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Responsibility written in the clouds

Your Response Is Your Responsibility

Your Response Is Your Responsibility

This week’s blog is a bit on the philosophical side, as opposed to practical. Then again, some people may think that’s just par for the course for me.

I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on things relating to one’s responsibilities in a business family.

I’ve been thinking about this piece for a while, I’ve got lots of ideas kicking around, and they’re coming at me from different places, so let’s get started.

 

Your Responsibility

The first place this came up for me occurred a few years ago while reading about some family members who expected to reap the benefits of being part of a family business, but who didn’t necessarily realize that there was another side to that coin.

That other side, of course, is responsibility, because you shouldn’t expect to get all the positives without contributing anything yourself.

Unfortunately, as often as there are next-generation members who expect something for nothing, there are just as many occasions where the parents never tried to instill that sense of responsibility either.

 

Respond, Don’t React 

I’ve also been writing about working on my personal ability to slow things down, and “respond” to a situation or comment, rather than shooting from the hip with a “reaction”.

I’m actually just waiting for someone to ask me for “my reaction” to something so that I can reply that I prefer not to share my reaction, but would rather take a moment to reflect so that I can provide “my response” instead.

 

Response + Ability = Responsibility

Taking things further, I recently saw a video on LinkedIn, where a speaker was explaining that each person should actually feel compelled to respond to situations to the best of their ability.

The man recounted that he and his wife had taken in several physically challenged foster children because they “were able to” so they felt it was their responsibility to do so.

While I applaud people like that, I believe that they’re truly very rare, and I know if suggested we all go that far, I’d likely “lose” a lot of you.

 

Strengths Finder

I’m a big fan of the Strengthsfinder tool that has you do a quick survey and then gives you your five greatest strengths.

I’ve completed it a couple of times now, a few years apart, and the strength of “responsibility” showed up as part of my Top 5 both times.

To me, doing what needs to be done, especially when you said that you would do something, is not something that is negotiable.

 

My Response

So let’s get back to the title of this post, and get into the “my response” part a bit more.

The particular scenario I have in mind is one most of us have seen before, and if you’re part of a family business or work with business families, you’re probably pretty familiar with this too.

Some family members who work together are having a meeting, or just chatting together when one of them gets triggered and “goes off” on the other.

What happens next can make or break the way this will go.

 

What’s My Part in This?

It would be so easy to “react” in the same old way that we always have, and likely ratchet up the anxiety level and make things worse.

Instead, what I’m suggesting here, is rather than sharing our reaction, we take a couple of deep breaths and instead share a response.

That simple pause, combined with a reflective “what’s my part in this?” can change the direction that this interchange seemed to be going towards.

 

Easier to Blame Others

True, it’s easier to blame the other person for everything that has ever gone wrong in a relationship.

But, if you want to change how things turn out going forward, you know that there’s really only one person that you can actually change, right?

We are each responsible for our own responses.

We can simply react like we always have, and things will likely keep going down the same path.

Or, we can try to refrain from quick reactions and instead offer up a more appropriate response

My favourite way to remember the key distinction is a medical one.

When the doctor says you’re having a “reaction”, it’s never good.

When you begin to “respond” to a treatment, it’s usually a good sign.

2 people disagreeing and looking in the other direction

Choosing Sides in a Family Business

Choosing Sides in a Family Business

I sometimes write about conflict management and resolution, because family businesses are rife with opportunities for clashes of personalities and ideas.

(See: Embracing Conflict in Family Business & FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option)

But this post will be a bit different from others I’ve written in the past.

Today I want to get into a family conflict and ask readers which side they would choose in a fictitious war between two sides in a family.

 

The Guerrero Family

Vince and Walt Guerrero are the two oldest brothers in the family that owns a specialized factory in a mid-sized northern town.

Their father, Guillermo, started the business some 40 years ago and is preparing to retire, leaving the business to his four children.

Sabrina and Teresa, the two youngest siblings, used to work in the business as well, but both left because there was just too much conflict.

 

Vince’s Side or Walt’s Side?

Vince and Walt don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on many things, and each of them wants to be the new President when Dad finally retires.

Sabrina and Teresa get along very well with each other, and they both love their brothers equally, and the boys are constantly trying to get their sisters on their side of every issue.

Which side should they choose?

 

A Common Scenario

While the scenario I just described is actually quite typical, the question that I’m asking you is not.

Of course, there isn’t enough information to give a reasonable answer to the question, and I already spent a couple hundred words describing it.

It’s actually a really stupid question because I’m asking you to “choose sides” when there really aren’t any sides to choose!

 

Study Group Example

One way that this post is different from my usual format is that I usually start out by giving some context to the genesis of the post, but this time I’ve saved that for here, in the middle.

I’m part of a peer study group through the Family Firm Institute (FFI) and we had a meeting recently where some of us got together to discuss a variety of topics, including some real case examples we are dealing with.

 

Conflictual Family Drama

One group member spoke about two siblings who were always in confrontations and how the other family members were always trying to decide which one of them to support.

We have a long-term FFI member who acts as a mentor and moderator on our calls, and she made a statement that resonated with me, so I wrote it down, intending to use it for a blog.

Nancy said, “Oh, so they’re choosing sides when there really aren’t any sides to choose!”

“Bingo!”, I thought.

 

Whose Side Are You On?

The point Nancy was making (I think!) is that while the combatants are trying to make it about “my side” versus “his side”, anyone else who looks at it that way is falling into a trap.

Taking sides is usually a false choice.

Oh, I get that this happens in family businesses, and it still happens far too often.

Family members who work together or manage assets together won’t always see things the same way and will often try ot get others to come to their side of every argument, but that doesn’t mean the other family members need to oblige!

 

Interests versus Positions

If you’ve read even a little bit about negotiation, you’ve likely heard about the difference between “positions” and “interests”.

Fisher and Ury’s “Getting to Yes” was the first place I recall reading about this, and that was in the 1980’s, so this isn’t anything new.

If each side simply holds to their position, the negotiation will likely remain a zero-sum game, where any gain by one side is a loss for the other.

 

Digging Their Heels In

Sometimes in a negotiation, both sides really dig their heels in, usually because there’s some emotional aspect to the conflict that prevents them from letting go.

And yes, sometimes in family businesses people get into conflicts that are complicated by emotional issues.

 

Get Past their Positions

In order to have a better chance at a successful resolution, you need to get past their “positions” (My way / I’m right) and get to their interests.

Then, when you can find the common interests that both sides have, there’s something to work with.

Can the other family members avoid taking sides, and look for common interests instead?

I sure hope so!

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?

Boss vs Leader written on a chalk board

The “Leader” Versus the “Boss”

The “Leader” Versus the “Boss”

If you go to any bookstore (almost seems quaint to imagine that these days) you will see lots of books on the subject of leadership.

You will find very few books on being “The Boss”, and any time the word “boss” is used, it’s usually in a negative sense.

I like to think that there’s been an evolution in the way organisations are managed over the past few decades, from one generation to the next.

The old fashioned “tell them what to do, and if they don’t do it, tell them again, only louder” seems like it was almost normal in the 70’s but today, well, not so much.

 

Family Business Version

The idea for this post came from a discussion with some members of a family business, who were talking about a relative of theirs whose management style they were less than enthralled with.

“He doesn’t want to be a leader, he just wants to be the boss”.

I really appreciated the phrasing used, as I had never heard those terms juxtaposed that way, and it was pretty clear what he was driving at.

 

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

So I quickly put this idea into my “future blogs” file and let it simmer for a few weeks. This week I pulled it out and dusted it off, and then looked for a photo to accompany it on Shutterstock.

Lo and behold, I stumbled across more wisdom. There was a picture of something nondescript, along with these words:

A Boss says : “Go”

A Leader says: “Let’s Go”

This reminded me of a quote of mine that my social media team likes to send out on Twitter and LinkedIn, “Telling people what to do is actually one of the worst ways to get them to do something”.

 

Leading from the Front, or the Back?

The old style of leadership was almost always “from the front”, but then we started hearing and reading about “leading from behind”.

I like the symbolism of these words, because you can almost imagine a group of people and a leader positioned in a certain place, even though the physical positioning may never happen that way in real life.

Then there’s leading from the middle, which almost feels like it might be the best place, because that’s where you’re actually the closest to the greatest number of “followers”.

But I’m not even sure if leading from the middle is “a thing” or if I just made it up (?)

 

What’s the Issue, Anyway?

When we talk about this boss vs leader issue, what does it really boil down to?

If we just look at the family business scenario that inspired this post, it seems like it comes down to these two points:

  • Autocratic decision making
  • Brusk communication style

There are surely other things that cause dissatisfaction among the followers, but “fixing” just these two would go a long way to improving morale.

 

Generation to Generation

Earlier I mentioned the 70’s, and I’d guess that there were more autocratic bosses then than now. But there were surely some collaborative leaders then too.

Nowadays, there are more true “leaders”, but that doesn’t mean that there are no longer any “bosses” still around, just less of them.

Family Business Dilemmas

The family business version of this issue is of course more complex. Exits are not as simple and other family “baggage” can make it even trickier.

The flip side is that there are lots of leadership roles in a business family, and one of the biggest mistakes some families make is having the same person fill too many of these roles.

 

Three Circles, Three Systems, Three Leaders?

The Three Circle Model shows us that there are three systems at play in a family business: Family, Business, and Ownership.

Each system can and probably should have a “leader”, and it really doesn’t have to be the same person.

In fact, I recommend that families try to avoid having the same individual occupy more than one role.

Collective Responsibility

With different people assuming different leadership roles, the possibility of developing a sense of “collective responsibility” is heightened, and that’s a good thing.

In fact, getting all of the key people to understand that they truly are interdependent can go a long way to improving relationships.

Can this be learned? I sure believe so, but the right attitude is key!

conflict between family member in an office enviroment

Embracing Conflict in Family Business

Embracing Conflict in Family Business

Last week I mentioned the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference that I attended in Chicago in October, and how I came home with many weeks’ worth of blog material.

So today I’ll take one of the sessions that I enjoyed and build this post around it.

Here’s the title of the presentation in question:

 

“Can Embracing Conflict Spur Positive Change?”

Joe Astrachan and Carrie Hall were the presenters, and they based much of their discussion on a recent survey of some of the largest family businesses in the world.

Here is a link to their report.

Often when people like me get called into a business family, it’s because there’s something going on that could be described as “conflictual” in nature.

One of the first pieces of “good news” from the conflict is that it has heightened the sense that there’s a need to call in an outsider to help get the family to a better place.

Now, if that outsider is open-minded, well trained, and comfortable with a high conflict environment, then why couldn’t the conflct actually spur positive change?

What’s the Alternative?

Too often families will avoid conflict, or even any semblance of conflict, at all cost. Certain family cultures simply don’t “allow” any expressions of confrontation, negativity, or even challenges to authority.

Unfortunately, that often masks important differences that actually really NEED to be expressed, brought out, and dealt with.

One of the first pieces I recall reading about this, the one where you could say I had my “A-Ha moment” on this subject, was “The Invaluable Gift of Conflict”, by Matt Wesley.

 

Two Main Components

The presence of conflict, aside from it resulting in the arrival of an outsider to assist in moving the family forward, is also that visible conflict is preferable to simply having issues simmer quietly under the surface.

The consequences of unexpressed issues can be bitterness and dissatisfaction that lasts for years (decades?) before finally exploding. Unaddressed issues will often only get worse with time.

But the second “good news” aspect of conflict in a family business is the “energy” that it can create, and that energy can be harnessed, for “good”.

 

Stagnation and Apathy

One of the side effects of having people who are displeased in key positions (in the business or in the family, if not both) is that it can breed apathy and a feeling that things will never change, or that they’ll only change far in the future, and only when their perceived “problem person” is gone.

That apathy and feeling of resignation can turn into stagnation very quickly.

Conflict that erupts and becomes visible can be much healthier because at least you can see it and you’re forced into action to deal with it.

 

“One Story”

Back to the presentation by Astrachan and Hall.  The biggest “take home” message for me was their idea of creating “one story” for the family to tell.  Some background and context are necessary here.

They described a situation where there was a severe rift in a family, yet a couple of the branches of the family managed to come back together.

One of the keys to making it all work, was to come up with the “one story” that the family would tell (to themselves and to the world in general) about the business and the family history.

 

Singing from the Same Hymn Book

Any family business that has lasted more than a few decades will do well to compile and tell their story, if only for the “marketing” power that this can have.

When it comes time to “inculcate” younger members of the family into the business’s culture, these history lessons are pretty important too.

But in the case of a family “coming back together” after a rift, the part of the story dealing with the cause of the rift, and more importantly, the way the family overcame it, can be huge.

 

Positive Change

The presentation (and this blog) are about positive change, and getting the story straight can have more of a positive influence than many people will realize.

The first step may just be to learn to “embrace” the conflicts that you can actually see.

You can only get through difficulties when you actually put things “on the table”. And if you need outside help, then get some.

Family Business Legacy

My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice

Class Assignment

(This week’s post is the slightly edited text of a class presentation that I made this week at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. where I just completed my first year in their Post-Graduate Training Program.)

 

According to what it says on my business card, I’m a “Family Legacy Advisor”.

My beliefs, which I’ll share with you today, are very much about how I see that work, and how I’m becoming inextricably tied to it.

More and more, it’s becoming who I am, and not simply what I do.

Here are three of my foundational beliefs:

  • I believe that Family Harmony holds the Key to a Family’s Legacy
  • I believe it’s always worth making the effort to improve family harmony
  • I believe working on family harmony is a lot of work, and, it all starts with working on self

 

How did I get to this point? 

I had my calling 4 years ago, doing the course work in a program called Family Enterprise Advisor

There, we learned the three-circle model, Business, Family, and Ownership, with each circle representing a system.

It dawned on me that for the first 4-plus decades of my life, I’d been led to believe that the Business circle was the only one that mattered.

As my studies progressed, I soon began to understand that the Family circle was more important, and it was often neglected, and that I was naturally more attuned to the important work that often needs to be done in the family circle.

So, I began working on myself, with coaching training, mediation courses, and facilitation programs, including an entire suite of courses in a program called Third Party Neutral.

And of course I began training in Bowen Family SystemsTheory.

 

How has my Bowen work contributed?

Well, starting with two years in Vermont, in their program, and this year here in DC, my Bowen Theory work has helped me in a number of ways.

It has:

  • Sharpened my focus on the effort involved
  • Emphasized the work on self,
  • And continuously reminded me that this work is a never-ending pursuit

 

Challenges

My calling came along with a desire to “help” people and families to deal with issues that I myself had dealt with in my family.

My mistakes, my parents’ mistakes, and the ones that I discovered when I married into another business family, were all there as experience that I wanted to transfer into wisdom to be shared.

But as WE all understand, telling people what they should do doesn’t work so well, so transforming myself into someone who “does Bowen” was an idea that I thought would be useful.

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

I’ve since discovered that you can’t just “do” Bowen, you actually have to sort of “be” Bowen. Not Dr. Bowen, but maybe be a “Bowenite”.

Learning a new way to “be” so that you can lead people, and model behavior for people, takes time, practice, and effort.

One huge challenge that I’m just now starting to comprehend is the difference between HELPING people and being a RESOURCE for people.

The difference sounds subtle, but it’s actually quite stark.

You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, and trying to help them is quite often counter-productive.

 

Moving Forward

My way forward is to become a resource to people who want to improve their family harmony, and in order for me to “be” that resource, I need to continue to make the effort to understand myself.

My Bowen training has helped me understand many things in a new and improved way, and I feel like I’m miles ahead of where I was just a few short years ago.

But, my understanding of self, and my work on differentiation, feels like it has so much further to go.

 

Understanding Self and Others

As I understand myself better, I understand others better as well.

These efforts are worth it, for me, for my family, and for whichever families seek me out as a resource for their own work on harmony, as part of their desire to preserve their legacy.

And so I added one more belief:

I believe that I can actually help more families by acting as a resource to them, instead of trying to help them.

Sibling Rivalry Lessons and Advice

5 Things you Need to Know: Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry is a subject that has been around forever, yet despite that, it has somehow not been one that I have tackled in this space over the four-plus years I have been writing this blog.

Following my post “5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance” from November, I have decided to return to that format and devote this week’s installment to Sibling Rivalry.

If you have suggestions for other topics that you would like to see me address here in this same format, please let me know, I love reader feedback and input, as well as a challenge. My idea is to have the “5 Things you Need to Know” become a semi-regular feature.

Without further ado, here are my…

 

5 Things to Know: Sibling Rivalry

  1. It’s “Built In”

Where there are siblings, there is potential for rivalry. Mom and Dad will usually try to minimize it, but truth be told, as soon as the second child is born, the rivalry is on.

In fact, depending on the age of the older sibling, the rivalry can begin as soon as they learn that Mommy is going to be delivering a new bundle of joy, that will undoubtedly compete with them for love and attention.

So if it is built in, the best we can do is to try to be aware of it, and understand what is going on so that we, as parents, can best deal with its fallout. Pretending that it doesn’t exist in OUR family is not very helpful.

 

  1. It brings out the WORST in people

If we think about sports rivalries involving our favourite team, we can often recall events that took place during games where opponents did things that are memorable for the wrong reasons.

There is an added layer of intensity when rivals meet, and sometimes people do things that they would never dream of doing in a similar circumstance but with different particpants.

For siblings who have been in competition with each other for many years, most of their interactions can be positive for years on end, but one never knows when something that has been festering beneath the surface will finally blow up.

 

  1. It brings out the BEST in people

Rivalries are usually based on some sort of competition, but what is actually at stake can vary greatly from sports trophies to love, power, and money.

But isn’t competition good? Actually, in many if not most cases, yes. And it is when the competition is healthy that it can do just that.

The trick is to get the conditions right for the competition, and hence the rivalry, to be “healthy”. All or nothing situations, fight-to-the-death scenarios, one-winner/many-loser set-ups are unnecessarily rivalrous.

Healthy competition is often set up as a Win-Win situation, in finding ways to make the proverbial pie bigger, in creating ways for each participant to excel in their own way, and having everyone contribute to the common good.

 

  1. Blame the parents!

In the previous point, I used words like “conditions”, “situations”, “scenarios”, and “set ups”, which relate to the context within which siblings can be exposed to rivalry with each other.

Who creates the context in which the family lives, if not the parents? When parents create conditions for rivalries to bring out the worst in their children, the parents should bear their share of the blame.

Sometimes it is done subconsciously, and other times because they think that they are doing what is best, but in truth, many unhealthy rivalries can be traced directly back to the parents.

 

  1. DON’T blame the parents!

Wait, what? Didn’t I just say the opposite? Well, yes, but just because the root of the rivalry can be blamed on the parents, that doesn’t mean that100% of it rests with them.

When the offspring become adults themselves, at some point they must assume responsibility for themselves and cannot forever blame Mommy and Daddy for “loving Johnny more”.

Where you are today is the result of everything that has happened to you in your life thus far, including the way your parents and siblings interacted with you.

Where you go from here depends on what you do starting today.

Sibling rivalries are all around us and are not necessarily bad or good.

If you are involved in one as a sibling or parent, what can you do to help make it “less bad”, or “more good”?

 

Family Inheritance Advice - How to avoid problems

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance

Family Inheritance

While few people actually relish thinking about the details of the inheritance they will leave their family when they die, most do spend at least some time wondering how to make sure that things will go well among their heirs.

We’ve all heard of families where relationships were harmed, sometimes beyond repair, as the result of how this important question was dealt with. If you do not want to be one of THOSE families, please read on.

Also note that these are five things everyone should know and understand, but that doesn’t make them an exhaustive list of important considerations, or even a “top 5 list” for every family situation. This blog should never substitute for legal advice for your unique family situation.

 

  1. Big or Small, the same issues arise

You don’t have to have a net worth in the gazillions to be affected by the potential negative fallout from poor decisions in this area.

Siblings have been known to never speak to each other again as the result of parental decisions that were made that surprised everyone, even in cases where the inheritance barely covered the cost of the funeral.

Rule 1: Don’t assume that there isn’t enough to worry about

 

  1. A WILL is Key

It should go without saying that every adult needs a will. Unfortunately, statistics show that many do not.

Many people who don’t likely assume that they have plenty of time to take care of it, you know, “later”. There are cemetaries full of people who guessed wrong on the question of exactly when they were going to die.

You need a will, and it really should be current. A good rule of thumb is to review it every five years.

Rule 2: Make sure you have a legal will, no excuses!

 

  1. A Will is NOT Enough

Now if you have your will in place and are thinking you are in the clear, well, sorry, we still have (at least) 3 more items here!

You have decided to leave certain assets to certain people in a certain way, and it’s all written up legally in a will. Here is the important question: do the people who will inherit your assets KNOW what they will be inheriting?

At least some form of basic communication is absolutely essential. If you haven’t already done so, please make sure that everyone understands what is going to happen. If you can let them all know together, at the same time, even better.

Letting them assume, and having different people understand different versions of it is a sure recipe for trouble.

Rule 3: Your heirs should know what is coming

 

  1. “Pre-Mediation” Can Make Sense

When a dispute goes into mediation, parties are brought together, and along with a neutral third party, they examine everyone’s interests and work towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The idea of pre-mediating is to put the scenario on the table with the parties before it actually comes into play.

The main point is that if you leave things to your heirs in the way you planned, AND that will cause problems after you are gone, why would you not want to re-adjust while you still can?

If this idea scares you, then that is a sign that yours is actually precisely the kind of situation that could most benefit from this.

Rule 4: Play out the details while you still can

 

5 “Surprise” is NOT a Good Thing 

I have heard Tom Deans (author of Willing Wisdom) speak several times. He describes the sound that many lawyers tell him they’ve heard from at least one surprised heir at the reading of many a will.

It is difficult to convey in writing, but imagine a gasp with an audible “aaargh” or “euhhhh”.

That surprised sound from any of your heirs is NOT what you should be going for.

Rule 5: Let your family grieve and celebrate your life, not shake their heads in disbelief.

 

If you know someone who should be thinking about these questions but may have been avoiding them, please feel free to forward this to them. You will both be glad you did.

 

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option

Miami: FFI at 30

I am currently in Miami, having just spent the past three days at the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference, during which attendees were continually reminded that the organisation is 30 years old.

I recall that CAFÉ, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise recently celebrated its 30th anniversary as well.

Also early in its fourth decade is the Three Circle Model (Family, Business, Ownership), co-created by John Davis of Harvard. Davis received what amounts to a lifetime achievement award from FFI at the Gala dinner last night.

I finally got to meet him in person and shake his hand afterward, and gave him a belated thank you for not only allowing me to quote him in my book a couple years back, but mostly for replying to my emailed request for that permission within an hour, which surprised me at the time.

Having now met the man, I am no longer surprised.

 

Conflict comes standard

FFI conferencs are filled with so many people and learnings, and I was reviewing some of my notes last night trying to decide on this week’s blog topic. I settled on Conflict is NOT an option.

But I met yet another experienced practitioner this week who happily noted that he rejects 90% of potential client families who come to him in full blown conflict mode. He doesn’t need the aggravation and much prefers to work with families in preventative ways.

But the potential for conflict in family business situations remains ever present. If this sounds familiar, you may have read something similar in this space a few short weeks ago. (FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it, or manage it)

One breakout session that I attended was moderated by one of the authors of Deconstructing Conflict, mentioned in that blog. She repeated that in any situation where family and business overlap, conflict is NOT optional. It will always be there, by default.

 

Even if you don’t want it

Go back a few decades and think about buying a car. Do you want power windows and power steering? Air conditioning? There were lots of options available that you could choose to add or not, depending on your wants and needs, and your budget.

These days, (almost) all cars come with all of those former options, and many more, as standard features.

And so it is in a family business, conflict comes standard, and you cannot even opt out of it! Recall the days when you could have an unlisted phone number, but that cost extra, to not be listed in the “standard” phone book (these days, what’s a phone book? Ask Grandma…)

So assuming that you accept that conflict is built in, what now? My take is that you acknowledge it and always be on the alert for where disputes might flare up, and try to get out in front of them.

 

Carving a Safe Space: Art vs Science

A common term for mediators and group facilitators is the “safe space”. An independent and neutral outsider comes in and creates a safe space for all parties to be able to share their concerns, wants and needs.

One of the panelists in the conflict session artfully pointed out that his task is always to “hand carve” that safe space. You cannot buy such a space at IKEA and assemble it out of the box.

This carving analogy fits quite nicely with my own assertion, which I made both in that post a few weeks ago and during the FFI session; there is much more art involved in facilitating group process than there is science.

 

Who I Am vs What I Do

Organisations like FFI are great at helping this young industry develop and share the science part of family firms, but the art in mediating conflict often comes down more to the “who I am” of the neutral third party than the “what I do”.

The work that one needs to do to become an effective third party is very personal and “internally driven”.

For me, coaching courses, mediation and facilitation workshops, and even Bowen Family Systems Theory training, have all been integral to my becoming more than simply competent to do this work and conduct these group processes.

They say, “practice makes perfect”, and while perfection seems too lofty a goal, practice certainly does make one “better”.

 

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?

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In any family business, conflict can occur quite naturally, and often does. “Oh crap, now what?” is one of the thoughts that can often go through one’s mind when they first get wind of family members not getting along as hoped.

This subject is potentially huge, and not necessarily something that one can easily tackle in about 700-words, but there are a couple of points that I want to make here, while being far from exhaustive.

Entire books have literally been written on this subject, and one, called Deconstructing Conflict, came out recently and I read it this summer. I even reviewed it (with a five star rating) on Amazon.com, which was a first for me.

One key learning from the book is that because conflict occurs so naturally in family business, we should not try to resolve it, but just manage it.

The idea, as I understood it, is that if you try to resolve it, one of two things will likely occur:

  • You will spend a lifetime trying, and you are bound to be disappointed, or,
  • You will believe that the conflict has been resolved, but you will later learn that it was not truly resolved.

 

Let’s just resolve it

Well, I am not that skeptical, and I think that making an effort to try to resolve conflict is often worth it, and it certainly feels better than just acting as if you can’t ever get rid of it.

This week I attended a course that is part of the Third Party Neutral program in Ottawa at the CICR.

Interestingly, CICR stands for the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. So clearly the people who named this organisation believe in the possiblity of resolution.

And there is also an entire field called ADR, which stands for “Alternative Dispute Resolution”, so there must be some hope of actually resolving conflicts.

Or maybe a “dispute” is just a subset of a conflict, and you can resolve a (minor) dispute, but not a (major) conflict?

Of course we can’t forget that family business situations are often ones in which truly resolving all conflicts can be next to impossible. So now what?

 

Process versus Content

Well conflict management skills and conflict resolution skills are really quite interchangeable, as you might well imagine.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up in my ADR training as well as these TPN courses that have really stuck with me.

The first is that there is a huge difference between Process and Content. Sounds obvious, I know, but something struck me this week that drove it home even further for me, and even scared me a bit too.

The neutrality aspect of facilitation and mediation (i.e. bringing in someone from the outside) was what drew me to this type of training when I entered the advisory side of the family legacy field, because I fully understood that an external, unbiased person was an absolute requirement to tackle any family conflict.

 

Is Process Enough?

I have learned and practised a number of techniques and processes, and filled my toolbox with ideas that I can use in a variety of difficult situations.

There is a lot of “art” to all of this, and the idea of “who I am” in this work, as opposed to “what I do”, is not lost on me either.

Now I want to share the scary part, but let’s just keep it between us, OK?

The scary part is that in order to help a business family work through their conflict(s), it is more important to know about conflict resolution and management processes than it is to know anything about family business.

In fact, there was one roleplay I did this week, in an area in which I had zero knowledge, and it was actually liberating to be ignorant. My lack of understanding of some issues helped me focus on the process only, without getting into the content.

Of course if you just want the conflict resolved or managed, conflict “process” people can help a lot.

If, however, you want to build a strong family base going forward, get someone who does conflict well, AND who understands family legacy.