2 people stuck in a maze

Stuck in the Middle with You

Most of us are living in a new reality, temporary as it will (hopefully) be.  There have likely been many adjustments in your day-to-day lives, some of which are unwelcome.

While nobody knows for sure how long this will last, it’s very unlikely that we will get back to exactly the way things were anytime soon, if ever.

That last part, “if ever”, is not meant to be alarmist, I’m just making the point that when such fundamental and widespread events happen in society at large, they create some displacements that end up being permanent in nature

We just don’t know what they’ll look like yet.


Not the Beginning, Not the End Either

So it’s safe to say that we’re not at the end of this ordeal yet, and we are no longer at the beginning.  You could say that we’re somewhere “in the middle”.

Unfortunately, I think we’re still way closer to the beginning, but hopefully I’ll be proven wrong (it’s been known to happen).

It’s a process that we’re moving through, and while decades from now it will seem like an “event”, right now, while we’re in it, it feels like it’s moving quickly, while in other ways it feels like it’s going too slowly.


Extreme Reactions, or Middle of the Road?

Another way to think about this week’s theme of “the middle” is that “Goldilocks” place I think we should all be striving for, in terms of how we’re responding to things.

Last week I went to my local liquor store, and had to wait in line outside, since they were intentionally limiting the number of customers inside, to increase personal space for everyone.

The man minding the line-up was asking us to be nice to the employees, because evidently some customers were less than nice earlier that day.

He then shared his thoughts about the kinds of people he was seeing. I’ll give it to you in colloquial Quebec French first, then translate:

“Y’en a qui s’en foute, y’en a qui capote, et il y a le reste, dans le milieu”

Loosely “There are those who don’t give a crap, those who are freaking out, and the rest, in the middle”.

Sometimes it’s good to be in the middle.


Middle of the Crowded House

Another change that many of us are being forced to deal with is the “crowded house” phenomenon arising from so many “stay-at-home” orders.

I was on a Zoom call recently with 16 people from nine different countries, and the vast majority were working from home, while the few exceptions were in very small offices.

The “stuck in the middle” title of this blog came from this idea that many people are now suddenly all being forced into staying together for much longer periods of time than usual, typically for longer than they’d prefer.

Luckily some warmer weather is finally arriving, even in Canada, that will allow us all more opportunities to at least get some fresh air from time to time.


Feeling Stuck – Usually Not Good

Enough about the middle, which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be.  

But feeling “stuck”, well, that’s rarely good, and for some people, that might be a feeling that is currently resonating with them, and not in a good way.

I want to share some thoughts on this, that can hopefully offer a new perspective on looking at our new reality.

There is clearly some upheaval going on everywhere right now, which means that things are changing.

If everything in your life was going well before, then change is not something you were necessarily hoping for, I get that.

But it’s here now, so it makes sense to acknowledge that things are changing and trying to think about what you can do now to be prepared.


Where Is This Going?

Unfortunately, nobody knows where this will end, and the only person I can control is me.

I’m spending a lot of time reflecting and being grateful for what I do have, and trying to think of ways to be a resource to those who could benefit from what I have to offer.

The rest will take care of itself.  Stay well, stay safe, be kind.

Feel free to reach out for a Zoom call to chat. Yes, I mean it.


“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am….”

Phone with video confrerence

On Infections and Inflection Points

These past couple of weeks have been anything but “business as usual”, and so I’ve decided to break from my usual pre-set blog calendar and venture into the many discussions that are taking place in society and in the family enterprise space, on the many impacts the sudden uncertainty has us all facing.

I still have plenty of blog subjects that I want to get to about business families and their challenges in transitioning their wealth to the next generation, and we’ll get back to those in due time. 

But lately, as I’ve come across “regular” content in my inbox or on social media that seemed to act as if we were all still in the “same old, same old”, I’ve had an almost visceral reaction to some of it, as it struck me as tone deaf or just a little too oblivious for me to spend any time on, you know, right now.


Inflection Points – No Going Back

This past week, I was speaking with my coach, Melissa, about the new realities we are facing because of Covid19.  I was pleased and not too surprised when she told me that I am by far her calmest client right now, as most others are freaking out.

I shared with her my belief that we will be learning a LOT over the next few months; about the world we live in, about people, and about leadership.

We’ve hit a number of inflection points, and while it’s way too soon to predict how this will all shake out, I can state with great confidence that many things will never be the same again.  

But most of us will be just fine.

Family Timemathematical graph

One of the unexpected changes many of us are being confronted with is more family time.  

My wife and I have been “empty nesters” for almost five years (thanks in large part to boarding school) but we are now back into “full house” mode with both of our college undergraduates at home, likely finishing up their school years “online”.

It’s too early to tell how it will all work out, but so far, so good, everyone seems to have the right attitude, even with the “self quarantine for 14 days” part that they’re expected to respect after returning from the US.


Isolation and Distancing

This call for social distancing and isolation is being received better in some places and by some demographics than others, which is not unexpected either.

What it will do to the economy is still unknowable, but the variety of  timelines we’ve been hearing as people make their guesses as to how long until we’re back to normal is causing tremendous market turbulence.

In the future it will be easy to see where we should have been buying back in, but for now, it’s anybody’s guess.


Leadership – Good, Bad, Ugly

The leadership that we’ve been seeing on our TV every day has varied tremendously, from good, to bad, to downright ugly.

I won’t weigh in on who I think fits into each category, suffice it to say that I’ve seen a few in each category from politicians.

But I guarantee you that there will be some people that nobody knew before this crisis who will end up being heroes, and others who will get rich, and still others whose reputations will never recover.

But the jury is still out on all of that, and may be for a few months more.


Technology and Connection

Some of the good news is that technology now makes remaining connected so much easier than ever before.

As I wrote a few months back in Who’s Zooming Who?, I’ve become a huge fan of using the Zoom platform for online face-to-face meetings, both for 1-on-1 and group meetings.mathematical graph

More and more people are slowly learning about the benefits of such meetings, because they really don’t have much choice.


Reach Out, Just to Check In

One thing I’ve been doing (and promise to do more of) is to reach out to people, including clients and colleagues, from the past and present (and future?).

Reaching out without any particular angle or purpose, but simply to check in.

Connection is always important, and when times are filled with uncertainty, it becomes even more clear.

See you next week. Excuse me now, I’m going to call my mother. 

Dropping the “Second Person” Mode

Off the top, I realize that my title this week is a little less clear about my topic than it normally is, so thanks for getting past it and reading anyway.

We’re going back to some grammar school stuff, and then we’ll move pretty quickly into more advanced topics. It should be an interesting ride.


La Conjugaison des Verbes

My elementary schooling was in French, unlike my older sisters who attended English school. (They weren’t expected to take over Dad’s business, I was; but that’s another topic for another day).

During class, and for homework, we spent a LOT of time conjugating every verb we encountered, always following the same sequence: 

                                          Je, tu, il;     Nous, vous, ils.

We started with singular, first person, second person, third person; and we continue through them again in plural, first, second, third person.

So for “le verbe avoir” it was: J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont.  

For « aimer » it was J’aime, tu aimes, il aime, nous aimons, vous aimez, ils aiment.


Comparing Homework Among Siblings

My sisters were sometimes curious about my homework, as their English school did not seem to obsess over conjugating verbs nearly as much as my French school did.

But of course you never know when this might come in handy, say 45 years later when writing a blog about business families.

Somehow I never imagined any of this in my future.

What this repetitive work did give me, was an appreciation for the whole concept of “First person”, i.e. me, “second person”, i.e. you, and “third person”, i.e. he/she, along with the corresponding plural versions of “we”, “you” and “they”.


Cultivating Better Interpersonal Relations

Much more recently, having done more than my share of training in coaching, facilitation, mediation, and family systems, some common themes have emerged within my mind.

One of those themes is the importance we should place on how we direct comments to others, in ways that are more conducive to harmonious relationships, compared to other, less skilled ways that may produce sub-optimal results.

You guessed it, thinking about all this in terms of “first person”, “second person”, and “third person” can be helpful.


Feeling “Accused” Prompts Reactivity

I’ll start with a basic principle that most of us can vouch for from personal experience.

When you feel like you are being accused of something, you will typically react in some way, and in many cases, that reaction will be less than friendly or positive.

We don’t necessarily do this in a thoughtful, conscious way, it just happens, as our emotions get triggered. I touched on some of this a couple of years ago in Your Response Is Your Responsibility.

And when do we typically feel like we’re being accused? 

I think that when someone starts with the word “You”, that’s often a huge part of it.


Dropping “You”, Using “I” and “He” or “She”

So how hard would it be to drop the habit of using “You”? 

My take is that it’s something you can learn to do, with time and practice, like other speech habits.

I know lots of people who’ve learned to substitute “and” in place of “but” in many instances, with positive results.

I’ve seen suggestions to talk about one’s own reaction to things as a way to lessen the blow of the “you” accusation, for example, “When I hear the word _____, I feel _____”, as opposed to “When you say ____, you _____”.

My favourite example of the plural version was use of “you people” and its negative effect on Ross Perot during his Presidential bid in 1992, when he continually said “You people should….” during a speech to a room full of African Americans.  It did not go over well.


What About He or She?

As for using the third person, this naturally fits with situations when more people are in the room, and is something a good facilitator or mediator would commonly do.

Having the people tell the story to the third party, while the person in question is present, can really allow that person to “hear” the story in a way that they can respond, instead of reacting.

In any case, just learning to drop the second person mode will be a huge improvement.

Learning to state things from an “I position” can also help, as can using a trained neutral third party.

intangible in a dictionary

Intangible Deliverables and the Family Circle

As part of my work with business families, I get to interact with other professionals who also serve these families. 

There are usually plenty of complexities to be managed, so it’s normal for them to employ the services of a variety of experts in different fields at various times.

My specialty is working in what I call the “family circle”, which comes from the ubiquitous Three-Circle Model (Taguiri & Davis) that highlights the overlaps in the Business, Ownership, and Family circles.

While most of the work in the other two circles is largely “content-based”, i.e. tangible, most of what I do is much more about process, and therefore intangible. 

This brings with it a number of interesting side-effects.


Making Promises

The first difference that becomes apparent when meeting a family is what kind of promises I can make to them.  

If I were an accountant or a lawyer, it would be easy for me to promise that I could create whatever structure or agreement they might need, now or in the future.

But, alas, I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer, in fact my business card and email signature both say that I’m a Family Legacy Advisor, which has been known to raise an eyebrow from time to time.

I certainly can’t promise anyone that I can provide them with the legacy that they hope for.  I can only promise that I will do my utmost to guide them and their family members in their creation of that legacy. 

In fact, it’ll be the family members themselves who’ll be doing most of the work.


Recycling Work Product

Another area where I sometimes feel a bit jealous of my colleagues who work in the more “technical” specialty professions is that of what I like to call “recycling”.

Now I realize that it’s often a gross oversimplification of what’s involved in most of the complex cases, but at the end of the day, that legal structure or agreement that they just completed for the Jones family will have a lot of the same content as the one they did last month for the Smiths.

In contrast, the work that I do with the Brown family rarely looks anything at all like the work I did last month with the Johnsons.

I suppose that’s part of why I really like this work, because no two families are the same.  They face many of the same challenges, but the circumstances and the way issues come up are as varied as you could ever imagine.


Content Deliverables vs. Process ______________

Those who are fortunate enough to be in a business where they are providing “content solutions” have an easier time figuring out what their true “deliverables” are, which is a huge advantage when making the promises we were talking about earlier.

It also helps you know how far along you are in your work, when the work is done, and, even more importantly sometimes, how to price the services that you’re providing.

In fact, I often struggle to find the best corresponding word for “deliverable” for this process work. How do you qualify what you bring to the table when it’s more about process and relationships between people than about a “finished product”?


Coaching, “En Français” ???

Regular readers know that I love to look at how terms are translated into different languages to see if we can learn something from that. 

Sometimes the word in one language offers a much more vivid or accurate description than the English word.

“Coaching” is such a word. It’s true that some simply add a “le” to the front of it to get “le coaching”, like “le parking”, but I’ve heard a much better word used here in Quebec.

That word is “accompagnement” which you may have already figured out translates to “accompaniment”.  It has a bit of an awkward ring to it in English, I admit, but it really describes the situation well.


Advisor, Coach, Guide…

The deliverables in the family circle are essentially intangible. 

But I bet most people can still judge the value that they’re getting from an advisor, or coach, or guide.

It’s just a bit tougher to put it into words sometimes, but that’s okay.

The good news is that families know when they’re being served well, once the relationship takes off.

do what you love

When You Like What You Do….

This week we’re going to look at something that came up in a non-family business context, and apply it to our usual domain of businesses that are run by multiple generations of the same family.

It goes back a couple of months to a luncheon I attended that was hosted by a successful local private wealth advisory firm. 

I’ve attended a few of their events over the past few years, and it’s always nice to stay plugged into the financial asset world, even though my work with families is now almost exclusively on the family side of things, as opposed to how they invest their liquid assets.


Successful Succession

The company in question is now owned by a number of their “second generation” partners, who bought into the firm over the years, and the original founders now no longer own any shares.

As I sat there and listened to them share this part of their story with the audience, which included mostly clients and potential investors, I couldn’t help thinking that some business families I know would be envious of their successful succession.

But my favourite part of the story was about one of those founders, now in his 80’s, who still comes to the office every day, and acts as “wise counsel” to the others.


When You Like What You Do

Apparently he likes to come in and be with his peers and friends, “without the pressure of performance”.

But the real money quote was this, which is what that man added, 

                  “When you like what you do, you do it 

                       long after you still need to do it”.

Hmmmm. I began to think about how this whole situation might apply nicely to some of the business families I know.

So many of the senior leaders of family businesses still really like what they do, yet they often feel like they still need to do it, even long after their successors have shown that they are more than capable of handling the work.

If only there were a way for them to keep doing some parts of what they love, while allowing others to take over other responsibilities.


An Opportunity to Co-Create Something

Handing over the reins of a business is almost never a simple exercise.  It takes lots of planning and the execution is rarely as easy as expected or hoped for.

However, with lots of dialogue and sharing of ideas, a great training program to ensure that the rising leaders are equipped to handle larger roles over a number of years, having new leadership ready to assume top roles can certainly be accomplished.

Sometimes, especially in family businesses, it’s having the old leader step aside that’s the biggest obstacle. But there is definitely an opportunity here, if the two generations work together to create a Win-Win.

Family Ties: Easier or More Difficult?

Some may think that this process should be easier in a family business, where the exiting leader has more confidence in the new person or people, because they are literally a “chip off the old block”.  Indeed, sometimes it does work out that way.

Anecdotally, though, it seems like family situations often make it harder to execute such a transition.

Perhaps this biased view comes mostly from founders or wealth creators who are the first generation (G1), and they notably have more difficulty bidding adieu and leaving things to G2 than occurs in subsequent generations.


Doing What You Like, Lots of Options

But let’s go back to the title and quote, about doing what you like, and wanting to keep doing it. As the leader for the past few decades, the number of roles that person held and the tasks for which they were responsible was likely pretty diverse.

Wouldn’t it make sense to try to discover which of those roles and tasks they particularly enjoyed, and find ways for them to continue them, yet, “without the pressure of performance”, as the example above noted?

It strikes me that there’s a huge opportunity here, for members of both generations, to co-create the conditions where they actually co-exist for a certain number of years.

It probably won’t be something that happens overnight, of course, and the longer the plan is in the works, the more likely it probably is that it will be a success.

It all starts with a discussion…

People putting there hands up with questions

Asking for What You Need in the FamBiz

Asking for What You Need in the FamBiz

This week I want to look at what seems like a pretty simple topic, but after we get through it all, you may agree that it’s not as simple as you first thought.

We’re going to look at the subject of asking for things, which some people do with ease, while others do with trepidation.

When you’re dealing with family members, it should be easier, right?  Well, not always.


Asking for Help

The first way that this topic landed on my potential blog post list came last year, when I attended a coaching workshop and someone asked one of the course leaders for ideas on how to get clients.

The answer was “if you want to coach someone, ask them”, which seemed both too simple and too difficult all at the same time, to the questioner and many others.

Then a couple of months ago on LinkedIn, I came across a quote from Simon Sinek, which read:


                               “To overcome our challenges, all that is 

                                 required is the courage to ask for help”


OK, that sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  But remember, simple and easy aren’t the same thing.  If it were that easy, and it worked, the world would be a happier place. Oh yeah, and there’s that part about “courage” that’s often in short supply.


“Help” Versus a “Resource”

This post’s title is about asking for “what you need”, while Sinek’s quote encourages us to “ask for help”, so there’s a nuance there, unless what we need always comes down to help.

I’ve written about asking for help before, notably here, 5 Things to Know: Asking for Help for a FamBiz, but the context there was mostly about a family situation, where they get to the point where they realize that they need help from the outside.

People who interact with me regularly, and those who’ve read Interdependent Wealth, will know that I’ve been trying to eliminate the word “help” from my vocabulary lately.  I find it has too much of a “One up vs. One down” connotation, and that sometimes causes its own issues.

I seldom offer to help anyone anymore, preferring instead to offer to be a resource to them.


Help Isn’t Always Helpful

I wrote about this almost two years ago in When Is Helping Not Helpful

Yes, it usually feels really good to help someone else, and more people should do it. I can assure you, though, that when you do the exact same thing, only framed as being a resource, it feels just as good.

And while it feels just as good to the “helper”, I think the person who was helped probably feels better about it.

This gets close to another topic, the one where we feel like we need to “fix” someone, which brings with it a whole slew of other issues that are beyond the scope of today’s post.


“What You Need” Versus “What You Want”

Anyone who’s a parent is probably familiar with the importance of making the distinction between what you want, and what you need.

It’s a basic concept that many parents try to explain pretty early on in the lives of their children. It’s also a concept that can be taught in conjunction with the idea of delayed gratification. See Marshmallow and Filet Mignon.

So I mention teaching this to children, and that may make you think of youngsters, but I can assure you that there are plenty of “adult children” (a.k.a. “former children”, or, my favourite label “offspring”) who could use some brushing up on the differences between wants and needs.


The Business Family Version

We’ll wrap up with some thoughts on how this topic relates to business families, especially as they mature and prepare for intergenerational transition.

Too many subjects are left too late in such families, and I always encourage them to begin talking about important subjects early on, rather than waiting too long.

One of the simpler ways to do that is to ask people for what you need from them.  I said it was simpler, not necessarily easier.


It Works in Both Directions!

The good news is that this works just as well for parents asking things of their offspring as it does for the younger ones to ask their parents.

Sure, it takes a bit of courage to get started, but once you begin, it’s a lot easier to keep it going.

You might even start by asking someone to read this post, and go from there…

Where Do YOU Fit in Your Business Family?

Where Do YOU Fit in Your Business Family?

This post has been a long time coming, because the idea for it actually first came to me a few years ago, but somehow it never made it to my blog calendar.

The idea resurfaced again recently in some work I was doing with a family, so that was the clincher; it’s time.


Doing your “Values Work”

When working with people from business families, many consultants, myself included, emphasize the importance of working together to define and clarify the values that family members have in common, because once that work’s done, many decisions become easier to make.

Likewise, when I first entered this profession, I began to work on constructing my first website, and the coach I’d been working with insisted that I do my own personal “values work”, so that we could make the decisions we needed to make, so that my website properly reflected me, and what I find important.

For what it’s worth, the three core values I came up with were:

                        Authenticity  – Belonging –  Empathy

Because one’s values are typically pretty consistent over time, it should not be surprising to learn that I think that these still “fit” me pretty well.

And, noting that “belonging” is one of them, it shouldn’t be surprising that writing a blog about this topic is important to me, even if it’s something I could have (should have?) done sooner.


Standing on the Shoulders of a Giant

I don’t often share the names of people who inspire my posts, but I’ll make an exception here because I really wouldn’t have learned the importance of this without Aron Pervin, who shared it with me a few years ago while we had breakfast together in Toronto.

I was still new in this game, and I think I noted something about the importance for people to understand not only “what you do” in your FamBiz, but also “who you are”.

I thought I was pretty clever, highlighting the “Doing” and “Being” aspects, to this man who had been doing this work for decades before I began.


“I Also Add ‘Where Do You Fit’

That’s when Aron replied that I was actually missing a pretty important piece, about “Where do you FIT”.

Hmmm. I thought.  That’s good. That’s really good.

I haven’t forgotten it either, but I do realize that I’ve been remiss in not sharing it here.

Because as much as I like it and think it’s important, I’m not sure that I’ve seen anyone else express it this way, this clearly.


Two Aspects, Two Steps

When I think about this question as it relates to enterprising families, it actually comes down to two separate components, or two aspects.  

The first part is all about “DO I fit?”, as in, am I welcome here, and it’s essentially a Yes or No question.  

It may seem like a small detail, but I can assure you that it’s not a negligible question.  Oftentimes, family members who aren’t employed in a business that is owned by the family will have trouble answering this question clearly and honestly.

There’s actually a degree of uncertainty in their minds, and it can sometimes be the subject of confusion.


OK, So Now Where Do I Fit?

The second part, assuming we have now answered that YES, we do fit, is to clarify exactly where we fit.  When answering Yes to the first part, it can sometimes become obvious that the second part of the question remains problematic.

There are many families where this line of thinking takes them “outside the box”, quite literally.

When a family business is still in its early decades, the idea that employees of an operating company have a place, and owners have a place, but that’s about it, can be prevalent.

The family members who don’t fit into those groups, but who are nonetheless “stakeholders”, can feel left out to some degree, and it can be a challenge to change that kind of thinking.


Family Council?  Board? Philanthropy?

For anyone reading this and scratching their head, I’ll leave you with a few possible ideas where non-employee family members might possibly fit into the family business.

Do you have a “family council” yet?  Is there a board of directors for the business, where some non-employee family members could add value?  How about family philanthropy?

These ideas work for some families, how about yours? Are you thinking outside the box?

family sitting on a living room table

Instituting Family Governance, Incrementally

I just attended the 4th Annual Conference of the Institute for Family Governance (IFG) in NYC, and once again, it was a great experience worth sharing here.

Having attended the previous three as well, I noted to the organizers that I thought this was the best one yet, because it featured the most real live examples of families who have instituted governance in their families.

As I reflected on the stories we heard from and about these families, it also struck me that they all got where they are now by taking it one step at a time, i.e., incrementally.


Welcome to this “Whole New World”

The IFG annual conference has been a great place for people to be introduced to what for many is a “whole new world”, one where multigenerational families have made the significant efforts necessary to create systems, methods, structures and procedures to make sure that the wealth that they’ve created will continue to serve their families for generations.

Over the years, I’ve met many people who advise such families, but who often only get to see one aspect of how this all works for their clients, i.e. the part affected by their professional specialty (eg. law, tax, trusts, etc.)

This year I shared information about the conference with a colleague I had recently met at a coaching training workshop, who, after learning of my family business focus, had mentioned to me that she was working on her family’s first attempt at a family charter.

I’m so glad that she attended, because she got to see this “whole new world” that she was now entering with her family, but did so surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are already so comfortable in this world.


Each Family Is Unique, So Is Their Governance

Every story we heard about a family was different from every other one, because each family has their own history, composition, priorities, and desires.

The beauty of such a conference is that we got to see glimpses of different aspects of what some families have done, and we can learn so much from others, even when circumstances are very different from ones that we are faced with.

Even though each family is unique, there were some things that they all had in common.


Intentionality, Commitment, and Outside Help

We heard from a number of professionals who work with families on governance matters, who related stories about the process and all of the hard work that families need to put in to make governance work.

We also heard from a number of family members from such families, and it became clear that this work requires a lot of commitment from a large number of people in order to function.

And when we heard from family members themselves, they typically had high praise for the professionals that they worked with from outside the family, without whom they would not have come so far.


A Resilient Rising Generation

During the lunch break, attendees had a choice of roundtable discussions that they could attend, each lead by one or two facilitators selected by the organisers.

I co-lead the table about “Communication and Resilient Beneficiaries” with colleague Rebecca Meyer of Relative Solutions.  Some of the discussions we had are worth sharing, as we had some great input form advisors and family members alike.

Allowing your offspring to make their own mistakes, and resisting the urge to go and fix things for them was a common theme.

There was also lots of talk about normalizing failure, by having the leading generation share stories about their own mistakes and challenges that they faced, with which their children are not always familiar.


Lots of Effort, But Well Worth It

In the end, governance is mostly about communication, and families should be looking for more opportunities to talk and share experiences.

As a family’s wealth moves from the control of one generation to the next, they’ll all need to learn how to work together for the greater good of the whole family.

This doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all families, so starting small and learning together is usually a good idea.

All the families mentioned at the conference have been at it for at least a few years and they’re all continuing to improve and refine what they’re doing together, incrementally, but surely.

Is it time for your family to get started?

good and bad in family business

Pleasant = Good, Unpleasant = Bad, Right?

This week we’re going to look at something that’s a little bit further afield from many of the more hands-on topics that I sometimes cover in this space.

Of course I will still make an attempt to connect the discussion to the field of family enterprise and intergenerational wealth transitions, because that’s still the main goal here.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been meditating every day for almost two years now, so you shouldn’t be too surprised when I tell you that the inspiration for this blog comes from a meditation recording that I was listening to recently.


How Not to Judge Your Meditation Session

One of the apps that I use daily is 10% Happier, based on Dan Harris’ book of the same name.  One of his main meditation gurus, featured in both the book and on the app, is Joseph Goldstein.

In one of the recordings featuring Goldstein that I listened to recently, he noted that a mediation session can leave you feeling disappointed or confused at times, but that that’s alright and even to be expected. (I’m paraphrasing here)

His point was that you cannot judge your meditation by whether or not it is pleasant. Life has its ups and downs, which is to be expected, and so meditation should be no different.

The point was being stressed for beginners, in the hopes that they not give up the practice, simply because they do not walk away from every experience with perfect happiness and enlightenment.


Is It Any Different in a Family Business?

So now let’s think about this idea in terms of a family business, or, maybe even more specifically, from the point of view of various members of a business family.

Not everyone is going to be happy, all the time.  That’s to be expected, and there are likely cycles of ups and downs for the business and for the people who are part of the family, and part of the business.

I think it’s important for everyone to take stock of where they are from time to time and recognize that things can’t always be rosy.


Different Views from Different Generations?

Some people may think that one of the real variables here is the generation that you happen to belong to.  Let me explain.

When you’re young and working your way into the business, it may feel like you need to put up with things being a little bit tough for you, but oh, look out, when I get to be the one in charge, man, this is going to be awesome and everything will be great.

Meanwhile, the senior generation, who are stuck with their own problems and worries, may be looking at their younger relatives and thinking, “man, don’t they have it easy!”.


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The reason that I decided to write about this topic was the idea that sometimes people working in their family business have unrealistic expectations about how much fun they will have and how great every day is going to be.

If you’re in such a situation, great, you’re doing better than most, more power to you, and may it ever be so.

There are probably more people who are in situations that are closer to the other end of that continuum, though.

I guess my suggestion to them is to occasionally step back and re-evaluate their decision to work there.


Was It Even My Decision?

If you’re one of those people who find working in your family business as a series of unpleasant circumstances, day after day, you may also be someone who has trouble with that last sentence, the one where I qualified the idea of working there as “their decision”. Ha!

If you’re like many people who are working in your family’s business, and you can honestly say that it was not your decision, or your choice, then my idea about stepping back and re-evaluating things may be even more important.


Something to Talk About

You’ve got a lot to think about, and hopefully sooner or later, something to talk about.

Talk with your family, talk with a coach, talk with your business partners, whether they are family members or not.

It may not be fun, but if you just keep going in an environment that you hate, how does that end?

These conversations won’t necessarily be comfortable, but hopefully they’ll be productive.


See: Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient

When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient

Plenty of business families have problems when siblings are placed into positions where conflicts are almost inevitable.  So there’s a natural tendency to look for an easy “work-around”, where the hope is that a simple structural change will make all the problems disappear.

This is what we’ll be looking at this week, thanks to another real live case from an overseas colleague who contacted me recently.

Let me start with the original set-up.

Two Brothers Stepping on Each Other’s Toes

The story, as it was related to me by my colleague, was that her client family had an operating company in which two rising generation brothers both worked.

Here comes the difficult part; they don’t get along, they don’t even speak to each other.  Clearly this is sub-optimal, we can all agree.

The question posed to me was if I had any experience in finding or creating a structure where they would not have to speak to each other.

The “Economy-Size” Box of Band-Aids

My reply to my friend was that I did not have any experience in setting up such structures, which is true. I also added that creating such an operational structure, in which they would not have to interact, would simply be putting a Band-Aid on the problem.

When you get right down to it, this issue of boundaries is quite common in many family businesses.

But in the end, if you choose this as your only remedy, you will continually need to re-apply new Band-Aids on a regular basis.

Yes, Structures ARE Necessary

I want to be clear that I’m not saying that clear structures and boundaries are not important; they certainly are.

Please note the adjective “clear” there, as it’s one of the keys.

What’s another key?  I’m glad you asked.

Another important aspect of any boundary is that it be mutually-agreed upon, and hopefully even co-created, by those on either side of the boundary.

No, Structures are NOT Sufficient

So one of the main points here is that the structure itself will rarely be sufficient to solve the issue. These brothers may be able to co-exist for some time with a structure that is imposed upon them so as to minimize of even eliminate their interactions.

It seems logical enough, I agree; they don’t speak to each other, so let’s set it up so that isn’t necessary, and, voilà, problem averted.

But just as swerving your car back into your lane to avoid an accident as you’re falling asleep while driving may have “averted” one accident, if you don’t change the essence of what’s going on, it’s bound to arise again.

Parents as a Buffer or Mediator

The details about the parents were not shared with me in this particular fact set, but I assume that they’re still around and playing key roles.

This is great, and should be capitalized upon, but everyone should also recognize that it won’t last forever.  In fact, if things go the way they usually do, the offspring will outlive their parents.

So let me ask the obvious question: What are they going to do after their parents are no longer around?

Family Dynamics Problems Need to Be Addressed…

I think that anyone looking at the case of these two brothers would agree that what we’re really looking at is a family dynamics issue, not a simple corporate structure problem.

If the two employees were not related, maybe a structural solution would suffice, but maybe not.  We could certainly expect that maybe one of the employees would be let go or reassigned in such a case.

But here it seems to be truly a question of their relationship as members of the same family.

…. with Family Dynamics Solutions

So if we have a family dynamics problem, we should be looking at a family dynamics based solution.

I recognize that most families and even most of their advisors typically hate to admit this, because this brings them into uncomfortable territory.

My answer to them is that it is already uncomfortable, and admitting what is there is the first step to being able to work through it.

A real solution hinges on the ability of the siblings to get along together after their parents are gone, so it’s better to start working on that and testing it now, not later.

If it turns out to be impossible, better to know that now, and begin to take appropriate action.

See also: FamBiz Conflict In Pieces for the Sake of Peace