, here is the good part, she “often doesn’t even care what the answers are”.

Of course I quickly thanked her for a great blog idea!

Reasons for Asking Questions

This of course got me to thinking about why people ask questions in the first place.

There are plenty of different reasons that people ask questions, depending on lots of different elements, and the context in which said questions are being asked.

But simple logic would seem to dictate that when someone asks a question, they are interested in the answer!

Indifference Versus “Not Caring”

This brings us to an important nuance in what I’ve written above.  First of all, I’m not sure that my quote from the patriarch is verbatim.Questions Don’t Always Require Answers | Family Business Guidance

But more importantly, I want to make it clear that neither he, nor she, nor I, believe that she truly doesn’t “care” what the answers are.  It’s more about the fact that she is indifferent to the answer.

And that of course makes me think about how often people ask questions where they have a predetermined expected answer that you will either get “right” or “wrong”.

Coaching Questions

When you ask someone a question, there are literally an unlimited number of ways you can phrase it.  And we won’t even get into the tone of voice and other non-verbal aspects, because that could be a whole other blog, or even a book.

Those who have taken coaching courses have learned that there are certain types of questions that typically yield better results, and I’m pretty sure that these are the kinds that my colleague uses in her role on the board of that family business.

Most people have heard about the idea of avoiding questions that can be answered with Yes or No, i.e. open ended questions.  That’s a great start, and it also requires that you then listen to the answer, which will then be longer than a single word.

Don’t Ask Why

Another “rule” that I try to hold myself to is not to ask questions that start with “Why”.

Even though it’s not always the case, very often the person hearing a question that starts with “Why” will feel put on the defensive, and feel the need to “explain themselves”.

When people answer questions from a defensive stance, it doesn’t necessarily add to a productive discussion.

If you truly want to understand what someone was thinking, because you are curious, and not simply judging them, there are better ways to ask these types of questions.

What and How

Simply abolishing the word “why” and replacing it with a much softer “what” or “how” can make a surpringly big difference.

“How did you come to the decision to do that?” or “What was going on at the time that lead to that decision” are not that much different in terms of the insights that the asker of the question wants to know.

But these last two questions will likely land much more softly, and in turn yield a more useful answer, that can then send the conversation into a more positive direction.

Past Versus Future

A board of directors will normally spend much of their time looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past, and this is where some really interesting opportunities for questions can arise.

Some of the best will start with “What if…” and they bring up many possibilities that make people think about what could be.

Whatever the circumstance or context, the best questions are usually driven by real curiosity, and not with any judgement.

This is sometimes easier said than done, but like most things, practice makes you better at it.

The curious attitude of the questioner usually comes through loud and clear.

Global FamBiz Students Compete for Glory

Global FamBiz Students Compete for Glory

The University of Vermont recently held the 6th edition of their Global Family Enterprise Case Competition(FECC) in Burlington.

It was great to see this fantastic event back on the calendar after a one-year hiatus as they awaited completion of their brand new digs.

I was privileged to be back to serve on a couple of judging panels, a role I had enjoyed at 3 of their previous competitions (2014, 2015, 2016).

 

Truly Global Reach

I was scheduled to judge on Thursday and Friday, but because Burlington Vermont is only about an hour and a half from home, I decided to head down in time to catch the first round on Wednesday afternoon.

There were 13 teams in the undergraduate division and 12 graduate teams.  They had been drawn into divisions Wednesday morning.

As it happened, the “FFI Division” consisted of four teams from outside North America: China, Guatemala, the Philippines and Spain.

I decided to spend the afternoon watching that division because of its diversity.

Let’s just say that I was quite impressed with the caliber of presentations, even before considering the fact that most of them were working in their second or third language.

universities participating in Global family business competition

Tell It To The Judge

On Thursday my work truly began.  I was the lead judge of my panel, and as it turned out, I was also the oldest of the four judges, probably by at least a decade and a half.

We saw presentations by undergraduate teams from Canada, USA and Mexico.

Our task was to rank the four teams in order after we had seen them all present and survive our Q & A period.

As luck would have it, all four judges came up with the same rankings so our deliberations were quick.  This allowed us plenty of time to provide what we hoped would be useful feedback for the teams.

We also spent some time on allocating our six stars (points) for best presenters from the teams that we saw.  There were lots of worthy candidates to choose from.

 

 

Disagreements Happen Too

On Friday, the judging panels were mixed up again and I ended up with 3 new people on my panel, and I was no longer the lead judge.

We were in a graduate division, and the teams we saw were from Canada, USA, Germany and Sweden.

When it came time to determine our rankings, unlike the previous day, the four of us were all over the map.  There were three teams who received a top rank, including one that had received a fourth-place vote as well.

This deliberation wasn’t as simple as the previous day’s.

 

 study rooms for students at a university

Not Much Difference

Family business cases, whether in real life or as captured by those who write cases for University classes and case competitions, are always very subjective.

By “subjective” I mean that every person can interpret everything they read, see, and hear according to their own personal filters, experiences and understanding.

When the teams completed their 20-minute presentations, we had a 10-minute Q & A to probe for more depth and clarification.

We got to hear a lot in that half hour, but considering these cases were based on real-life situations that had decades of history behind them, we were really only scratching the surface.

In the end, the difference between first and fourth was not very large on either day that I judged.

 

 

Better Every Year

From the first time I attended FECC until this year’s edition, things have been getting better every year.

Likewise the field of family business as a subject that Universities teach is also advancing, and the profession of advising business families continues to move in positive directions.

If this blog post is starting to sound like it’s coming from a big fan, then you’re reading it correctly.  If it also sounds like I am angling for an invitation to return as a judge next year, that’s also a strong possibility.

 

 

And the Winners Are

On Saturday night the winners were announced.

Congratulations to the undergraduate winners, from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

In the graduate category, the winning team was from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Click here for all final results.

And the whole University of Vermont crew deserves kudos once again for a fantastic job of creating and hosting this unique event.

Kid laughing on the bench

“Nose In, Fingers Out” for Family Business

“Nose In, Fingers Out” for Family Business

Today’s topic is one that I’ve been thinking about for a while, ever since I first saw it mentioned back in 2017.

If you Google “nose in, fingers out”, you’ll see that it has been used by a number of people, attesting to its usefulness in creating a mental image that most people can quickly grasp.

I need to give a hat tip to Larry Putterman for putting it on my radar screen first.

 

 

It’s All About Boundaries

A topic that arises often in business families is that of “boundaries”, and there are many reasons for that, and anyone who has ever worked with, or in, a family business knows what I’m talking about.

But while the “nose in, fingers out” idea is about boundaries, it is also a subtle way to discuss how boundary lines are not all necessarily a solid concrete wall, but perhaps just some steel slats.

Boundaries are important, but we need to think about, and talk about, what the boundaries are supposed to accomplish, if we are going to establish the optimal boundaries for our situation.

 

Boundaries

From CEO to Chairman

The area that Putterman specializes in is Boards of Directors, and in the family business context what he is most often referring to relates to a person who has decided to scale back their involvement as part of a transition.

The former leader of the operations of the business, likely the CEO, has decided to pass on the reins of the operations, but to stay involved in a lesser capacity, and not disappear altogether, at least not yet.

There are different ways to take these kinds of steps gradually, of course.  My father brought in a non-family President and stepped into the Chairman role, but kept the CEO title for himself for a while.

Quite often the biggest step is the one where the CEO mantle is relinquished, and only the Chairmanship is retained.

 

 

How Much Is Out, How Much Is In?

In a family business, an outgoing leader will (hopefully) get to the point where, for many reasons, it makes more sense to scale back their involvement, moving from day-to-day operations to more of an oversight role.

These kinds of transitions happen all the time.

But sometimes they work out well, and other times, well, they just create problems.

This is where the “nose in, fingers out” idea comes in.

 

 

What Is Permissable?

The devil, as they say, is always in the details.

The nose and the eyes go together, so you are allowed to look around and sniff around as much as you like.

As you would expect in an oversight role, continuing to observe whatever is going on in the company is allowed and even required.

Below the nose is the mouth, of course, and this is usually the first place that problems begin to arise.

 

 

The Mouth Can Be a Finger (?)

If the nose and eyes go together, does that mean the mouth does too?

Probably not.

Once you step back from the day-to-day to oversight, what you say to people, at least those who are involved in the daily operations, needs to be weighed very carefully.

Problems and confusion arise quite quickly when the old boss walks around and tells “his people” what to do.

In fact, it is at this point where the mouth has become tantamount to a finger.

 

 

Encouragement Yes, Direction No

When the ex-leader talks to the employees, care must be taken to limit their words to encouragement and not direction.

When they are in a board setting or discussing things with others involved in oversight only, then the mouth is once again an agent of the eyes.

 

Road directions in a desert

 

What About Other Family Members?

 

There is another area where the nose in, fingers out situation comes up in family business that I’d also like to touch on here.

It’s the one where family members who do not work in the business interact with others, often siblings, who do.

There are boundary issues here as well, as those who don’t work there have an information disadvantage that they usually need to overcome.

Sometimes their questions seem a little too much like fingers in, rather than just noses.

For those being questioned, the best defence for this is to try to be as transparent as possible, and to get out in front of any questions.

If you satisfy their noses, they will be less tempted to poke their fingers in.