Posts

Expectations vs Aspirations in the FamBiz

Expectations vs Aspirations in the FamBiz

This week we’re going back to an old standby of mine, the “this versus that” blog format, where we compare and contrast two words, kind of like many of us did in High School English class.

And naturally, we’ll look at the words in general first, and then move into how they play themselves out in the context of family business.

Of course I typically begin with a set-up around my inspiration for my posts, which I love to do to provide some background and context, which can sometimes be interesting, entertaining, and useful, and hopefully occasionally all three.

Here goes.

Meditation Phone Apps

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve become a regular meditator.  My streak on one of the meditation apps I have on my phone is over 500 straight days, which I sometimes find pretty remarkable.

I actually begin each day with at least 20 minutes on one or two apps that I use, and I feel like my day gets off to a good start.  I alluded to this back in Rocky Mountain High: Best Is Yet to Come.

I like the App called “10% Happier” for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that creator Dan Harris has aimed it directly at people like myself.  He pulls no punches and states upfront that it’s “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics”.  

Tell Me the Story So I’ll Believe 

I know that there are plenty of skeptics out there, including Harris himself.  I had first “met” him on his 10% Happier audiobook last summer. I only learned about the related app later from a colleague as we compared notes on meditation apps.

I want to side track onto Harris’ book because not only has he helped me understand meditation better, he actually inspired me in the way I approached the writing of my recent book, Interdependent Wealth: How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions.

In his book he spends a lot of time telling the story about how he learned about meditation, including all the ups and downs along the way.

I hope those who read my book will appreciate how this style of storytelling can add so much to a reader’s enjoyment of a book.

Context and Background in the App Too

Each meditation session on the app also has some background that gives context to the session. These are videos of Harris asking questions of the meditation expert.

It’s from one of those videos that this blog post’s inspiration arose. Joseph Goldstein, a meditation teacher widely featured on the app, talked about the difference between our expectations and our aspirations.

I knew immediately that there was a blog post in there!

Expectations: What We Believe Will Happen

Our expectations are essentially what we believe will happen, they’re what we “expect”.  They’re typically what we think will likely occur, say, on average; not the best result, not the worst either.

Aspirations: What We Hope Will Happen

In contrast, our aspirations are based more on our hopes, and what we would like to see happen; more of a best case scenario.

Goldstein states at one point that we “plan for the worst, and hope for the best”, so he and I may differ a bit on the expectations part (worst vs average) but that’s not the most important aspect, so we’ll leave that aside.

The Family Business Version – Whose Expectations?

In so many family businesses, including the one I grew up in, the biggest issue is often that one person often has great expectations, but not for their own self, but for their children.

There are plenty of people who are working in businesses who feel like they really never had much choice in the matter; it was simply expected of them, and so here they are.

Of course in some circumstances, the offspring joining the family business was truly not a choice, but a matter of survival.  I like to think that in the developed world, in this day and age, that doesn’t occur as often as it used to.

Human Capital – Maximizing Each Person’s Potential

Lately more families are starting to think about the term “Human Capital”, and how each person in a family can contribute what they do best, to the family’s wealth.

Usually when each person can live towards their own aspirations, they will be happier and more productive than those who are pursuing the expectations of their parents.

Is there an important conversation you need to have with a family member around this?

 

Conversation between family members

Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

This week’s post was inspired by a recent Zoom call that I was on with a group of like-minded colleagues.  The group consists of people trained in Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), which became an interest of mine about five years ago.

Actually, I was more than just “interested” in BFST; I recently published a book about how it illuminates the field of intergenerational wealth transitions. (See Interdependent Wealth)

In the book, I also share my journey of learning and discovery of the fascinating world of BFST.

 

“Uncomfortable Conversations”

On that call, one colleague related a story about a recent meeting that she had had at her workplace, where some “uncomfortable conversations” took place.

She shared her reaction to the conversations, and how she was able to maintain objectivity towards the subject, not allowing her emotions to derail her thinking, thanks to her understanding of, and training in, Bowen Theory.

During the ensuing discussion, someone referred to that conversation, and dubbed it a “productive conversation”.

And suddenly in my head, there it was, “A-Ha!”, there’s definitely a blog post in this idea. 

I know that lots of business families face these issues around “tough” conversations all the time.

 

Of Productivity and Discomfort

In the example from above, that conversation was deemed uncomfortable, and also productive. My understanding of the productive aspect is that it likely resulted in an ability to move forward on some important matter(s).

If I frame this question around just the area of conversations, I might ask, “Does every productive conversation have to be uncomfortable?”

Or, turning it around, “Is every uncomfortable conversation productive?”

I think everyone would agree that the answer to both questions is a resounding “No”.

 

Avoiding the Tough Conversations

So if we’ve determined that “uncomfortable” and “productive” are simply two adjectives that can be used to describe conversations, and that even though there is some overlap of these groups, it is not a perfect overlap, what is this really about?

My guess is that it’s really about the fact that even though we know a conversation could be productive, it will often be avoided if it is expected to also be uncomfortable.

I know there’s no rocket science in that last sentence.

 

Necessary Conversations

In my notes to capture this as a blog topic that morning, I included the word “necessary”, because that word also came up for me as I considered the idea.

How many “necessary conversations” are being avoided, simply because they’re expected to be uncomfortable for someone?

Probably way too many to even begin to count.

 

Preparation and Culture

I want to share a few ways that we can have more productive conversations, that won’t necessarily be “comfortable”, but will at least be less “uncomfortable”.

First off, when people are prepared for a conversation, they can be more ready to hear things that they don’t always like to hear. When you can brace yourself before you fall, you won’t get hurt as badly as when you can’t.

Another important element that you can work on, is creating the proper culture for these conversations.  If you can be in the habit of creating a safe and supportive space, that can certainly help with the comfort issue.  

The more often you get together with people, raising some difficult issues and dealing with them positively, the more this can become a habit, and eventually part of your culture.

 

Make It a Regular Forum

In fact, one of the recommendations I typically make to families who say they really want to get serious about their planning for their eventual intergenerational wealth transition, is to begin to have regular family meetings.

These meetings don’t necessarily need to be held frequently (monthly or quarterly) but there should be at least one or two a year.

The important thing is to make sure that everyone knows that there will be an opportunity to have important conversations, around matters that will affect the whole family, over the very long term.

 

Start Slow, Add “Big” Topics Later

The initial few meetings can be used to get the attitude and culture right, hopefully dealing with simpler issues at the outset.

With time, some of the more sensitive topics will typically be added to the agenda, as people will have become used to working on important aspects around how things will evolve.

Hopefully, you can be productive, without being uncomfortable.

 

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountain High: Best Is Yet to Come

Notes from my 6th PPI Rendez Vous

As I write these words, I’m returning from Denver, after attending my favourite event of the year, the Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute

During my first, in 2014, I vowed to return each year if at all possible, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to keep my streak perfect thus far.

As I’ve shared with anyone who’ll listen, this is where I go each July to “fill up” my proverbial tank, hanging out with like-minded peers who all also “get” the importance of putting family members at the heart of the work that goes into intergenerational wealth transitions.

While I fully recognize that a vast majority of the activities that go into the world of “family wealth preservation” are still comprised of “structural solutions”, I can tell you that more and more professionals are seeing the light and recognizing the many shortcomings of those methods.

All those who want to meet, share and collaborate with others who recognize that this planning should be purposeful in nature, i.e. centered around the family’s purpose, please plan to join us next year (July 21-23, 2020).

 

Too Many Highlights to Mention

No blog post could ever do justice to all the great sessions and learnings from any single Rendez Vous, but I’ll try to report on some parts that I personally found special.  

I also know that each attendee will have their own list, and most of those will surely be pretty long.

When PPI founder and head John A. Warnick took the stage to talk about the state of the organization, one of his Powerpoint slides had the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Come” on it, and I found it quite powerful and pertinent.

Indeed, it feels like the best IS yet to come, for PPI, for the field of of professionals serving ultra high net worth families, and even for me personally.

 

Podcasts: THE Big “New” Content Format (?)

A theme that seems to be emerging in the professional space in general is the appearance of more and more podcasts. 

At dinner one evening, I sat next to two podcast hosts who have had me on as a guest recently (Family Business Podcast ep.59) and (Crafting Solutions to Conflict, upcoming episode), and the evening before I was invited to be a guest on a future episode of the Business Sustainability Radio Show.

I guess it helps when you have a new book out that you want to talk about, and when you like to talk about the important work being done in an emerging profession.

The book was central to many conversations I had with colleagues and friends (new and old) while there.  I wrote the book to fill a gap in the literature and based on what people told me, it does that. 

Some who had purchased copies, brought them for me to sign, which I was honoured to do.

I also gave several copies to people who seemed likely to follow up my gift with an Amazon review, of which I’m hoping some will be forthcoming.

Some More Random Highlights

 

  • Wolf Packs

I honestly can’t recall which mainstage presenter mentioned it, but the expression “The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack; and the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf” was mentioned.

I can think of few expressions that better capture what it means to be part of a family who’ve agreed to continue to work together, so I always welcome any opportunity to share it.

 

  • Meditating Vs. Sleeping

Perennial presenter Ian McDermott had us run through a cool exercise on conversations, in triads, but not before leaving me with a great sentence that I noted because it captures something that’s also become a habit in my life.

As he described his daily ritual, he noted “I wake up and then I meditate. People ask ‘why do you meditate, you were just sleeping?’ And I say ‘Yes, but meditating isn’t the same as sleeping’”. 

Amen, Ian, thanks for putting it so simply.

 

  • Mentor Mixer

Kudos to Amanda Koplin for instigating the first ever PPI Mentor Mixer. I’m pleased to have found a match in a young woman who is older than my daughter (but not by much) with whom I’m certain future exchanges will prove mutually beneficial.

 

Until PPI Rendez Vous 2020

Having reconnected with many colleagues, I am once again “full”, and ready to continue spreading the purposeful news for the next 51 weeks. A la prochaine!

Family Getting together

“We’re Here to Improve, Not to Impress”

“We’re Here to Improve, Not to Impress”

Each week in this space I write about subjects relating to families who work together for their long term benefit.

This can be in a family business, a family office, a family foundation, or any combination of these and other scenarios.

But when individual family members work together on these matters, they aren’t always coming in with the same goals or attitudes.

 

Blogging About Enterprising Families

The idea for this particular post, which I used in the title, comes from a situation that has nothing to do with families at all, but rather from a real life experience of mine that I recently noted.

Of course I needed to find a way to take that message, tell that story as background, and then relate it to the world of enterprising families.

I’m pretty sure that I found a way to do it, but I will leave it to readers to evaluate my success.  

 

Coach Training Example

Those of you who also read my monthly newsletter (and care enough to pay attention to the details of my life that I sometimes relate therein) may know that I began a coaching certification program in April, with CTI.

During our very first session with our CPL (Certification Pod Leader), he made a statement that I wrote down and vowed to keep in mind throughout the program, and beyond.

He asked all nine of us to remember that we were there “to improve, NOT to impress”.

I’m pleased to report that it has stuck with me, and I’ve repeated it to myself, and others in our group, on a few occasions.

 

What About Family Members?

So where can we use this idea when working with family members? I’m glad you asked.

I think that the best way to begin to look at this, is to actually think about the expression in reverse.  Wait, what?

Well not really in reverse, but let’s think about the “here to impress” part of it first.

I have seen my share of family businesses, and in many of them, there are certain family members who expend a lot of effort and energy trying to impress others.

Now this might be fine if all these efforts were being made in order to impress outsiders, like customers, suppliers, bankers, etc.

But when they spend so much of their time and effort trying to impress their parents and their siblings, that always leaves me feeling at least slightly disappointed.

 

Poorly Focused Efforts

That disappointment arises mostly because it feels to me like many of these efforts would be better put to use for the common good of the family.

Instead, they often have at their core a need for certain family members to boost their own worth within their family.

When people feel the need to act this way, it is usually disappointing to me.  

But this isn’t about me, it’s about the families. So let’s look at it from their viewpoint.

 

How About Improving Together Instead?

Now I want to go back to the expression in the title, and examine the first part. “We’re here to improve”.

Imagine that instead of certain family members attempting to bolster their personal superiority over others, they would simply act first and foremost as team players, concerned with the success of the entire group.

Every group of people who work together, in whatever form, will have people with varying levels of abilities in different areas.

It is rare to find a group in which one single person is the best person in that group at every task they undertake.

 

Going Far, Going Together

As I wrote that last line, I flashed back to a blog from 2016, which remains one of my favourites.

Going Far? Go Together, was inspired by an African proverb that reads, 

“If you want to go FAST, go alone. If you want to go FAR, go together”

As someone who writes regularly about families who work together, and who has admitted repeatedly to having a “family first bias”, I hope you can see why this proverb is close to my heart.

 

Improving Together Impresses the Outsiders

When families can keep their focus on making things better for the whole group, they will actually end up impressing many outsiders.

While that may not be their goal (and probably shouldn’t be) it is a nice side effect.

Hopefully other families can then watch and learn!

 

Constitution book

Behind the “Flawed” Family Constitution

Behind the “Flawed” Family Constitution

This week’s post is about the wonderful world of the “Family Constitution”.  I thought about doing a “5 Things to Know…” blog, but decided against it.

There’s a lot to get to, so let’s dive in.

 

Just Who Are “The People”?

As I searched Shutterstock for an image to accompany this post, I entered the word “Constitution” and was amazed (but not surprised) at how many of the pictures featured the words “We the people” at the top of an old document.

Those are of course the first words of the U.S. Constitution, and they really sum up the importance of getting the preamble right to set the context properly in the creation of any important document. 

See: Co-Creation and Values in the FamBiz

It’s not hard to deduce from the expression “Family Constitution” that “the people” here would be “the family”.

 

“The Family”; OK, Thanks, Now It’s Clear. NOT

That’s all fine, of course, until it comes to defining exactly who all the individual people are, especially as definitions of family continue to evolve.

If that were the only issue to resolve, this wouldn’t actually be that difficult.  We’d need to start with the family leaders and then expand the group slowly, and then work together to come up with definitions and rules, and come to a consensus on who’s included.  Surely not an insurmountable problem.

 

Putting the “Con” in “Constitution”

Having a family constitution can be a very useful thing for some families, assuming their governance has sufficiently evolved and the family members have actually been key players in its development.

For every “Pro”, there are also many “Cons”.

The inspiration for this blog came from an article I saw on LinkedIn a few months ago, by Professor Enrique Soriano, who works with families on their governance, mostly in Asia. I’ve never met him, but we have 174 common connections on that network as I write this.

His post, Elements of a Flawed Family Constitution, is essential reading for anyone truly interested in this subject, especially for those who see the Family Constitution as the “be all and end all” of things that every family “must have”. 

The fact that many of those who believe this also peddle their services to families, and offer to create these documents for them, should not be a huge surprise.

 

One Person is NOT “People”

As I wrote last year in Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s, if one person writes the constitution, alone, without major doses of input from people from different generations of the family, it simply will not work.  

Sure, you can fool yourself that you’ve got something worthwhile, but it won’t last.

Similarly, if the document was largely put together by a consultant, or even a team of consultants, it will not serve its intended purpose.  And this is true even if you hire the best consultants and pay them a lot of money to do this work for you.

As I always say about family governance (of which a family constitution is but one possible component) it really needs to be FOR the Family, BY the Family.

 

Cultural Differences?

Soriano notes at one point that perhaps the phenomenon of “flawed family constitutions” is more prevalent in Asia, where he is based.  That may be the case, as there could be more of an attitude towards the forced creation of a document that everyone is then expected to abide by in those cultures.

But I don’t care what country you are in, unless the family members were heavily involved in its creation and implementation, no family constitution is going to be worth much.

 

My Own Pet Peeve

The one thing that I personally hate about this subject, is that it’s so often based on the assumption that keeping the business and family together forever is desirable and doable.

There may be some cultural biases in this aspect.

If the attitude behind the creation of a constitution is to “force” people to remain in relationships that they otherwise would rather not be part of, then trouble will likely be ahead.

 

My “Family” Bias

My bias is always to make sure that the family relationships survive for generations.  If that means that changes need to be made to the business and ownership, then let’s figure out how to make those and keep the family intact.

If a constitution that reflects that can be created, then great.

Of course any family with that attitude might never think they need one…

Co-Creation and Values in the FamBiz

This week we’re looking at two subjects that have an interesting relationship when it comes to business families.  I’m not really sure how to describe their relationship, but maybe we can figure it out together.

Please join me as we look at Values and Co-Creation in the context of families looking to preserve their wealth across generations.

People have been talking about Values in the family wealth space for a long time, and with good reason.  The idea of Co-Creation seems to be a more recent manifestation, and I’m really excited about how the two can actually work together.

Let’s get started.

 

Co-Creating the Families Values

Values, in the end, are usually a very personal matter.  It’s not often that any two people will have the exact same “top 5” values, for example.  It’s not quite like DNA, but still very much an individual thing.

So what about “family values”, then?

Well, thanks to the DNA metaphor that just popped into my head as I was writing this, we have something we can keep using here, with this analogy.

While no two people’s values will be identical, it’s not uncommon for family members to have a lot of overlap in what’s important to them in terms of values.

 

Handed Down from the Parents?

In many ways, like DNA, your values are determined, or at least influenced by, your parents.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising to realize, when you meet siblings for example, that their values will be similar.

But when you’re trying to find the “common values” of the family, I don’t recommend that they be dictated from on high, from one generation to the next.

That’s where the Co-Creation comes in.

 

The Process Versus the Result

If you begin with each family member’s individual values, you’ll undoubtedly find some common ground that can act as a foundation upon which you can then build the “family values” that you are looking to discover.

But please resist the temptation to quickly find “the answer”.

The process that the family members go through together, as they explain to the others how they view each of their important values, and why they are important to them, is even more important than the end result.

The discussions, especially in a sibling group, as they share examples of how they have lived their values and how they have seen others live them as well, is so rich with potential that it shouldn’t be ignored.

It’s the entire process of working together, that Co-Creation, that will ensure that when the family adopts their list of key family values, they will actually “stick”.

 

The Value of Co-Creation

This now brings us to the other view I have stuck in my head around the way that Value(s) and Co-Creation overlap.

We’ve been talking about the Co-Creation of the family’s Values, but I really want to underscore the Value of Co-Creation.  This is admittedly a bit of a clunky argument on my part.

As the author of all of my content, as well as the editor, I’ve given myself editorial licence to do this.  I hope you’ll continue to indulge me here.

The first message is that family values MUST be co-created.

But the second message is that Co-Creation in and of itself, has a lot of Value, in everything the family does together.

 

Family Legacy, Family Alignment, Family Governance

All of my favourite subjects in this work revolve around family, and I express them in different ways depending on the context and particular circumstances that any family is living.

But whether I’m talking to a family about the family legacy that they want to leave (and live!), or the family alignment that they may have to work on to get everyone working in the same direction, or the family governance that they’ll need to begin to work on, to hold it all together over the coming generations, the Co-Creation of these is always central to their ultimate success.

So, Yes, please remember that family Values should always be Co-Created by the family members, with a major input from the younger family members, please!

But Yes also to recalling that there is huge Value in the idea of Co-Creation of everything else the family is working on for their long term success.

FOR the Family, BY the Family. But not necessarily by themselves!

 

“Professionally Emotional” – A FamBiz Oxy-Moron?

Following up on last week’s post, Three Pillars of Family Governance from a Pro, in which I invoked the wisdom of Barbara Hauser, one of the veteran contributors to the field of family enterprise, I’m going to do something similar this week.

This time I’ve been inspired by Randel Carlock, a professor at INSEAD, who has also been a major contributor to this field for decades.

And whereas last week’s post came about as the result of my reading a piece from CampdenFB, this week it comes from a post I came across  from Tharawat Magazine.

Many of my blogs have their genesis in conferences I attend and interactions with families and colleagues, but these two websites have provided many sparks as well.

(LinkedIn and Twitter are great ways to stay abreast of things in this space, by the way).

 

Professionally Emotional

What struck me was this quote, from A Family Business on the Moon – Lessons from the Author, where Carlock says, “…we encourage families to become professionally emotional, which may seem like an oxymoron, but it works.”

As someone who loves to play with words and gets excited by the potential paradoxes in any oxymoron, this one ticked a few boxes for me.

While many people might feel like “professional” and “emotional” cannot naturally coexist, I think that those who inhabit the world of enterprising families will immediately recognize the possibilities this expression gives rise to.

Let’s take a closer look at what Carlock is driving at.

 

Professional Governance and Strategy

When it comes to the running of a successful business, it’s always important to have a professional approach to the strategy and the governance of the enterprise.  Few people will argue with that.

Of course, too many family businesses continue to operate with less than professional business operations and strategy, but that is a subject for another day.

In terms of running and guiding the company, “professional” is certainly the way to go, or at least something to aspire to.

 

Emotional and Caring Leadership

But family enterprises need to be a bit different than their non-family brethren in how they exercise their leadership.  

When you have several family members involved, and you therefore have more than a simple business relationship with the others around the table, other factors come into play as well.

It is in the leadership of these enterprises that the emotions and the caring need to be present.

So, “Yes” to the professionalism of the “what”, but also “Yes” to the caring about the emotional side of things in the leadership, or the “how”.

Parallel Planning Process

Carlock is encouraging families to work on their business and their family planning in parallel.  In fact, he coined the term “Parallel Planning Process” many years ago, in a book he co-authored with John Ward from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

That book, Strategic Planning for the Family Business, details everything quite nicely.

Not only is it important to do planning for the business AND to do planning for the family and its members, a major point is that they are equally important.

And because they are both important, they need to be done in a coordinated and aligned fashion.  They are interdependent, so you need to make sure that they’re both progressing side-by-side.

 

Match the Speed of Evolution

What often occurs is that many plans are made, professionally, concerning the future of the business.  The focus continues to be on making the business strong, and having it continue to grow. The family can be an afterthought.

That’s when things can get out of sync with the family.  When there is business planning without regard to the family members and the human capital that they can offer, many possible contributors can get lost in the shuffle.

The other version can occur too.  How many of us have heard of family businesses that get sold to outsiders, because no family members want to take over?  Typically, the next generation have all become professionals and have great careers going, so coming back to the family business can seem like a step backwards.

All the more reason to try to keep the plans for the family and for the business properly aligned. None of this is necessarily easy to do, it takes effort and diligence.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it though!

Three Pillars of Family Governance from a Pro

Some regular readers may be getting a bit sick of reading my take on the subject of Family Governance.  Well this week I’m going to revisit this important subject, but with the help of someone who has decades more experience with the matter.

I always want to share more on Family Governance, but this time I’ve got the wisdom of Barbara Hauser on my side, so you can all benefit from her work with families on several continents.

The source of the background for this post is an article I saw online in March, from CampdenFB.com, written by Hauser.  It, in turn, is an excerpt from a chapter that she wrote in the recent book, Wealth of Wisdom, which I also highly recommend.

Making Decisions Together

What are the best ways for a family to make decisions together?

Great question, isn’t it?  I think so. It’s also the title that Hauser chose for her post, and Chapter 28 of Wealth of Wisdom, which was her contribution to the book.

My readers will hopefully recognize the aspect of decision-making that I typically cite as one of the three main components of Family Governance (along with communications, and problem-solving). See Family Governance – Do It Yourself?

Go Read It for Yourself

I will come right out and recommend not only that you read the CampdenFB.com story I linked above, as well as the entire Wealth of Wisdom book.  

But now I need to segue this post into the “three universal principles” of good governance that she outlines for families to follow that I teased in my blog title.

Let me list them here first, and then I’ll give you my take on them one-by-one.

Hauser states that three key elements you’ll want to ensure you have are:        

Transparency, Accountability, and Participation.

Transparency: Everything Above Board, Please

Family governance is all about how things are taken care of for the larger family group, and typically involves smaller groups of people doing much of the work and making many of the day-to-day decisions on their behalf.

These situations always result in what I like to call an “Information Asymmetry” i.e. a few people know A LOT about what’s going on, while many people know VERY LITTLE.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this asymmetry can make those on the “I know very little” end of things uncomfortable and perhaps even suspicious.

As an antidote to suspicion, it behooves those on the “I know a lot” side to be overly transparent in everything they do.

Better to “overshare” to the point where they feel like you are bombarding them with detail, than to “undershare” and have them think you are hiding anything.

Accountability: Do What You Promised (Or Else!)

Being accountable to the group is the next key principle that follows on perfectly to transparency.  Not only do those who are taking care of things need to be upfront and above board with the things that they are doing on behalf of the other family members, they actually need to be held to account for the results.

If certain people are being trusted by others to represent them, there needs to be an occasional “accounting” of their performance.

If results are sub-optimal, explanations are warranted, and continued underperformance should naturally raise possible questions of fitness for the task.

As long as group members can see what those at the helm are doing, and that there are opportunities to discuss results, things typically run smoothly.

Participation: Hey, I Want in On That Too

Hauser’s third principle of Family Governance is Participation.  Again, it flows nicely from the previous one.

Imagine a scenario where performance is not up to expectations.  Other family members might rightly want to be able to be involved at a deeper level, if they feel that they have a contribution to make.

Of course this principle involves more than simply having a line form to take the place of those at the helm.

Simply being invited to take part in any discussions around transparency and accountability also count towards participation.

Start Small, Let Things Evolve

I really don’t like to scare people when I talk about the importance of Family Governance.  It doesn’t need to start out as a big deal. Put a few elements in place, and allow things to evolve slowly form there.

That reminds me, you may also want to read The Evolution of Family Governance!

Family Business in london

Everything Is Something

The post’s title is a three-word expression I heard from a colleague several months ago, and my goal is to turn it into something entertaining and useful for people who work with enterprising families.

Let’s set the context a bit.  I got this “everything is something” line from a colleague last October in London at the annual Family Firm Institute conference.

I’m pretty sure it took place at the reception for speakers and sponsors.  I’m not exactly sure what we were talking about but at one point my friend said “everything is something” and I gave her that look.

What look?  It’s a look that combines surprise, gratitude, and inspiration.  She had seen this look before, as she’s inspired at least one other previous blog post. (Thanks, MM!)

 

A Coaching Term (?)

After we got through the obligatory “Hmmm; I like that…  There’s a blog in there…”, she told me that this was an expression that her coach uses with her.

Now that I’m writing this, part of me wishes I’d asked her to expound on this and maybe give me an example from her coaching conversations for me to relate here.  But alas, I didn’t do that, since my mind was already beginning to think of some of the many possibilities the expression presents.

 

The Family Business Angle

As usual in this space, I now need to pivot my story into ways in which it applies to business families.  Even though the inspiration came at a conference for people who work with family firms, that doesn’t make this an obvious leap.

There was, however, a reason that this expression hit me square in the face.  It all comes down to the different perspectives that people in a family have when they think about and talk about their family situations around their business or their wealth.

Rather than starting with “everything”, to clarify what I meant, let’s look at a simpler example, like “any one thing” instead.

So, any one thing, be it a comment, a situation, an event, a payment, an email, a story, or whatever, that seems to one person to be “nothing”, or at least “nothing special or noteworthy”, has the potential to be “something”, and often “something really BIG” to another person.

 

Assumptions and Misunderstandings

Far too often in cases where family members interact with each other closely around important and sensitive subjects, the differing viewpoints of the different players are ripe for these sorts of misunderstandings.

Some of the biggest possible irritants occur when something seems so inoffensive and even irrelevant to one person, yet to another person it’s actually a huge deal.

When these things occur infrequently they can often blow over pretty quickly, but when they begin to pile up in rapid succession, look out.  There can be a cascading effect that can quickly erupt.

When I assume that something I did, said, or wrote is benign and inconsequential, yet the receiver or even another “bystander” views it much differently, often because of a simple misunderstanding, that can be sufficient to create a highly combustible pile of kindling.

 

Just Add a Spark

When there’s a lot of kindling, a simple spark can start a fire that can then turn into a raging inferno.  So if we continue with this analogy, there are two things to avoid: the kindling, and the spark.

The kindling is made up of misunderstandings or assumptions that have not been verified.

The way to avoid those things happening is to make sure that the communications channels are clear and used regularly.  You want to avoid having these things pile up.

 

Clear Things Up Regularly

Some families do this really well, getting together frequently and talking openly about important matters, even when some of them are sensitive.

Other families are less good at this, and I will usually encourage then to meet more frequently.

But then there is also the need to avoid those sparks we mentioned before.

 

High Anxiety and Possible Sparks

When things are going well, there’s a lower chance of sparks happening.  But when things are stressed, and anxiety is running high, sparks will typically occur more frequently.

My conclusion is that when things aren’t necessarily going perfectly well, then it’s even more important to communicate clearly and frequently, to clear up any misunderstandings.

Because in a family business, everything is potentially something.

Spreading the Gospel: Let Me Count the Ways

Years ago when I was entering the family business field as an advisor, freshly armed with some great wisdom and perspective thanks to the FEA Program that I had just completed, I was already convinced that for me, having more competitors would be better for me than less.

In fact, I first wrote about this in May 2013, when I was only half way through the program: Spreading the Gospel vs. Cornering the Market

I’m pleased to report that, anecdotally at least, this attitude is beginning to gather steam.  I’ve heard a few other people mentioning this aspect of the industry. What aspect?

That a more generalized acceptance and understanding of the important work that families must do to successfully transition their wealth to the next generation will be better accomplished when more families and advisors “get it”.  

More competition not only makes us all better, it’s creating more work for all of us. Let’s look at some of the progress we’ve seen in these past few years.

An illustration of people and communication

Education Programs for Advisors

When I completed my FEA designation (2014), the number of designates was somewhere in the “dozens”.  It is now in the “hundreds” (over 300 and well on the way to 400). And most of us are just in Canada.

Similarly, the GEN Program from FFI was still in its infancy then.  I completed their designations (CFBA, CFWA, ACFBA, ACFWA) from 2014-2016. (GEN stands for Global Education Network).

The first two of those are done completely online, but include a capstone webinar with a truly global group of students.  The second pair (with the added “A” at the beginning to denote “advanced”) include a full day in person session as part of FFI’s annual conference each October.

The number of people who have been through the FFI GEN program is also in the hundreds and will likely be in the thousands before long as its growth rate has been staggering.  This is a testament to the desire for increased training to work with families and their complexities.

 

Conferences for Advisors to Share and Learn

FFI is a huge and global organization that has been around for over 30 years and has helped grow the whole industry.

More recently, other groups have formed and I’ve also enjoyed attending their annual gatherings.

Regular readers will recognize their names immediately, as I write about them often, because I am a big fan and because they’re the inspiration for many of my blog posts.

Every year in July, I head to the Denver area for the Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute.  And for the past three years, I’ve gone to NYC in January for the Institute for Family Governance’s annual conference as well.

 

More people talking about how they work with families and sharing ideas with others, every year, over and over again, has been great for all of us.

People watching a presentation in a room

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Another way that some in this profession spread the gospel is by writing books about their work.

I’ll just note two here that I really enjoyed, written by peers that I consider friends.  These are of course people that I met and continue to meet at the above mentioned conferences.

The first is In Three Generations, by Kristen Heaney.  The second is The Naked Opus, by Chris Delaney. They both happen to be written as fictional stories, and knowing both authors I recognize similarities to their own lives.

 

Interdependent Wealth

I have great respect for anyone who makes the effort to write a book, because I’ve been through it myself.  I wrote SHIFT your Family Business five years ago, and that was quite an adventure in its own right.

Currently, I’m putting the final touches on my second book, Interdependent WealthHow Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions.

For those of you who’ve been asking (Thanks!) you can now pre-order copies (click the link above) and you’ll receive them from Amazon in early July.

 

I’m running out or racetrack for this week and I still didn’t get to the area of TOOLS that people have created to help spread this great work that families require.

But that’s not a huge deal, because each week brings a new blog post, and I’ll cover some tools in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

I continue to enjoy doing my part to spread the word about this field, I hope you enjoy it too. Let’s keep spreading the gospel together.