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guy on a boat paddling downstream

From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz

From Paddling Hard to Going with the Flow

Summer is in full swing and with it come some activities that we look forward to because we haven’t been able to do them for a while.

For me, one of those is kayaking on the tidal river at my cottage in New Brunswick, where I get in touch with nature while lazily paddling around looking at the sky in search of the occasional bald eagle.

Having recently arrived here, I received a text message from a friend asking me if I was enjoying myself, “floating downstream” on my kayak.

Regular readers won’t be surprised that something so simple would become the inspiration for a blog post.

 

Tidal Rivers and Delayed Gratification

While I’m no expert in tidal rivers, I can tell you that sometimes this river flows towards the ocean about a kilometer away, and then a few hours later it will flow in the other direction.

When heading out from the dock for a kayaking excursion, I always make sure to go into the flow of the current, so that I can coast back home, going “downstream”.

My wife and I learned this lesson the hard way years ago, when we went rollerblading, not realizing that we had the wind at our backs, only to turn around to go back home and quickly realize our misfortune of having a strong headwind to deal with.

It’s a simple example of delayed gratification, which I love to preach. See Marshmallows and Filet Mignon

 

Climbing the Hill and Coasting Back Down

The flowing river metaphor is similar to the uphill / downhill one that we hear about when talking about where people are in their life cycle.

Older people are described as “over the hill” while the younger ones are continually “climbing” towards the top.  Getting to the top and remaining there are the goal, we’re led to believe, and in many ways that makes sense.

But in the same way that I like to save the coasting part of my kayak trips to the end, why don’t we look at life the same way?

And if we’re part of a business family, isn’t there a way that one generation’s trip down the other side of the hill can serve as a boost to the next generation’s rise?

 

Capitalizing on the Strengths of Each Generation

The “rising generation”, as people like me have been referring to them for some time now, typically have more energy to devote to building their lives and careers, while their elders will normally have more experience.

Similarly, the younger members of a family will be more comfortable with technology, while the senior family members will often have a lot more contacts and long-standing important relationships that they can leverage.

Smart families figure out how to make the most of these complementary strengths, which takes a certain amount of self-knowledge and understanding, along with the ability to set egos aside for the common good of the family.

 

Stepping Away from the Top Spot

The ego component varies from one family to the next, but seems to be rather prevalent in cases where it’s the business founder who wants to remain in charge well past the point where their leadership is what’s best for the business.

Somehow once we get past that first generation transitioning to the second, it’s less of an issue when going from G2 to G3, and then G3 to G4 and so on.

Playing with this hill metaphor in my head, I’m picturing someone stepping off the top of the hill while pulling on a rope, which in turn is helping someone make their way to the top.

I guess there’d need to be some sort of pulley or rappelling device at the top for this to make sense.

 

Many Years in the Making

I don’t want to give the impression that generational transitions should take place quickly.  In fact, properly planned and executed changes in leadership will often take years.

That’s because while we think of these situations as singular events, there are actually transitions happening at several different levels.

There needs to be a lot of coordination to properly transfer all of the knowledge of the retiring leader, as well as the authority, which all takes time, and we haven’t even begun to talk about ownership.

So it’s best to get started early, and be sure to check which way the water’s flowing before you take off.

Developing Capacity in your Business Family

Capacity vs. Capability

Sometimes when two words start with the same few letters, people get them mixed up, not noticing the nuances in their meanings.

A couple of words that certainly fall into that category are “capability” and “capacity”.

This week I want to explore them a bit, from a business family perspective.

 

From Ability to Capability

Before we even get to “capability”, we should probably back up a bit and start with “ability”, to make sure we grasp that simpler concept first.

Ability is about what you can do, which you know that you can do because you’ve already done it, at least once. 

Capability is more about potential to do something, and as we all know, even though you once were able to do something, that doesn’t mean that you’re still capable of doing it again now.

 

Ready, Willing, and Able

In some ways, capability can be summed up by the expression, “ready, willing, and able”. If I’m ready and willing to do something, plus I feel like I can muster the ability, then I at least believe that I have the capability to do that something now.

So if you know how to do something and you add some effort to that ability you’re now essentially ready to test out your capability, and can hopefully demonstrate that you can accomplish a task with a certain regularity.

With practice, you can hopefully get pretty good at it, to the point where others recognize that capability in you.  You’re off to the races, right?

 

What About Capacity?

I think that there’s another level that you’ll want to get to that’s higher than simply developing capability, and that’s to increase your capacity to do important things.

The part of the definition of the word “capacity” that I think we should concentrate on when thinking about this is the “volume” aspect.

When talking about a container, whether it’s an aquarium, an airplane, or a football stadium, we can ask about what its capacity is, when we want to know how much it can hold when full.

 

From Capability to Capacity

So if we go back to the capability discussion, we were getting good at doing something over and over, and now we want to see how much of it we can do.

But we don’t want to do this for everything, we really need to pick our spots and develop our capacity for doing things that are truly important.

And when we’re talking about business families, what’s more important than everyone knowing how to get along and work together?

Families who have succeeded in growing their businesses and wealth AND in transitioning them to the next generation have almost always developed that capacity to work together somewhere along the line, whether they realized that that was what they were doing or not.

 

Contagious Capability Grows to Family Capacity

The great thing about a family is that every member has different skills and abilities. 

It might not always be obvious how some family members can contribute to the business family, but if there are family members who are ready and willing, there should always be some effort made into finding a place for their abilities to contribute.

When you take the individual abilities, work on them so they become true capabilities, and then bring the people together with the right attitude to collaborate, you can develop the capacity for long term success.

The overall capacity of a family comes from the combination of all of its members’ capabilities, and that capacity can be way more than the sum of its parts.

 

Practice, Resilience, Guidance

Families who have succeeded at this almost never just stumble into that success.  Working together with family members can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating too.

It takes effort, and plenty of practice to get it all right.

There will be plenty of trial and error along the way, so the family will need to develop its resilience.

And, importantly, few families get this right all by themselves; they will almost always have someone from outside the family to guide them, especially at key stages.

Whether it’s a family business consultant, a facilitator or coach, it really doesn’t matter, and ideally it’s someone who combines these skills.

Successful multigenerational families have all developed their capacity to work together over time.

Can you?

The Art of Conversation: The Key to Family Communication

The Art of Conversation: The Key to Family Communication

When listing problems that business families face, communication is usually one of the first things people mention. 

 

Because it’s seen as a “big” problem, many people think that it requires a “big” solution

I beg to differ.


“100 One-Minute Conversations”

The initial idea for this post came from something I saw online recently, that talked about “100 one-minute conversations”, which in most cases are a better way to go than just having one, long, 100-minute discussion.

I wish I’d saved it so I could credit the source, because Googling it didn’t help me solve the mystery.

In any event, it lines up nicely with some of the other things I’ve talked about before, notably here: The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

 

Clearing Up Any Illusions

My favourite quote about communication is from George Bernard Shaw, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

Let me spell it out just in case you didn’t get it.  

The biggest problem for people communicating with each other is when the person who says something believes that the receiver heard and understood them, and they’re wrong, but they assume they’re right.

Why did I take the time to spell that out? 

Because if I continued this blog while assuming that you understood what I meant, but you didn’t, then I would have been committing the exact faux pas that I was trying to explain.

The Art of Conversation: The Key to Family Communication

Conversations as a Subset of Communication

Of course communication comprises much more than verbal discussions, which are in fact only a small fraction of the entire communication “platform” that any enterprising family uses.

These families need to share lots of information to remain united enough to properly manage the assets they own together.

But while everyone can see what’s written in a family newsletter or on their Facebook page, I contend that it’s in the smaller groups, and the quicker, more regular conversations, that the most important communication actually happens.

Yes, you need to have the big formal, structural communication platforms, but, and it’s a big but, if that’s all you have, then there’s a lot missing.

 

Heart to Heart

The simplest way to make this point is to consider the expression “Heart to heart”. 

What makes family businesses different from other businesses is the family element.  Plain old communication might be sufficient for “regular companies”, but for a family business, being owned and run by a family, there needs to be a lot more heart.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about “heart to heart communication”, by I know I’ve heard people mention a “heart to heart talk”, or “heart to heart conversation”.

 

The (Lost) Art of Conversation

Speaking of expressions, we’ve all heard about the “art of conversation”, and I contend that in some ways all of the technology we’ve been using to communicate has made conversing together a bit of a lost art.

But here’s the good news, and I even just Googled it to make sure it makes sense.

You can get better at it, with practice. Yes, I just searched “do you practice art” to make sure, and I got plenty of hits.

Whether it’s playing music, or painting, or sculpting, one improves the more one practices their favourite art.

And so it is with conversations.

 

Small Groups, One-on-One

Conversations can happen all the time, mostly in small groups or even simply one-on-one situations.

They don’t necessarily have to be structured, scripted or planned in advance, and in reality, the more natural and free flowing they are, the better.

Sometimes the hardest thing about them is just making them happen, especially now that simply picking up the phone to call someone seems to rarely happen these days.

 

Conversations With Your Coach

One of my favourite ways of actually putting some structure to conversations is to have them be regularly scheduled.

I have a call over Zoom with my coach every week, and I have calls with my coaching clients typically every other week, which seems to work well.

Having things “on the calendar” might be the best way to make sure that you’re staying in touch enough.

 

Seven Years Later

Way back in 2013 I wrote Having Conversations, Not Just Communicating. And I guess it’s still just as valid today as it was back then.

Family Engagement and Family Alignment - Chicken and Egg Which Came First?

Family Engagement and Family Alignment – Chicken and Egg

Which Came First?

This week we’re looking at one of those “which came first?” situations, so as you’ve probably guessed, it’s kind of a trick question. 

The good news is there’s no wrong answer!

I’ve written quite a bit about family alignment in this space, most recently in On Family Alignment and Family Alliances last fall.

But this’ll be the first time I’m dealing with family engagement, and in some ways it’s long overdue.

 

Coming Up Again and Again

Maybe it just feels overdue because the idea of alignment and engagement being two sides of the same coin came to me a couple of months ago, and ever since, it keeps on jumping up and hitting me in the face, seemingly at every turn.

I’m working with one client who’s drafting her family’s first ever “family charter”, which will essentially be the first written version of the guidelines for their “family council”, which doesn’t really exist yet.

The “writing it down” part is all about the alignment, but the work my client has been struggling with is in getting input from other family members, because she wants to make sure she’s capturing things correctly, and that’s all about engagement.

 

Getting the Rising Generation Interested and Involved

Another client with whom I’m working has taken a family business he bought from his father and grown it significantly, and he’s now working out the details of how to get his children and nieces and nephews interested and involved.

This is the type of engagement issue that lots of family businesses face at various stages in their evolution.  

But they can quickly go from low engagement to high, and then suffer from issues around their alignment, because the people who just got interested all see things in a different way.

All of this is quite normal, and possibly a good problem to have.

A Regular Governance Problem: Balance

You may have encountered the same issue in other, non-family governance situations, whether it’s the board of a non-profit or even a committee that you’re a part of.

I’ve seen it up close in each of those situations, although I really noticed it more recently, since this idea began to crystalize in my head.

But like I said, it’s a good problem to have, and there’s no wrong answer.

You can start working on one, and it’ll help you with the other, and it works both ways.

 

Leadership and Collaboration

Before I get to a couple of examples, I want to highlight that a similar idea hit me a few years ago and has stuck with me.

I’d read a book about collaborative leadership, where the point was made that people who are collaborative are exhibiting leadership, and the people who are leaders are collaborating with their followers almost by definition. 

It’s almost circular.

It was one of those things that took a bit of time to sink it, but now that I’ve internalized it, it seems to be there for good.

And so it is now, with alignment and engagement, especially in the family business context.

 

Start Where You Are

Wherever your family is, start there.  Sounds obvious, but, like common sense that isn’t really common, it isn’t.

If a family is engaged, work on continuing to develop that, and you’ll quickly get to a point where some possible “mis-alignments” pop up.

Great, now you have something to work on that’s a bit different, solving that alignment issue.

If, however, the family seems nicely aligned, start there and “push” that further. You’ll likely hit a point where some might disengage, and then you can work on engaging them again.

In so doing, you’ll almost naturally find yourself tweaking the alignment again.

Incremental, Iterative Progress

The good news, again, is that this is all part of progress.

Families who hope to transition their business or wealth to the rising generation need to have engagement, and they need to be aligned, if they want things to work out right and to have the results be durable.

As you work on developing one, alignment or engagement, you’re also making progress on the other.

It may not feel like progress because it doesn’t move quickly. It’s incremental, one tiny step at a time.

And, as I hope I’ve shown here, it is also iterative, as the family keeps rolling along forward.

One hand washes the other, and two hands are better than one.

Guy holding a flag

Surrendering in the Family Enterprise

Some words in English carry either a positive or negative connotation for the most part, yet there are some contexts where this can be turned on its head.

The world of family enterprise seems rife with examples, making it a favourite target of mine here.

One such word is “surrender”, and regular readers won’t be surprised that I’ll look at some French translations along the way.

 

Surrendering:  Abandoning or Yielding?

So let’s start with the French translation we get from Google, where the first word we get is “abandon”. This was also my wife’s reply when I asked her how to say surrender in French.  My reply to her was, “Um, that’s not really what I’m looking for”. 

Of course after I told her that Google corroborated her answer, she gave me “the look”.  I guess that “abandon” has as much of a negative connotation as surrender does.

The second option from Google was “céder”.  For those like me who learned to drive in Quebec decades ago, we know that the triangular yellow road signs we see when merging used to say “céder/yield”.

I’d contend that “yielding” does not carry as much of a negative feeling as surrendering.

 

Negative Examples from Family Business

I’ve got a couple of stories that I can share on this just from the last few months, from families who’ve reached out to me.  I’ll change some details for obvious reasons, but I want to make sure that the feeling of surrender comes through.

Jack and Rhonda contacted me about their manufacturing business that they had started some forty plus years ago.  Their son Frank was now running things, and had been for the past half decade. Frank’s wife was also involved at a pretty high level in the operations.

Meanwhile, Jack and Rhonda had been slowly but surely marginalized into very minor roles, which at first they did not really mind.

It seemed that things were in good hands with the next generation, and they welcomed a more relaxed lifestyle.

 

On the Outside Looking In

The parents remained majority owners, but having now surrendered pretty much all of the day-to-day running of the company, they were having difficulty making progress with their son on the ownership transition, since he saw no reason why his sister should even be in the conversation.

The parents’ surrender in the operations was causing unintended consequences on the ownership discussions.

Let’s switch gears now to another family, where three siblings all co-own a company started by their father, who passed away a long time ago. The company has a full independent Board of Directors, on which the siblings all sit.

 

Surrendering to your Sibling?

One sibling, and not the oldest, happens to be CEO, while another is a VP and the third runs a separate division.

When things were going well, everyone was happy. When things began to go sideways, the siblings who aren’t the CEO had difficulty surrendering the running of the company to the CEO.

In theory, the Board should provide a buffer here, but when there are three equal owners who are also on the Board, that sometimes doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in theory.

 

Positive Surrender… Is that Possible?

As I think I’ve hinted above, there must be some examples of surrendering in a family enterprise that are positive.

The idea for this came in a meditation recording I was listening to called “Learning to Surrender” (by Sarah Blondin; I’m a big fan).

The key to a positive surrender is your attitude, and an attitude of equanimity is what it really takes. See Equanimity: Yours for only $250 Million.

I’ll close with a story about a family I’ve been working with for a few years now.

 

Serenity Soon (If Not Now)

At a recent Family Council meeting, Dad informed his 4 children that he would soon be announcing that he would be stepping back from the Presidency of the business. 

He then added that a few months later, he planned to announce to employees that the rising generation were moving into ownership positions and more senior roles.

Their mother sat beside him with a proud smile, as they talked of plans to travel more while they could still really enjoy it, and to spend more time with their growing number of grandchildren.

I think we can all agree that this sounds like a positive surrender, one many others would love to emulate.

good and bad in family business

Pleasant = Good, Unpleasant = Bad, Right?

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

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

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

 

How Not to Judge Your Meditation Session

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

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

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

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

 

Is It Any Different in a Family Business?

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

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

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

 

Different Views from Different Generations?

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

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

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

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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

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

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

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

 

Was It Even My Decision?

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

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

 

Something to Talk About

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

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

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

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

 

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

When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient

When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient

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

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

Let me start with the original set-up.

Two Brothers Stepping on Each Other’s Toes

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

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

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

The “Economy-Size” Box of Band-Aids

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

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

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

Yes, Structures ARE Necessary

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

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

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

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

No, Structures are NOT Sufficient

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

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

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

Parents as a Buffer or Mediator

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

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

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

Family Dynamics Problems Need to Be Addressed…

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

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

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

…. with Family Dynamics Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

 

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.