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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.

 

People playing with a puzzle

On Family Alignment and Family Alliances

I’ve written about Family Alignment a few times in this space, notably here: (blog) 5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment and on my website, here (whitepaper) Family Alignment:What IT Is, Why You Need It, How To Build ItAnd I even recorded a video (or Vlog) about it.

Lately, though, there’s a related word that’s been popping up in my life, so I want to talk about how the two words and concepts fit together, or not!

That word, as you can guess from the headline, is “alliance”

 

Designing the Alliance

Some readers know that I’m well into the 6+ month journey of my professional coaching certification process.  This has helped me up my “one-on-one game” when working with client families, and, consequently, the individuals who make up those families.

An important concept in the coach-client relationship is always the “designed alliance” that they co-create, which then defines the relationship they have and how they’ll work together.

It’s not unlike the “ground rules” that a family or any group working together might design to govern their meetings and their working relationship.

 

Dispensing with the Dreaded “Survivor” Analogy

Of course there are other places where the word “alliance” comes up with a different meaning altogether, as reality TV fans will recognize.  I’m a huge fan of Survivor, where being in the right “alliance” is often the difference between winning and losing.

On that show, each week someone is voted off and sent home, while those who remain continue to fight each other for the million-dollar prize that gets awarded to the lone survivor at the end of each season.

Can we all please agree that family business in its best form bears little resemblance to this format?

 

Alignment of Values, Vision and Goals

Families in business together can always benefit from taking the time to define their common values, and to make sure that many of their individual values are aligned for the good of the family enterprise.  

Likewise, a family vision, and the goals the family sets for itself, are typically easier to reach when all of the family members are united and aligned behind a common vision and common goals.

So alignment, in general, is good, and should be worked on.  How about alliances?

 

Where Alliances CAN Work in FamBiz

Alliances in business families can be a bit trickier, especially when certain sub-groups of people, possibly from various branches of the family, begin to work at cross purposes to others.  This is when things can begin to go off the rails.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any ways where certain types of alliances can be beneficial.  Here are a couple…

 

Sibling Groups

When I work with rising generation sibling groups, I might not necessarily use the word “alliance” with them, but it’s usually pretty clear that what I’m encouraging them to do is to act as much like an “alliance” as possible.

Such sibling groups are usually much more likely to get the cooperation with their parents than any single son or daughter would be on their own.

Realistically, sibling relationships will usually be the longest lasting relationships that most people will have in their lifetimes, longer than the relationships we each have with our parents, or with our children.

It stands to reason then, that care should be taken and time should be spent on making sure that these relationships are as strong and healthy as possible. When a group of siblings can begin to think of themselves as an alliance, I think that’s a good thing.

 

Teamwork in Each Circle

When people work together in any of the three circles (family, business, ownership) it can be useful for them to think of themselves as an alliance as well.

If a niece and her aunt are the ones who take care of things for the family council, it can make sense for them to design their work in an allied way.

Likewise, if there is an ownership group that meets periodically, those who lead that set of activities can find strength in allying their activities as well.

 

Design an Re-Design as Needed

And of course let’s not forget the importance of designing and then re-designing all of these alliances as needed, on an ongoing basis.

The time taken to reassess how groups of people work together is always worth it, and the need for these systems to evolve over time as things and people change cannot be overstated.

Get aligned, AND create the alliances you need.

Guy taking a photoo

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

In 1985, Aretha Franklin released her 30th studio album, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”  I remember the title track distinctly, it was back during my undergraduate days at McGill, and many of the memories from then seem to be etched into my brain.

It’s not one of Franklin’s most famous or memorable songs, but lately I can’t seem to get it out of my thoughts, for reasons I’ll get to.

You see, I’ve become a bit of a “Zoom” addict. Not only that, I’m trying to get anyone else who’ll listen hooked as well.

 

Goodbye Skype, Hello Zoom

For the uninitiated, Zoom is a platform that allows you to make video calls from your computer, phone, or tablet.  It’s been around for a few years, but lately it has become very prevalent and I am absolutely in love with it.

I can still recall decades ago, people saying “you know, some day, we’ll be able to see the people when we talk to them over the phone” and I remember thinking “what do I need to see them for, I usually already know what they look like!”  Oh the naiveté of youth.

Like many people, my first exposure to video calling was with Skype, but there were typically quality issues with most calls. It was free, though, so who really cared?  Turns out, I do!

 

The Choice of Many Organizations

I belong to a lot of different groups and organizations, and as it turns out, they’ve all chosen Zoom as their video platform for webinars and conference calls, so it was a no brainer for me to choose it as well.

I do Zoom calls with my FFI (Family Firm Institute) study group, the weekly PPI (Purposeful Planning Institute) thought leader webinars are on Zoom, FEX (Family Enterprise eXchange) uses Zoom, and the Bowen Center and our BTO (Bowen Theory in Organizations) meets on Zoom too.

And I’m into the home stretch of my coaching certification with CTI (Co-active Training Institute), and all of our meetings are on, you guessed it, Zoom.

So I kind of didn’t have much choice in the matter, really.

 

Taking It to the Next Level

I’ve never been a particularly “early adopter” of technologies, but it seems like I may be here, at least as it applies to using Zoom as my default platform for even simple one-on-one calls with clients and colleagues.

I signed up last fall for $149 US and can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever spent my money more wisely.

I recall the 2018 PPI Rendez Vous where the venerable Jay Hughes was explaining that thanks to platforms like Zoom, “Geography” was no longer the obstacle that it used to be.

Now I’m certain that Hughes has participated in thousands of regular, audio only phone calls in his life, but what he was getting at was the fact that when you can look someone in the eye while speaking with them, it truly is as close as you can get to actually being with them in person.

And so now I’m on a mission, and have already broken many people’s Zoom “virginity” and been their first Zoom host. I’ve even Zoomed with my mother, and she was born in the 1930’s.

 

Scheduled Meetings > Random Phone Calls

Another societal change that’s going on is that people are doing a lot less picking up the phone and calling someone, and actually making scheduled “meetings” at a set time.

My one-on-one coaching clients are all done over Zoom, using scheduled calls, and this allows me to have clients in far flung places, some of whom I’ve never actually met face-to-face.

Even with sibling groups, it is a big time saver, as each person can participate in our calls from their office, home, or hotel room.

 

Take Off for a Week – Without Taking a Week Off!

By far the best aspect of working this way is that it allows me to head to my cottage and not miss a beat.  I can take off for a week, without having to take a week off.

I think my record is 6 Zoom calls in one day, and in a typical week I often get on 10-12 calls.

The personal touch and intimacy you can create when you meet people this way is so far beyond what you can do with audio only.

So, who’s Zooming who?

When the “Next Gen” Becomes the “Rising Gen”

This week we’re looking at an issue involving vocabulary because sometimes the particular words we use can have a big impact on how we’re understood.

Regular readers will already be familiar with the term “rising generation”, as I’ve been using it for about five years now, ever since I heard James E. (Jay) Hughes use it during the first PPI Rendez Vous I ever attended, in 2014.  The Rising Generation in Family Business

Hughes had explained that using terms like G1 and G2 (first-generation, and second-generation) was very limited and sometimes confusing, and suggested instead that we in the industry use the expression “rising generation”.

 

Look at the Life Cycle Instead

Here’s a paragraph from that blog from five years ago:

“So here comes the “Rising Generation” to the rescue. Hughes pointed out that when we refer to the rising generation, it helps keep everyone focussed on the fact that every person, and hence every family, and every business, has a life cycle.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself (see what I did there?).

So I started using “rising generation” or “rising gen” about five years ago, after some others like Hughes, but before many who have “caught on” more recently.

The field is evolving and so is its vocabulary, and “better words” can help people make important progress.

My favourite example of this remains “continuity planning”, which is slowly replacing the term “succession planning” which has way too many negative connotations, especially when it comes time to get people to have the conversations that are necessary. See: Continuity Planning: Who’s at the Table 

 

What About on a “Family Basis”?

Okay, enough with the industry vocabulary, let’s get into the more important aspects of this, i.e. in a particular family, when does the “next generation” actually become the “rising generation”?

I’m glad you asked, because it’s an important question.

And in many ways, it’s mostly a question of mindset. The interesting thing about a mindset, though, is that each person has their own mind, and therefore their own mindset.  The trick is to get the entire family to come to share the same mindset.

Let’s look at it from each generation’s perspective first, while recognizing that different people in the same generation will have slightly different mindsets, but that the most glaring contrasts are usually found when comparing the mindsets of the different generations.

 

Mom and Dad’s View of Their Offspring

Let’s start with the “NowGen”, who are the ones currently “in charge” of things, especially in the business, and typically even in the family.

When their offspring are young, little thought is given to their eventual ascendency to key roles in the business family. At some point, though, there comes a mental shift, where ideas about roles that these young ones might one day play, as their “human capital” matures, begin to take form.

But even then, those first thoughts are usually about them as the “next gen”, i.e. as people who will make a contribution “some day”, far in the future.  It’s almost like they are parked there, and one day, their parents will beckon them and they will arrive on cue.

 

The Rising Generation’s View of Themselves

Meanwhile, those offspring have their own views, and they are often more realistic, maybe because they are the main actors in this play.

As those actors think about their lives and potential roles, they are more likely to think of the progress that they have already made and will continue to make, because they are living the “action” of rising.

Their view of the process of the “rising” is truly “first person”.  They will more easily feel like they are on their way somewhere, and are hopefully well on their way to shaking off the label of “children”, which connotes being “stuck” at some age that typically starts with a “1” or worse, is a single digit.

 

When My Mindset Becomes Our Mindset

So here we are, back to the question of the differing mindsets in the family. My premise is that the rising generation’s mindset is the more enlightened one, and that it behooves them to do the work necessary to convince their parents’ generation of its validity.

The two key points there are these:

  1. The onus is on the Rising Generation
  2. It will take work to do it.

It won’t happen overnight, it’s a process. And it’s never too early to begin.

 

You Want an X-Ray? I’ve Got an MRI!

You Want an X-Ray? I’ve Got an MRI!

I pride myself on finding interesting topics to write about here weekly.  While the major thrust of my message targets the world of family business and family wealth transitions, the inspiration for my blogs can come from just about anywhere.

This week’s post simply comes from my everyday real life. I always keep my antennae tuned to things that are a bit out of the ordinary or counterintuitive.

These stories can then be artfully turned into useful metaphors, or at least that’s what I’m trying to do.

A Real Pain in the _______

My knees have been an issue for almost as long as I can remember.  My Dad had both knees replaced in his 60’s, so I suppose that’s something else I inherited from him.

Of course the “misspent” years of my youth when I played baseball and was usually the catcher surely didn’t help me preserve whatever parts of my meniscus that were there to begin with.

I had arthroscopic surgery a few years ago and it helped, but relief was only temporary.  My exercise options are now limited, and lately even riding a stationary bike results in pain after only short stints.

My doctor tells me that I should lose weight and that will help, and of course he’s right.  But I can’t help think that there may be something they can easily “fix” in my joint, to minimize the pain of exercise, which should help with the weight loss.

I know, I’ll get an MRI!

What’s Covered, What’s Not

In Canada, our health care system is run and paid for by the government, and it’s generally very good.  But not everything is covered, so sometimes when you want special services, you need to pay for them out of pocket.

No big deal, I think, I can afford the MRI, because this is what I need to allow the doctors to really see what’s wrong with my knee, and then devise a treatment solution.

Where’s the X-Ray?

Imagine my surprise when the orthopedic surgeon looks at the MRI and asks me “Where’s the X-Ray?”

WTF?  Is he joking, I wonder?  I feel like I sent an email attachment and was then asked to send a fax instead.  Are we going backwards?

Evidently not.

So I ended up going back to the same place I had the MRI done again, and instead of paying $500, this time it was “free” with the simple presentation of my Medicare card.

The Family Harmony and Governance Angle

The first metaphor that comes to mind when I put on my family business consultant hat is one that I touched on a while back, in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution.

The essence of that post was that some families who are unsure of what to do, but who know that they should do something, (and they can afford to do whatever it takes) will often overdo it and decide that what they need is a full-fledged family constitution.

Some of the biggest, most successful families do it that way, so we will do it too.

It’s actually a pretty good sentiment, but it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how those successful families went about it.

Start Early, Start Small, Start Slowly

There is nothing wrong with having a family constitution. But, and it’s a big “but”, it is not the place to begin.

Families who decide that they need to institute some form of governance should instead follow the steps I outlined in a 2017 blog post, Start Cleaning Up your M.E.S.S.

The acronym “MESS” was something I came up with almost by accident.  But I think it’s a useful way to remember things about “getting started” with big changes, such as instituting governance.

The letters in MESS each follow the word “Start”, as in “start moving”, “start early”, “start small” and “start slowly”.

Start with the X-Ray, Then the MRI

In the same way I went straight to the MRI, many families think that they can take a shortcut, and get someone to help them write up a family constitution, and then all will be right with the world.

But just like the clinic that gladly took my money for an MRI I probably didn’t need, there are plenty of people out there who will take your money and write you a family constitution.

A family constitution needs to be done BY the family, FOR the family.

There are no exceptions.

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!