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People standing as a group watching sunset

Improving Together in a FamBiz

Writing these blogs each week for six years, my weekly habits continue to evolve.

I still get questions from colleagues about the source of ideas to write about, and my answer remains consistent: I write one blog a week, but I usually get at least two new ideas.

Sometimes the ideas come from somewhere unexpected, and sometimes they morph from one thing to another along the way.

Such is the case this week.

Better Investors

I’m guilty of spending more time than most people on social media.

I like to know what’s going on in the world and Twitter and LinkedIn allow me to follow the people and sources that I like and trust, on a variety of subjects that interest me.

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Twitter from Carl Richards (@BehaviorGap)

“It turns out our job is
not to find
great investments,
but to help
create great investors”

A Blog Idea Is Conceived

My first “A-Ha” came right then and there.

An “Investment” is a product or a piece of content, and it is the thing that many professionals in the investing space specialize in selling.

But as Richards points out, that focus is misplaced.

An “Investor” is a person, and such persons are better served by those who will help them with the entire process of the whole scope of being investors.

 

Teach Them How to Fish

It comes down to the old Bible story about not simply giving a person a fish, but instead teaching them how to fish for themselves.

Do you want to feed them for a day, or for a lifetime?

That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, but unfortunately many of the business models still followed by many professionals, seem to prefer feeding on a day-to-day business, and being paid for it over and over as well.

Process Over Content

So the thing that grabbed me, as far as this idea being good fodder for a blog post, was the whole Process Over Content question.

It’s certainly not a new idea for me to discuss, but it was from a different angle.

The content pieces that I often deal with are things like legal or accounting structures or trust vehicles, or contracts such as shareholder or partnership agreements.

Strategy of Tactics?

The process part of putting all of these tactical pieces together into a strategy will often be given short shrift.

Too often the concept of making sure that all these pieces will fit together properly is either completely ignored or simply assumed to be sufficient.

In reality, though, this is where many plans fall apart.

 

Blogging Brings Clarity

So here is where this post took a bit of a turn.

I was set to write about the “process” part, but then realized that there was a “people” component that I simply couldn’t ignore.

My blog title was still a big question mark too, and then it came time to search for an image to accompany the post, with a surprise of its own.

A-Ha # 2 – Improving Together

I’ve been using Shutterstock for a while and am usually quite satisfied with the results I get when I search for the right image to go with each post.

This time my search actually kicked things up a notch, as it created another A-Ha moment for me.

I was looking for something using “process” and “people” and there it was…Improving Together.

Holy crap, that’s even better than anything I had come up with so far.

Families Learning Together

When Richards was talking about investors, I imagine that he was referring to singular people, or perhaps to a couple.

My work is always about families, whether I’m actually working with all family members directly, or working with one person, helping them organize and coordinate their family.

The key to finding success for most families, is for them to find reasons, ways, and opportunities to work together and learn together, so that they can eventually get really good at deciding things together.

Co-Creating the Family Strategy

The families who are most successful at transitioning their wealth to the next generation are those who have mastered the practice of involving as many family members as possible in the process.

The co-creation of the strategy is what ensures the buy in, so that the plans actually work.

The time and effort required are always worth it.

Woman in Family Crying

Calm Is Contagious

Calm Is Contagious

Most people have witnessed occasions where anxiety in one person quickly spread to others in the room.

There’s an invisible “emotional field” that exists within groups of people, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Anxiety is essentially “contagious” because one person can quickly spread it to others.

 

Does the Opposite Hold Too?

So if one anxious person can render others in their vicinity anxious as well, could the opposite also be true?

Obviously I think so, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this piece.

My premise is that calm is also contagious.

 

Family Drama

I was born into a family with what I consider to be low to moderate level of drama. That was my family of origin.

As for my nuclear family, the one where I’m the father, and my wife is the mother, and our two children are the kids, I like to think that we’re also on the lower end of the drama continuum.

We all have our own family or families, and if we think about them in terms of their typical drama level, we surely know of other families who exhibit a higher propensity for drama.

 

Emotional Reactivity

Another way to look at this is to think about it in terms of emotional reactivity.

There’s often one person, or maybe more, who simply have a way of triggering the emotions of others, and not necessarily in a good way.

It could be something very subtle and it may even operate at an unconscious level, but it is definitely there.

You may not be able to see the anxiety, but you can definitely sense it.

 

Superpowers

A while back, an acquaintance asked me straight up, out of the blue, “What’s your superpower?”

I was a bit taken aback, but since then I’ve really come to love the term and what it means.

It’s a nice way to define some ability that one has that seems to be very rare in others.

It’s often something that comes to you so naturally, that at first, you assume everyone has it too.

But eventually, you realize that it’s some innate ability that you have, that few others do.

 

The Sixth Sense

 My superpower is the ability to sense the anxiety between people.

I’m not just talking about walking into a room and sensing the general tension that’s there or feeling like there’s an ultra-sensitive air in the room.

I’m talking about the direct tension that exists between a specific pair of people.

Unfortunately, this sense is not infallible, and it does not kick in immediately every time.

 

Drama Management

So let’s try to bring this back to the calm contagion where we began.

Families, especially when they manage a business together, or simply share ownership of some assets as a group, need to come together occasionally to make decisions.

Because of their complex relationships, being family members and having shared financial and ownership responsibilities, things can sometimes become tense.

Oh, and can we all agree that when our brains are preoccupied with interpersonal anxiety, we don’t always do our best thinking?

 

Calming the System

In order for a group of people, in this case, a family system, to be able to function at their best, it helps if they are not distracted by emotional reactivity, a.k.a. drama.

One person can quickly disturb the calm in a system.

Can one person calm a system back down?

 

Realistic Expectations

I believe that it is possible, but it also requires patience and a realistic expectation level.

Anxiety can be ramped up quite rapidly, but instilling calm usually takes more time.

A key ingredient is that one person who goes first, and models the calm for the others to follow.

 

Immunity

The contagion analogy is making me think about the one person who is immune to the sickness, who can then interact with each of the sick people without worrying about catching their disease.

The mere presence of the healthy one can give hope to the sick to believe that they too can be well again.

For families, it can be difficult to find such a person from within their ranks, because each person is “caught” in the system to some degree.

That’s where an independent, unbiased, objective, neutral outsider can certainly play a role.

Serenity now!

 

See: Calm-Fident Advice for your family

Someone playing ganja and one of the blocks has governance written on it

FamBiz: Management vs. Governance

FamBiz: Management vs. Governance

In a family business, there can often be confusion around the questions surrounding the management of the business, and the separate, but equally important area of its governance.

I see it in many places with family clients and this post will hopefully help clarify the differences.

 

Management = Day-to-Day

Management of the business starts with all of the day-to-day actions and decisions that it takes to keep the business running.

It’s about what you can see happening in many areas, and it usually involves all of the activities that are done by the vast majority of the employees.

The management of any business is all about the short-term execution of the company doing what the company has decided its business is.

 

Who Decided?

So in case you didn’t notice, the key word in the last sentence is “decided”. I purposely said that “the company decided”, but in reality it isn’t decided by “the company”.

There are people who “govern” the company and what it does, and then the managers of the company implement those decisions via their management functions.

But then that just begs the next question, which is, who gets to decide? And then there’s another level of that, which I‘ve already addressed here: “Who gets to decide who gets to decide?”

 

Corporations Are Easier

In contrast to a family business, if we look at a big corporation, things are pretty clear. The shareholders elect the board of directors, who decide who the management will be.

There are plenty of layers and checks and balances and there are formal structures and procedures in place to guide all of these decisions.

In a family business, well, usually, not so much.

 

Informal Governance

I used the word “formal” intentionally just there, because it reminds me of the expression I like to keep in mind:

“Formality is your Friend” 

I need to thank Ruth Steverlynck, one of the instructors in the Family Enterprise Advisor Program, for that expression. I’ve used it a lot and will continue to do so.

Family businesses often resist formality because they don’t want it to slow them down. Sometimes it’s simply the founder who has a preference for flying by the seat of his pants.

 

Governance sounds Formal

Regular readers will be familiar with my personal struggles with the word “governance”, and the fact that I have a sort of “love-hate” relationship with it.

It sounds almost TOO formal, to the point where it can actually scare people off.

I try to soften it by repeating that you don’t necessarily have to be overly formal, and that any governance you choose to put in place is best done incrementally.

 

Constitutional Crisis

I read a lot of stuff from the academic field of family business and I see people using the term “Family Constitution” a lot lately. A family constitution CAN be a great thing for a family to have.

BUT, and it’s a huge but, that shouldn’t be the place that you start the governance process.

In fact, I personally would probably never even mention the term “constitution” during my first year of working with a family.

 

Management Confusion

Sometimes company management acts as if they are also in charge of governance, because, well, frankly, they can.

But a family business is a complex system, involving not only the business, but also the family, and the ownership.

These interdependent systems are where some formality and definition of roles and responsibilities comes in.

In fact, the part about figuring out, deciding, and writing down who decides which questions is what governance is all about.

 

Clarity goes a Long Way

There can be lots of ambiguous situations in a family business, and when things aren’t clear, people step on each other’s toes a lot, which can create conflict.

It’s important to clarify which groups of people will be responsible for which decisions.

But sometimes that’s really hard to do.

It really needs to be “hashed out” as a group. Some “horse trading” and compromises may end up needing to happen too.

 

“Don’t Try This at Home”

What can happen is that families will try to work these things out by themselves and end up making things worse.

An independent person, who has no stake in the systems, can go a long way to making these discussions more productive, and more civil! It’s worth trying.

 

Coach in soccer field

No, Dad, Coaching is NOT “Helping Losers”

No, Dad, Coaching is NOT “Helping Losers”

I’ve just begun a series of coaching courses that have been “right up my alley”, and the process has also triggered some memories and anecdotes about the coaching profession that I think are worth sharing here.

When I first learned about ORSC (Organisation and Relationship System Coaching) I was instantly intrigued and thought it might be the perfect place to hone some of my facilitation skills.

Working with families means that there are lots of “relationship systems” already in place, and there is both some art and some science behind knowing how best to work with them.

 

Flashback No. 1

So let’s start with my first flashback, which is the source of the title of this post. It touches on some of the misconceptions and general misunderstanding of what coaching is, and conversely, what it isn’t.

It was over a decade ago, and someone who respected my father as a businessman made the unfortunate mistake of asking for his opinion on a matter he knew little about.

My Dad deserved the respect for his business acumen, but his penchant for offering strong opinions on matters he knew very little about was also part of the deal.

A family member in his forties was thinking about coaching as a career change. This person could have / would have made a great coach, but never pursued it, thanks in part to being dissuaded by my Dad.

I learned of the discussion later from my Dad, who off-handedly mentioned that so-and-so was considering going into the business of “helping losers”.

 

A New “Profession” 

The coaching “profession” is still relatively new and misunderstood, although it feels to me that things are getting better slowly with time.

Something interesting I have noted in my work in the area of Bowen Family Systems Theory is that Dr. Murray Bowen was calling himself a “coach” since at least the 1960’s, which likely pre-dates much of the current coaching “industry”.

Unfortunately, many family leaders from the senior generation have a hard time grasping the idea of hiring a “coach”

I know of at least one family who missed out on hiring someone that I know would’ve helped them greatly, but the patriarch was not convinced, in large part because the person presented herself as a “coach”, and he couldn’t get past the fact that his family wasn’t a “hockey team”.

 

What should we call ourselves?

I touched on this last week in Providing Counsel to the Family Council, where I mentioned that I don’t like to call myself a consultant. So I use the term “Advisor”, but then I really don’t like to give “advice” per se.

One of the best words to describe the kind of assistance I provide is “guidance”, but calling myself a “guide” just feels a little too nebulous.

 

Tour Guide or Wilderness Guide

Let me play with the “guide” theme a bit here. I really don’t think the city tour guide at the front of the bus is a good analogy. However, a safari guide or wilderness guide might be a better fit.

When you go to a place where things are unfamiliar and potentially dangerous, you really shouldn’t go it alone.

I don’t think too many people just book a flight to Kenya, stop at the Hertz counter and drive into the jungle to find the lions.

 

A Safe Expedition

Working on your family alignment and governance also requires making sure that everyone feels safe and that nobody is ever in danger. You want to make sure that you have at least as many members in your party at the end of the trip as when you started.

In the cases where some members are no longer part of the journey, you want it to be because they chose to come home early or to go on a journey with a different route.

 

How about a FLAG?

Now I’ve added even more elements, i.e. alignment and governance, that people who do this kind of work like to talk about, which can also add to the variety of titles.

So a Family Legacy Alignment Guide could be shortened to FLAG. I’m not sure that one would resonate though.

I think I’ll stick with Family Legacy Advisor for now, while continuing the coaching courses, which are actually more about “facilitation”.

 

Moral of the story: All families are different, and so are the people they hire.

Also please see: Going Far? Go Together!

Family sitting around a table

Providing Counsel to the Family Council

Providing Counsel to the Family Council

I enjoy wordplay more than most, and this week I stumbled across something I probably should have addressed in this space already, but seemingly haven’t.

So by exploring the words “Counsel” and “Council”, which are homonyms, I get to touch on a couple areas that are important to me and to my practice.

 

Family Counsellor

My current business card identifies me as a “Family Legacy Advisor”, but I’m never sure what I should actually call myself.

I cover a few bases by adding “sub-titles”, (Facilitator, Coach, Mediator), but even then it never feels 100% “correct”.

I prefer “advisor” to “consultant”, but when I’m crossing the border I always say I’m a consultant, because it sounds more straightforward.

Somehow, “family counsellor” feels like an appropriate title for a role I really enjoy playing, although that could also be easily misconstrued.

 

Business Family versus Family Business

Regular readers know that I often note the difference between a “family business” and a “business family”, and I have a clear preference for which entity I prefer to serve.

I like to work in the “family” circle, serving the business family first and foremost, because the family side is usually “under-served” by outside professionals.

The business circle has plenty of outside help from lawyers and accountants, not to mention various other professional consultants.

“Business counsellor” would sound kind of funny, but “family counsellor” has an interesting ring to it.

 

Family Governance = Family Council

I’ve written quite a bit about family governance, and family meetings, and one of the most basic terms in this area is “Family Council”, but until now I haven’t used that term.

Governance can get a bad rap, and too often it scares people because it sounds way more formal than it needs to be in real life.

This week I attended an event for business families held at a local University family business center, where the topic was “family councils”. Actually, since it was in French, it was “Conseil de Famille”.

There were representatives of three local business families on a panel, and the moderator asked them questions about their family councils.

 

De-Mystifying Governance

I truly appreciated the family members who spoke in front of a group of strangers about personal subjects, and I applaud the organisers for trying to de-mystify the idea of having a family council as a basic element of family governance.

However, based on some of the questions during the Q & A, I think that plenty of attendees still didn’t “get it”.

Despite the fact that the panelists were very forthcoming, explaining the nuts and bolts of how often they meet, who gets invited, what they talk about, who sets the agenda and who runs the meetings, it felt like many were still mystified by the idea.

I think it’s likely because they couldn’t picture how it might work in their own family, and I wonder if the name “Family Council” is too formal, and scares people as much as the term governance does.

 

Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary

It shouldn’t be so formal though, especially at the outset. Just have a family meeting, and let it evolve from there.

The only “revolutionary” step is bringing in an outsider to facilitate the meetings. Everything else needs to simply be “evolutionary”.

The most important part is actually starting to set up regular meetings to talk about how the family is affected by the business.

 

A Seat at the Table

Yes, even those family members who don’t work in the business, or don’t own any of the business, do have questions and concerns about the business, because they are certainly affected by it.

Providing them a seat at the table, so that they can be heard, and so that they can ask questions, is simple and basic.

If you organize such a forum before you need to do so, it will all go so much more easily than if you wait until they demand such meetings.

 

Counseling the Family Council

Meeting even just once a year is fine to get you started. But please start before you feel like you need to.

Start slowly, start small, and evolve from there. Learn as you go, and look for progress, not for perfection.

Eventually, you’ll find a family counselor to come in and facilitate those meetings, and then you can officially call it a “Family Council”.

My Notes from a Great Keynote

My Notes from a Great Keynote

The Family Firm Institute recently held its annual conference in Chicago, and the subjects covered were enough to fill out my blog calendar for the next few months. But today I’ll concentrate on just one session.

The main FFI conference wrapped up Friday, and then Saturday featured a one-day “research and education” session. I’d never stayed for the extra day before, but the lunchtime keynote alone made it well worth staying.

 

An Industry Pioneer

The speaker was none other than Craig Aronoff, one of the founders (in 1994) of the Family Business Consulting Group (FBCG) as well as a past President of FFI.

FBCG has been a leader in the field of family business advising and they are held in high esteem by just about everyone connected to this profession.

They’re a leading producer of great content as well, which actually brings me to the first of the three points Aronoff made that I want to share with you today.

 

Private Lessons

Aronoff noted that business families have different ways that they deal with their challenges, and that those who actually hire an outside family business consultant are just a small minority.

The ones who do hire such a specialist are in effect opting for “private lessons”, as he nicely put it.

You can learn to play a musical instrument in lots of different ways, especially with today’s technology. Some people will just go to Youtube and find some instructional videos, while others will hire a teacher to come to their home and offer private lessons. (My analogy, not his)

 

Market Penetration 

He went on to actually put some numbers out there, estimating that only somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of family businesses hire family business consultants.

I wouldn’t know where to begin to try to figure out what the number is, but given Aronoff’s experience in a leading position in the industry, I’m inclined to give his numbers plenty of credence.

If so few business families are reaching out and hiring specialists to give them “private lessons”, then what about the rest of the families?

 

What About Everybody Else?

I guess that the other 96-98% of families try to meet their challenges “on their own” and with help from their other professional advisors from various fields (law, accounting, tax, psychology).

I would hope that more and more of those families are at least benefiting from the ever-increasing amount of great content that is being created and shared in the burgeoning family business space.

When I entered this field, I reflected on how many families I could realistically work with directly during the next 25 years of my career, and I had trouble getting to triple digits.

But that only includes families for whom I would be their provider of the “private lessons”.

Between writing, speaking and teaching, I have the potential to be a resource to so many more families.

 

Values: Guide & Goals & Glue

One final note on my take-aways from what Aronoff talked about.

(I should also note that the main subject of his talk was research and its relevance to the field of family business, which I’ve decided to ignore in this blog, since it’s not my area of interest or expertise.)

He quickly mentioned the importance of values to family businesses. (Please see: FAMILY BUSINESS: HOW DO VALUES FIT IN? for my take on this issue).

He noted that from his perspective, values provide the 3 G’s:

The Guide, The Goals, and The Glue.

As a fan of anything that helps people understand and remember important concepts, I found this noteworthy.

 

The Glue and the Grease? 

I’ve had a blog idea about glue stuck in my head for a few years now, involving “Glue and Grease”, but I’ve yet to find the substance in nature or industry to complete the analogy.

What I try to bring to families who hire me is a bit of both; glue to help keep things together, but also grease that keeps things running smoothly.

Any engineers or creative types out there who think of a substance that fits this analogy can look forward to a hat-tip and shout out from me for sharing ideas for that blog.

I remain available for private lessons for select families, and I will continue to add and share content to this fascinating field.

Note: Last week this space featured its first ever Guest Blog. Unfortunately I was a less than perfect host for my guest, and when I posted her piece I accidentally dropped a few paragraphs in the middle of it.  It has now been corrected, and can be found here: Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

(Sorry Kim!)

Family Business meeting where there is confusion between members

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

This week I want to look at the question of clarity.

My premise is that when you can see things clearly, there are plenty of potential benefits, so taking the time to make sure that you are truly seeing things clearly is usually well worth it.

Family businesses are full of ambiguous situations that can often exist for years or even decades. Many roles and responsibilities are poorly defined, but somehow, sometimes almost miraculously, things still manage to get done.

Family businesses are notoriously resilient.

 

Communication Breakdown

One of the major challenges that most business families face is clear communication. It has always been that way, and probably always will be.

Of course each person has their own communication style, and some are simply better at it than others.

When I work with a family, I’ll often spend more time at the outset just working with them to make sure that they all really understand each other than on anything else.

I also believe that just about anyone can improve their communication abilities, if they want to. Part of my job is usually to make them understand why it’s worth their effort to do so.

 

It Starts at the Top – But…

We’ve all heard that everything important starts at the top. I agree with that, in general, but that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t the one at the top, there’s nothing you can do.

Communication is a two-way street. To me, that means that the “sender” and the “receiver” of any communication have a responsibility to make sure that the message was understood.

One of my favourite expressions is this one, is attributed to George Bernard Shaw:

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

 

Allow Me to Clarify

Now, in the interest of being “ultra” clear, I will try to make sure that everyone reading this understands what this means.

The biggest problem with communication is that very often the person who has spoken or written something truly believes that the person to whom they were speaking or writing actually received and understood the message as it was intended.

Unfortunately, far too often, in reality, the person either did not receive the message, or they got it, but didn’t understand it.

I personally drive my family members crazy sometimes with my obsession to handle my end of any communication. “Did you hear me? Could you please acknowledge that you understood?”

 

Getting Back to Confused Versus Concerned

The idea for this blog came from seeing someone’s face and trying to evaluate what was going on in their mind. I do this a lot, and you probably do too, even if it is only done subconsciously.

The particular situation isn’t important (and, truth be told, I don’t even recall what sparked it) but it struck me that sometimes people appear concerned about a situation, but if only they were less confused, they would end up less concerned.

 

Clear Up the Confusion

My “prescription” for many families is pretty much the same.

Clear up the confusion, the ambiguity, the “fog” and the uncertainty, and everyone will have less things about which to be “concerned”.

This is why families so often feel “stuck” in a situation and then due to inertia, they remain there.

It is usually only when something changes that they get propelled into action.

 

Shine a Light

Quite often what the family really needs is an additional perspective on things. Each person in the family is naturally preoccupied with their own situation, which they typically only see from their own viewpoint.

When they bring in a person from the outside, who can then shine the flashlight onto some of the areas of confusion and ambiguity, things get a bit more clear.

 

Shared Viewpoints

If the person with the flashlight is also skilled at facilitating a conversation around ways to determine a collective shared viewpoint that everyone can buy into, then they can really start to make progress.

The word “consternation” came up when I was thinking through this “confused vs concerned” idea. I wondered why the word “consterned” doesn’t exist. Maybe I just invented it.

So, if you are consterned with things going on in your family business, I suggest that you work on ways to clarify things first.

When things are clearer, you’ll have fewer things to be concerned about.

Values of a family owned and operated business

Family Business: How do Values Fit In?

Business people often have a tendency to concentrate so much on their day-to-day business that they end up losing sight of some pretty important basic matters, like their values.

Values form the unconscious base of everything we do, and they impact so many of our regular decisions without us even realizing it.

Business consultants love to use “values” as a buzzword that they lump in with “vision” and “mission”, often without a good grasp of the differences between them.

This topic area is potentially very broad, so I will keep this post focussed on values, and I will look specifically at the role they play in family businesses.

 

What are Values?

Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life”, according to a definition I just Googled, which is good enough for our purposes here.

A business’s values usually reflect those of the owners, executives and leadership. Some values that people brag about include ones that are so basic that they’re almost meaningless.

Any business that brags about integrity and honesty almost makes me wonder why they felt the need to spell those out as important. I’d hope that they were a given.

 

When Does This Matter?

Values are always important, but they’re usually running in the background and aren’t really noticed, until there’s a clash somewhere along the line.

I mentioned that a company’s values emanate from its leadership, and so the critical time to examine them is when anticipating a change in leadership (management and/or ownership).

A business built on hard work, collaboration and diversity won’t likely do well if the incoming leadership espouses none of those same core principles.

 

Why Are Values So Important?

Because values operate largely unnoticed or in an unspoken way, it sort of makes them the “operating system” behind the culture of the organisation.

A small group can run well without giving this much thought, but in a large or growing group of people, having some general agreement about the values that drive the group is essential.

People talk about alignment a lot these days, and rightly so. What they don’t always mention is that the alignment of values is really at the base of much of this work.

 

Family Values vs. Business Values

Now, you may be inclined to believe that business values should guide the business, while family values should just “stay in the family” and should never have an influence on how the business operates.

I would suggest that this type of thinking is not conducive to long-term success. Eventually, something has got to give.

When a family owns and leads a business, then that family’s values are important for the business. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a 100% overlap in family values and business values, but the more overlap the better, and ideally you want as much overlap as possible.

 

How Do We Get This Right?

Lots of consultants who work with businesses have tools and exercises that they use with teams in the business, to help them discover and align around key values for the business.

If your business has already done that, that’s great. But, please don’t stop there. And, please resist the temptation to bring the results of that business values work to a session on the family’s values.

 

The Values Two-Step

Any values exercise needs to have two components:

  • Individual values section
  • Group values section

These can be run one after another, or, sometimes better, after a break that can range from a couple of days to a couple of months.

Group values work needs to start with the individual values of the group’s members, and it needs to involve only those values of the members of the group.

 

Purity of Values

In a family values exercise, you may even want to do the exercise with members of only one generation at a time, so that the elders don’t unduly influence the younger participants.

Most importantly, do NOT begin with a list of values that comes from elsewhere, like the business, or the founder. The group values should be generated by the individual values of the participants in the exercise.

If the group values list you derive is to have any “value”, it needs to come “purely” from those in the group.

 

Take-Away:

Do the Values work, but take the time to do it RIGHT.

family owned business challenges

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Meetings

This week we are back to the “5 Things you Need to Know” format, and our subject comes via an emailed question.

An overseas colleague and fellow Family Firm Institute member recently asked me for my thoughts around family meetings.

Rather that send her a lengthy reply, I told her I would write this blog in response, and I hope that many of you find it useful.

(Note: we are talking here about enterprising families having an occasional get-together with many family members, some of whom are involved in business matters, along with many who are not.)

 

  1. Involve Many People

The more people you can have involved in planning the meeting, the better. Input and ideas should be solicited from as many of the participants as possible beforehand, and it should never appear to be a one-person show.

Furthermore, on the “many people” front, the execution of the meeting(s) or day(s) should also feature as many different people in leadership roles as possilbe, and active involvement by everyone (as opposed to passive) is a must.

 

  1. Not Just Business

The business aspects of the meeting are naturally important, otherwise you likely wouldn’t go through the trouble of officially convening everyone in the first place. But please resist the temptation to make it “all business”.

If you want people to look forward to these events and attend them regularly (see No.3, below), they ought to have reasons to look forward to them.

A mix of business, fun as a large group, education, fun in smaller groups, downtime, physical activity, icebreakers, and just plain socializing are all worthwhile considerations for the schedule.

 

  1. Regular, Repeating Forum

An error that some families make is to try to have THE family meeting, once, to finally share a bunch of information that they have been keeping private for a long time. That is rarely the best course to pursue.

Rather, having regular meetings, on a repeating basis (annual, semi-annual, or other) is almost always a better idea. Those in attendance who are new to much of the content need time to absorb it, learn, and get up to speed before they can even conceive of the questions they’ll have.

The idea is to have a “forum”, or “an exchange of views” that brings out interaction and learning, which is better suited to a regular and repeating event, with an agenda that evolves over time.

 

  1. Past History and Future Outlook

Most family businesses considering holding this type of meeting have been around for a few decades.

So, sharing stories and facts about the history of the business, 10 and 20 and 30 years ago (or often much longer) can help give everyone in attendance a better appreciation of what came before, including major milestones, successes, and failures.

The trip through time should not necessarily end with today, though. Projecting another 10 or 20 years ahead, and getting various points of view on how family members see the business and their potential future involvement is also an opportunity that should not be missed.

 

  1. Process is More Important than Content

You may approach the idea of a family meeting as a chance to tell, teach, or share a number of important pieces of information with those members of the family who are less aware than others, in order to “level the playing field” and make everyone feel involved.

That is a noble idea, and at the same time, the temptation for too much content is always there. People who are thirsty for information are not always best served with a fire hose.

A habit of regular meetings, with the participation of many people, including interactivity, talking and listening, sharing of information to level of the information playing field, getting to know each other better, and of course having fun, are the ways to judge the success of family meetings.

The processes involved in all of this are what you need to get right, and the actual content is secondary.

When you get different people volunteering to serve on various committees to plan parts of the next meeting, you will know that you have launched a worthwhile venture that will stand the family in good stead for the long term.

Although you won’t likely get there quickly, slowly but surely it can be done. And you will all be glad you made the effort.

Family Business Prespective

Putting Perspective into Perspective

We all see things from our own unique perspective, first and foremost. Our personal point of view serves as our default view of the world.

The ability to see things from another’s perspective is important, and not everyone is good at it, since this ventures into the area of empathy.

But whenever we force ourselves to look at things from a different perspective, it’s almost always enlightening. “Hmm, I never thought about it that way”.

 

Always Worthwhile

Getting help to look at things from a different point of view is especially useful for those who are successful.

Smart people who’ve had great success can sometimes start to believe that they know everything, and they frequently overestimate their abilities.

For these people, stopping themselves to take a second look can be especially beneficial. Do you know anyone like that?

If you live alone on an island, the perspective of other stakeholders is a moot point. But what about if you work in a business with other family members?

 

Insiders Vs. Outsiders

Working with business families, I am often forced to remind family members to think about how their ideas will impact the other people involved. Some do this easily, others require more practice.

The truth is, by the time I enter the picture, they’ve already made the most important decision.

Families who take the step of hiring an independent, unbiased, objective outsider to advise them have recognized that a new perspective is not only useful, but essential to successfully dealing with many important issues.

 

Definitions of Perspective

The more complex things are, the more important the independent ousider becomes. Here are a couple of definitions of perspective (emphasis added):

       – the state of one’s ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship

       – the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship

Family business situations are full of complexity, with plenty of interrelated issues, stemming from the overlap of the family system, the business system, and the ownership system.

Add in everybody’s individual preferences and, well, good luck!

 

“Why the world NEEDS family business consultants”

I read a lot of stuff about family business, because I write a lot of stuff about family business. When I get something from the Family Business Consulting Group, I always read it.

This week, they sent out a piece about our profession, and why it is important. I knew that I needed to share it, and wondered about the best way to do so.

Since I was already planning this blog about “perspective”, I decided to incorporate it here.

Here’s an excerpted paragraph, and a link to the article. Please take the time to read the whole piece.

“An excellent family business consultant is probably the only advisor you’ll work with who considers how family,        management, ownership and governance impact each other on a day-to-day basis and is able to create a safe place to openly and creatively consider how these four necessary systems uniquely and powerfully affect your family and your enterprise.”

Link: Why the world NEEDS family business consultants

Relating to ALL the Pieces

A family business consultant (or family legacy advisor), will see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together from a different perspective.

Seeing and understanding how the pieces relate, without being one of those pieces, is essential.

Anyone who is part of any of the systems simply cannot offer a fully objective viewpoint. And anyone trying to sell you other services will also be biased.

 

Defusing the Emotions

There are many emotions in family business because family is all about love and business is about money, and when you put them together, things get messy.

Some suggest removing emotions, but they might as well suggest not breathing; emotions will always exist.

This is where a trained outsider is most useful. Someone who can remain calm despite the anxiety in the room, and can slow things down, reminding everyone of the number of different perspectives in the room.

 

The View from 30,000 Feet

An independent outsider with no stake in the game can provide the proverbial 30,000-foot view, and offer a new perpsective on all the interrelated pieces of the puzzle.

That can make all the difference in creating a shared perspective that everyone can believe in.

Families who have successfully transitioned their business and wealth have rarely done so all by themselves.