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Children holding a golden trophy

The Case for Friendly FamBiz Competition

This week’s blog is one of the occasional instances where I leave an open spot on my blog calendar because of an event that I’m attending, and I allow something from my participation to inspire me in real-time.

The event in question this time is the Global Family Enterprise Case Competition at the University of Vermont (UVM). I just returned from my trip there, where I was pleased and proud to serve as the lead judge on one of the four judging panels on day 1 of the competition.  

This was my fifth time as a judge, and every year I come away impressed with the caliber of the students; not only the competitors, but also the dozens of UVM volunteers who run the event, under the watchful eye of Pramodita (Dita) Sharma, who remains the heart and soul of the event, as she has since she created it.

 

Friendly Competition, Global Participants

If there was an “A-Ha Moment” that arose for me this time, it certainly was not the global nature of the competition, and, by extension, the family business world.  I’ve commented before in some of my posts relating to my membership in the Family Firm Institute (FFI) that the FamBiz community is truly global in nature.

What really struck me on this visit was the friendly nature of the competition between teams.

The dinner after day 1 of the competition involves each team (3 student participants plus 1 coach) going to the front of the room and taking the microphone and introducing themselves in a fun and creative way.  Think of it as a gigantic icebreaker exercise.

It is very friendly in nature, and it is also competitive.

In fact, the entire event truly brings together both friendliness AND competition.

 

Neither One Alone Would Suffice

What I realized was that neither one of these traits (competitiveness and friendliness) would be enough in and of themselves.  Imagine if it was all friendliness and nobody really cared who won. Or, the reverse, if it turned into a dog-eat-dog fight to the finish.

But then I also started to think about the parallels this competition has with a real family business.  Bear with me here for a minute.

If you’re part of a family business and it’s all friendliness, all the time, that might be nice, but how long will it last, if you aren’t competitive enough? And I mean competitive as a business, but also internally with colleagues.

Likewise, if it’s all about competition and people aren’t even friendly with each other, what’s the point? Isn’t life too short for that?

 

The Pentland Case

The case that was used on day 1 was centered on Pentland, a UK business that was preparing the transition from the second generation of the Rubin family to the third.

It was written after Pentland had received an award for the being the best family business in Europe a few years ago, so it clearly wasn’t one of those typical business school cases where there are all kinds of obvious problems.

The setting for the case was a Friday evening family dinner where various family members had recently returned from visiting different branches of the family company, and they were about to embark on some key discussions about where the family was going to go from here.

 

Finding the Right Friendly / Competitive Balance

The key to this and many family business situations is finding the right balance between the friendly family dinner and the business meeting aspects of the important discussions that also need to happen.

Some families have difficulty with this balance, where every family dinner becomes a business meeting, much to the dismay of those around the table who aren’t involved and don’t wish to be part of any such meetings.

 

Coaches and Judges Mingle…. After Work

Personally, I also needed to work on balancing my serious role as a judge with some friendly after dinner discussions with some of the dedicated coaches.

I’m pleased to say that everyone got along very well and professionally, and my own network of family business contacts continues to expand..

I hope to return again as a judge next year.

 

And the Winners Are:

The winning schools at FECC 2020 were:

Undergraduate Division: Wilfrid Laurier University – Canada

Graduate Division: Universidad Francisco Marroquin – Panama

Congratulations to all those involved, participants and organizers.

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

Lighting the Way in your FamBiz

This week I want to take you on a quick journey through a few different metaphors that all involve light and are related to family business.

The initial idea for this post, as evidenced the title I chose, was to talk about the importance of having someone “light the way” for the family business.  So we’ll start there, but also take a bit of a tour of different types of lights that can also come in handy too.

 

The Torch Bearer

When you think about a family business, there’s often one person, typically a founder or a key leader from another generation, that comes to mind. I like the visual of a person holding a torch, leading the way, with others following.

The importance of great leadership in any organisation cannot be overstated, and family businesses are no different.

We often also hear about passing the torch to the next leader, but I much prefer another metaphor that I’ve heard and will continue to spread.

Rather than passing on their torch to someone else, wouldn’t it be better to light someone else’s torch instead?

Fire is something that you can give away and still have, kind of like love, in a way.

 

Under the Spotlight

There’s another form of light that is also typically associated with business families, and that’s the “spotlight”. Anyone who has ever gone to work for their parents knows about this light, and it isn’t always a comfortable place to be.

When your last name is the same as that of the person who signs the paycheques, and especially if that name is also on the sign above the door, you just know that everyone will be watching you.

Of course this can also be a good thing, because it does help keep these rising generation family members honest, knowing that it will be difficult to hide anything that they do that perhaps they shouldn’t.

 

The Search Light

I much prefer the search light or even a simple flashlight as a metaphor, because even though they are pretty similar to a spotlight, the intent is very different.

What I’m getting at here is that you use this type of light to look for something, by shining the light into places that are perhaps not as clear as they could be.

I often talk about the human capital that lies in every business family, and sometimes the search for such human capital is not as active as it could be. It takes time, effort, and intention to do this, but shining that light can pay huge dividends.

 

The Beacon or Lighthouse

The beacon has some similarities to the torch, in that they both act as a kind of guiding light. The lighthouse has an added element of stability and strength, though.

It almost feels like something that would apply to someone who has held a key active leadership role in the past, and has remained on the scene in a smaller role, but continues to be a wise soul for those who are now running things.

 

Sunlight: The Best Disinfectant

You may take issue with my including sunlight as one of my lights here, but that argument won’t get you very far, since it is completely natural to include it. 

You may be surprised at my reason for including it here, because it’s very different from the others.  

I really like the expression about sunlight being the best disinfectant, which is something we sometimes hear when discussing politics and government.

 

Transparency Is the Key

When it comes to families, though, it also has its place. I’m thinking about the fact that very often some family members are not as close to the family business as others.

When there is unequal information about what’s going on, especially when it comes to financial issues like compensation, there’s often plenty of suspicion as well.

That’s why I am talking about the importance of sunlight, because transparency is the best antidote to those suspicions.

 

You Light Up My Life

With apologies to Debbie Boone, a family business can be a huge plus for so many families, and it can truly light up the lives of so many family members.

It isn’t always all sweetness and light, though, as the blessings of a family business can quickly become curses instead, when things aren’t done as well as they should be.

 

Dis-Covering your Enterprising Family

Business families, or “families in business”, as they’re often called, come in all shapes and sizes.  Advisors who work with them, like me, sometimes have trouble agreeing on the labels that we should be using to identify this segment of society.

Recently, a term that’s been garnering some momentum is “enterprising families”, which certainly has some cachet to it, especially when contrasted with alternatives we sometimes see, like UNHW families (Ultra High Net Worth).

The word “enterprising” connotes some action, which is so often appropriate, especially when there’s an “operating business” that’s (still) part of the asset mix that the family owns.

 

And…..”Action!”

While the action involved in the creation of the wealth is certainly important, whether that continues in the present or whether it’s only in the family’s past, my bias is to continue to focus on action going forward as well.

As I’ve written in this space in the past, notably in Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger, there are two main components in achieving a family legacy: assets, and, even more importantly, people.

Even if the assets are now passive, the people need to be active.

And therein lies the focus of this week’s post, which is about discovering, or more specifically, “dis-covering” the members of your enterprising family.

 

Getting to Know “The People”

Now the idea of “getting to know” people in your own family might seem like something that you wouldn’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time on, since you already know plenty about them.

And if that’s what you’re thinking, then you’re exactly the kind of person who needs to keep reading.

Because I’m not talking about the obvious details of your children’s lives that every family member already knows about, I’m talking about the questions relating to where and how they “fit” into the enterprising family.

Figuring all of that stuff out takes time and effort, but it’s the families who take the time and make the effort who’ll be the ones who manage to keep their wealth in the family for generations.

 

Inclusion and Belonging as a Bias

My bias is towards inclusion and belonging in every family, so that’s my starting point.  

I will always assume that all family members do want to at least look at the idea of being involved, somewhere, somehow, and at some time, in the preservation and transition of the family’s wealth from one generation to the next.

That’s not to say that every member of the rising generation will be interested in being part of this, it’s just that when I work with a family, I begin there.  

If certain family members are not interested in being involved, that’s OK too, but even those who “pass” are usually glad to have been asked.

 

It Takes a Village

For most families out there, things are much simpler than what I write about here.

For families that have a certain amount of complexity, and who have achieved a certain level of wealth, spending time and making the effort to do things in a thoughtful and inclusive way really makes sense.

Families who’ve been successful in creating, growing, and sustaining wealth, who want to make sure that that wealth stays in their family, should be doing whatever it takes to develop their human capital to take on the necessary roles, as their rising generation prepares to take on key roles.

There are plenty of important roles in most such families, whether they be in an operating business, a family office, a family foundation, or in an entrepreneurial venture.

 

It’s Not Just About the “Next CEO”

Each family member has their own strengths and desires, and taking the time to learn more about each of them is a necessary step, or phase, that’s worth taking the time for.

Having regular family meetings is a big part of how families can do this important work, building the foundation on which the sibling team learns to work together.

When the family members are all involved in co-creating their futures together, the odds of them all “buying in” and making it work go up tremendously.

Not everyone wants to be the next CEO, and not everyone gets to be that either.

But if you think more broadly about stewardship, governance, leadership and management, and consider the business, the family, and the ownership circles, there’s room for everyone somewhere.

Kids walking together in the woods

Are you Explaining or Exploring?

As a coach and facilitator who works with people from enterprising families, one of my roles is to engage with people in ways that are useful to them, as a “thinking partner”.

While I’m a big fan of understanding each person’s context, requiring a certain amount of “explanation”, my real preference is to get to a place of “exploration”, finding the best way forward for each person, and by extension, their family.

With that set-up taken care of, I’d like to explain where I’m coming from on this, before moving into a mode where these thoughts can be explored further.

 

Coach Training and Certification – Check!

Having recently completed my coaching certification program, (with the Co-Active Training Institute, making me a “CPCC”  – or Certified Professional Co-Active Coach –   many of the ideas that came from that program are still fresh in mind, and continue to serve me as a coach, as well as someone who writes a weekly blog.  

This week’s is another example.

One of the aspects of being a coach is that we’re much more interested in the process of coaching our clients, as opposed to getting buried in the content and detail of their situations.  

Our role is to help them see and understand where they are, figure out where they’re trying to go, and then overcome whatever obstacles are in their way.

We’re there to act as a guide, and our training makes us versatile guides; no matter what the situation or obstacles, we’re about the process.  And that process is more focused on the future and its possibilities than on the past.

It’s more about exploration than about explanation.

 

The Rambling Back Story

Some coaching clients love to go on and on, telling their coach about every minute detail of the story that has them in a quandary. 

Many beginner coaches are typically all too happy to think they’re doing a great job of being good listeners, since the client keeps talking. It can feel like a win-win; but alas, it’s typically a missed opportunity.

This is where the wise words of my “CPL”, or Certification Pod Leader, Alex, come in. 

In explaining the importance of interrupting rambling clients, he said, “Coaching is not about EXPLANATION, it’s about EXPLORATION“.

Bingo, there is it, the simple phrase that I’ll never forget.

 

Family Members Who Dwell on the Past

I’m sure that anyone who’s part of a business family will recognize the case of the family member who spends most of their time talking about all of the problems they have to work through, as if to justify their job and pay, because it’s so much work.

When that family member is able to drive all of the discussion, it can really limit the progress of the business, and also the family.

When everything they talk about is an explanation of the current situation, including plenty of excuses and lots of blaming, the focus is on the past, and current obstacles.

 

Focus on the Future – Let’s Explore

Imagine now a family where much of the time is spent on exploration, and talking about possibilities for the future.

Yes, it’s important to understand and appreciate the current context, knowing where we are now, which includes a back story of how we got here.

At some point, everyone already knows that story, though, and rehashing it over and over again, to make clear the obstacles, the errors of the past, the other people who are to “blame” for the shortcomings, and all of the excuses for why things aren’t better, well, all this gets tiring and anything but productive.

What if we get family members together to talk about the future, and how they can all explore, together, a way forward where they all make progress?

 

Coaching, Facilitation, or Mediation?

Whether it’s for one motivated person in a family, or for a family group, quite often the presence of a trained outside person can stimulate more exploration, without the need for excess explanation.

Maybe its coaching for one person, or even several.  It could be facilitation of group meetings that haven’t worked so well without an outside neutral third party.

When things are truly tense, someone who knows how to mediate might be the answer.

What they all have in common is a focus on a better future. Exploring ways forward can work wonders for your family.

 

A time glass in the ground

Is 10 Years a Long Time? (It Depends…)

Looking Forward, Looking Back

This week we’re starting out with a thought-provoking trick question.  It was inspired by something I saw on Twitter a few months ago and filed away.  

Its author is unknown to me, but it came from the @Wealth_Theory Twitter account.

Here’s the main content from the Tweet in question:

 

                   10 years looking forward feels like eternity.

                  10 years looking back feels like yesterday.

 

I couldn’t agree more.  And of course there’s absolutely nothing magic about the number 10, it works equally well with 5, 15, or 20 (or insert your favourite number here).

10 years celebration text

Ages and Stages

For people in a family enterprise, including members of different generations of a family, a few things will remain forever “fixed”.

For instance, your sibling position, vis-à-vis your brothers and sisters, generally won’t change. Likewise, the difference between any two people’s ages doesn’t vary; I will always be 5 years younger than my oldest sister.

And whatever age you are at when your children are born, that gap will remain fixed until one of you stops having birthdays.

But even if some things are truly “fixed”, life goes on, and everyone ages according to the same calendar.

 

What’s your Halftime Speech?

As I write this, I’ve got a football game on TV (on mute) in the background, and it happens to be halftime now. I suddenly realized that when you play the “X years back, X years forward” game, it’s always halftime too.

So what happens in the locker room at halftime?

Well, if you’re winning, you talk to the team about what you’ve been doing well, and plan to do more of that.

If, however, you’re losing, or in a close game, now is the time to make adjustments and make plans for the second half.

 

A Different Game as it Progresses

Of course the second half is never the same as the first.  In real life, that’s even more true than in sports.

I’m 55, so it doesn’t make sense for me to expect years 55 to 65 to be the same as the ones from 45 to 55.

Likewise, my son, who just turned 20, will go through all kinds of new things from now until he’s 30 that will be markedly different than his years 10 to 20.

 

“Picture This…”

A exercise I like to do with families from time to time is to simply draw a basic family diagram with each person’s age written on it.  Simple enough, but now comes the fun part. First, label the page with the current year, say 2019.

Now re-draw another version and label it 2029.

Then have one of the family members put in everyone’s new age.  This is not a math exercise, it’s an exercise in picturing the family in a future state. Try it.

 

All Years Are the Same, Actually 

While the time it takes to go from January 1 to December 31 each year is very much the same, the speed at which it seems to be going varies depending you where you are on your path through life.

I remember thinking that 2000 seemed so far away when I was a kid, and when I look at it today, it’s also far away!

Okay, enough of the navel gazing, this blog is usually about business families, so it’s time I try to articulate my point for members of such families.

 

It’s All About Self-Awareness 

If I had to boil it down to one subject, it would be self-awareness.  But just to be clear, I am not talking about the “internal” or “selfish” aspect of self-awareness.

No, I’m talking about your awareness of your place in your family system.

Who you were, in your family, 10 years ago, and who you are, in your family now, are likely quite different.

Likewise, or furthermore, who you will be 10 years from now, will also likely be quite different.

 

What About the Others?

The same goes for the other members of your family.

Some people are still on the upslope of their arc of life, while others are very likely past their own peak.

The sooner everyone recognizes this reality, the sooner you can actually start to co-create a future where everyone can be part of a gradual transition from the way things are today, to a desired future state.

Because looking 10 years back, it does feel like yesterday!

Family sitting together and planning

Plans Are Useless; Planning Is Indispensable

Every now and then, I hear an expression that hits me between the eyes, and I know I’ve got to think more about it, and eventually write about it here. Such was the case recently during one of the weekly Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI) webinars I like to attend.

And once again, the quote that became a take-away had little to do with the main subject at hand.

I decided to make the quote the title of this blog post. It comes from Dwight Eisenhower, whose term as US President ended before I was born, but based solely on that quote, I like Ike!

 

So Many Contrasts, So Little Time

When I think about the differences between the plans we make and the process of making those plans, especially when considering my favourite subjects (business families), so many possibilities come up.

I’ll probably have to cut this short before I cover them all, so let’s get right into it.

Regular readers may notice that this post will have me repeating things that I’ve said many times before in this space, and that’s usually a good thing.

Someone recently complimented me on the fact that things I told him verbally and facts in my book were consistent.  I’m still shaking my head as to why he seemed to think that was special.

 

The “Journey” Versus the “Destination”

One way to think about the planning process being more important than the end result is the old “the journey is more important than the destination” idea.

As I wrote in There Is No Destination last year, when you get right down to it, we only live in the present, so it literally is all journey.

In fact, too many people have it wrong and focus so much on completing the plan, thinking that having a completed plan will actually provide some magic power.

The value in taking the time to work with others to make plans, and the shared experience that creates, should not be underestimated.

 

Process versus Content

This segues nicely into the next way I want to look at the planning versus plans question.  The whole idea fits so perfectly with the “process versus content” contrast.

The “plan” is the finished product, the content, or the “deliverable”. 

It makes me think of what a consultant would produce, and that then conjures up the image of a report that then sits on a shelf, gathering dust, i.e. useless.

Compare that with what a process consultant, like a facilitator or coach would be involved in.  It’s the entire process of working with a group of people, who together co-create that plan.

More often than not, the activity of working together as a team becomes a more important result than the plan itself.

 

Outdated Before It’s Even Finished

Yet another way to think about the reason plans themselves are overrated is that they are often outdated before the final version is even completed.

When the focus is on completing a beautiful plan, there comes a time when the planning itself needs to end, so that the final report can be crafted.

But once the planning stops so that the report can be written, life goes on, and the final version of the report may already be out of date.

Maybe it would have been better to just continue the planning, to stay on top of the changes going on?

 

Active versus Passive

Next, the activity of planning is by its nature, “active”.  It’s something that people “do”. A plan is something stagnant and inanimate, it’s something that’s been “done”, and it’s now passive.

I like the way that “activity” meshes so well with “journey” and “process”, and the whole “co-creation experience”.

 

The WHO

The unspoken element that I’ve had in mind now needs to be spoken.  A plan may well have been written by one person, perhaps a family leader or a hired consultant.

My bias, as I think I made clear in Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s is that very little good can come out of one person’s ideas and work, if the work is supposed to be for the benefit of a group of people.

The people for whom the planning is being done, MUST be involved in it if it’s expected to work

So please keep on planning as a team, and forget about the final plan.

3 beakers of blue liquid on a white table

Re-Calibrating (with) your Business Family

Family Business: Re-Calibrating (with) your Business Family

This week I’ve got lots of ground to cover, so I’ll just jump right in. I typically talk about my inspiration for each post, but I’m not sure I recall what prompted me to put this one on the calendar. 

What I do know is that it’s important for families who are managing things together.

Such families would do well to implement some sort of family governance, i.e. structures and procedures to make sure they stay on track with all of their decision making.

When families institute governance, there are a number of “speedbumps” that typically and predictably come up, as the family tries to find ways to “get on”, and “stay on”, the same page together.  

 

We’re All Good, For Now

Progress can come in fits and starts when creating family governance, and regular readers know that my favourite way to describe the process is with the word “evolution”.  

It starts somewhere, and then slowly but surely grows and morphs with the family, as they get used to things. (See The Evolution of Family Governance)

But of course while the “family” is evolving, the various members of the family will also each be evolving at their own pace.

The title of this post noted “re-calibrating”, which of course pre-supposes that things were ever initially “calibrated” in the first place. 

So one of the potential problem areas in the evolution of family governance is timing and pace.

A family can come to agreement on processes, and be “all good”, but that won’t last forever.

 

Questions that Start with “Why, What, and Who”

So we know that timing, or “When” questions, can be a huge factor with families, but there are obviously many others, including questions that start with “Why”, “What”, and “Who”.

Hey, nobody ever said this family governance thing was going to be easy, just that it’s really important. (Okay, not many people say that either, but I know I do!)

The “Why” questions typically need to be answered pretty early on, in order to get the family on the path to actually creating some governance to start with, so let’s assume that’s been done.

The “What” and “Who” questions might have answers like “let’s have quarterly family meetings, with these people in attendance, to talk about how the business affects the family, and vice versa”.

That would be a pretty good starting point, and could constitute the original “calibration” for the family.

 

Revisiting the Why, Re-Calibrating the When

After a few such meetings, some family members may be gung-ho and ready to move into fifth gear, while others may still be questioning why they’re having these meetings.

This uncertainty should be considered normal early on.  

Even a few years in, things may be getting murky, and the family may begin to suffer from “governance fatigue”.  Yes, it happens, probably to every family that travels this road, at one time or another.

That’s usually a good place to think about re-calibrating.  Getting family members to re-engage could mean either slowing down or speeding up, always with the goal of working at the same pace again.

 

What About the “With” Part?

This brings me to another key point, one that I’ve made before and will surely make again.

I don’t often have a word in parentheses in the middle of a blog title, but this week I do.  It is not an accident.

Here is how I am using my “editorial licence”: you should be able to read the phrase with or without that word in brackets.

That is, you can re-calibrate your family, or you can re-calibrate with your family.

I think you can guess which version I advocate most families choose.

 

FOR the Family, BY the Family

One of my “go to” expressions is that family governance should always be “FOR the family, BY the family”.

That means that whatever the family decides, they are better off deciding together, as a group.

The family is on a long journey together, and their fates rest in their collective hands. That being the case, they had better take the time and make the effort to slow down and take stock every once in a while.

The family system is constantly affected by changes in the lives of all of its members, so periodically taking the time to re-calibrate together is always worth it.

Same map? Same destination? Same schedule? YES?

Okay, let’s keep going!

Shopping bag handle

When “Buying In” is > Being “Sold”

 

This week we’ve got another one of my this” VERSUS “that posts, but I’m trying out the “>” (greater than) sign instead of the “Vs”.

I find contrasting two opposing ideas or viewpoints perfectly conducive to this blog format, so I continually return to it.  

There’s a certain satisfaction in starting with one aspect of something and then immediately looking at the other side for confirmation of what you’ve learned, by seeing an opposing view.

I’ll also share the catalyst for the idea for this blog, because that context is often germane to the discussion. 

And it’s no surprise that once again, a social media post from a colleague is at the origin of this week’s piece.

sold sign

Great Insights from LinkedIn Connections

Back in June, on LinkedIn, friend and colleague Russell Haworth, of Family Business Podcast fame, had uploaded one of his informative videos.  I watched it and made a comment, then another colleague replied to my comment, and voilà, here we are with a blog post.

Haworth’s video presented a modified version of the Three Circle Model, directed specifically at advisors to family businesses, and he noted that some of the family’s advisors from the more technical side of planning could actually also be good at understanding and working with family members on the emotional side of things too.

I added that in cases where those advisors had been involved in crafting the plans with the parents’ generation only, even if they were comfortable with the family side, they might still be conflicted, because they could be in a position of “selling” their plans, as a sort of “fait accompli” to the rising generation.  

When you’ve had a huge hand in putting the plan together as an advisor, it can be difficult to then be open to the criticisms that may arise when the plan is then shared with those for whom it was prepared.

A reply form another colleague followed up my idea of getting the offspring involved before the plans were finalized, stating that when the rising generation are involved in the planning, they’ll actually “buy in” to the plans, while in the alternative scenario, they’re “being sold”. 

BANG! There It Is!

Rarely has a blog idea come to me so clearly. (Thanks, Daniel).

As someone who’s skin begins to crawl at the first hint of feeling like I am “being sold”, this resonated with me immediately.

It also had me flash back to this blog from a few years back where the idea was also laid out for readers. That post included this quote: 

“Plans that are about us, but don’t include us, are not for us”.

And so here we are again, with a familiar subject on the table, the one where a certain group of people are organizing and leading a process where they’re making plans that ultimately affect a group of people that does not include them, but they choose to do this without involving the people who will be most directly affected.

 

Umm, OK, Thanks (?)

As parents of young children, it’s all well and good to meet with your lawyer to draft a will to figure out and decide what will happen in case you die an untimely death, without involving those young children.

But, when those “children” become adults, and therefore now become better described as “former children”, or better yet, “offspring”, then making plans FOR them, without consulting them, becomes a recipe for problems.

Oh, and stating that you’re doing this because that’s the way your parents handled things won’t necessarily fly either (not with me, and not with your offspring either).

Your parents likely had you sitting in the back seat of their car without a seatbelt too.

If there’s any chance that the reaction from the beneficiaries of your planning might be “Umm, OK, Thanks (?)”, then you probably didn’t make enough of an effort to involve them in the process.

 

Being Involved = Buying In

Everyone can understand that people who are involved in the creation of a plan will be more likely to “buy in” to the result than those who simply have things handed down to them from above.

This is not rocket science. 

Yes, it’s more complicated and will take longer.  But it is well worth the extra effort. If they feel like they’re “being sold”, good luck.

 

A situation may look difficult and drastic from the inside, but a neutral third party can be just what you need to work you all through to the dénouement you all need.

Untying Knotty Business Family Problems

There are lots of good metaphors that one can use to talk about things that happen in business families, and when I hear a new one it’ll usually make its way into one of these blog posts.

I often talk about the eclectic inspirations for my posts, and this one actually came during a meditation recording that I was listening to one morning recently.

The meditation leader was working listeners through a visualization, and began talking about untying a knot.  He then went on to the idea of starting on the outside, and working your way into the middle.

Hmmm, I thought, this could be a nice metaphor for a blog post, I hope I remember to note this idea when the recording is over.  (I did).

Another Bilingual Twist

Regular readers will also know that whenever I come across an interesting translation item, I love to flag it here as well, and if you like it when I do that, you’re in luck.

There’s a word that’s sometimes used in English, “dénouement”, which means “the final part of a play, or movie, in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.

People who know some French may recognize the root word in the center of “dénouement”, i.e. “noeud” (trust me on this one), which is the literal translation of “knot”, so it’s actually about untying a knot.  

Well I thought it was pretty cool…

 

Family Business Issues

The way I think about all this with business families, is mostly about how an outsider often enters into a system with many players, and immediately gets confronted with a confusing mess.

As I like to say when explaining the basics of family systems theory to people, yes, you need to look at all the components of the system, i.e. the various people, BUT, more importantly, you need to look at the relationships between the people, because that’s where all the action is.

I sometimes refer to this as each person being a “point” (of a triangle, for example) and the relationships being the lines that join the points into a shape (i.e. the triangle).

If we now turn these lines into pieces of rope, string, or wire, we get our proverbial knot.

 

Going from the Outside, In

So now let’s go back to the meditation idea that talked about starting on the outside and working our way in.  It seems only logical to proceed this way, right?

Well, as an outsider, yes, it is obvious.

If, however, you’re one of the people involved, and you are dealing with your sibling, parent, child, or cousin, how obvious is it?  And what if you add an “s” to each of those (siblings, parents, etc.) and what about changing the “or” in that question to an “and”?

Those are rhetorical questions of course, but my point is that when you are in the middle of a big mess, or knot, if you prefer, the idea of looking at it from an outsider’s perspective is rarely top of mind.

 

Neutral Third Party

When the members of a family business are stuck in a “knot”, I think it makes plenty of sense for them to reach out to someone on the outside, someone who is neutral, who won’t take sides.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of where a family might find such a resource, let’s think about what this person could bring to the situation.

The family members who are involved will surely have challenges with viewing things with the objectivity required to find a resolution, and so objectivity is clearly one of the greatest benefits an outsider can bring.

 

Calming Presence

But in addition to an objective, unemotional perspective, what this person can also offer is a calming presence, which should allow all participants some time to breathe and think more clearly.

The outside is definitely the best place to begin to untie any knot, and if you can find someone who is already on the outside, then you can be well on your way to starting to make some progress.

A situation may look difficult and drastic from the inside, but a neutral third party can be just what you need to work you all through to the dénouement you all need.