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.



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

running a family business tips

Who Gets to Decide? (Part 1 of 2)

Last weekend at the Bowen Center spring conference there was plenty of food for thought, as expected, as we talked about family systems and how they also apply in other organisations.   (See A Systematic Business Family?)

There was also lots of fascinating scientific information presented about collective behaviour in the animal kingdom, and we learned some surprising things about how schools of fish and groups of locusts work together, subconsciously, to move about en masse.

Wait, am I saying that human families work the same way as fish and locusts do? Well, not exactly. But I’m not saying that we’re completely different either.

Family vs Other Groups

It’s also really interesting to think about how a family group is similar to and different from other types of human groups. Things we learn in the family realm are used in other circumstances, and things from other groups of people are used in our families.

There are more similarities than most of us realize and the same goes for animals and humans. We’re obviously the most advanced species, but our evolution surely followed many similar paths.

Leadership and Decision-Making

But how do groups of people and animals make their decisions, especially those that affect a group?

Leadership has been written about ad nauseum and there’s little doubt that it’s important to the success of groups. One thing that I’m starting to notice more is that the singular leader is becoming less of a phenomenon, and group leadership is getting trendier.

Authoritative and dictatorial styles are giving way to collaborative and consensual ways of leading. (See: Is Your Family “In Line”, or Aligned?) And what better area to look at these benefits than family business and intergenerational wealth transitions.

Family Business and the 3 Circles

The Three Circle Model has been around for over 3 decades now and while some find it too simplistic, I’m still a huge fan. (See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment )

Each of the circles, Family, Business, and Ownership, are separate, yet overlapping, systems. By “system” here, I am referring to a group of interrelated people.

In a first generation family business, there’s usually lots of overlap and having circles with the exact same group of people is a real possibility. Even then, it’s important to make family decisions as a family, for the family, and business decisions for the business, as a business.

If you’re lucky enough to transfer the business and wealth to subsequent generations, things invariably get more complex. The family will usually continue to grow, and the business may grow even faster, especially by adding non-family employees.

System = Group of Related People

But you still have three systems, or groups of related people. Some will have formal leadership positions, with titles and clear roles; others, well, not so much. But why not?

In order to make decisions, a business has a CEO and an organisation chart, and formal roles and procedures. Should it be the only circle like that?

If there’s an ownership group, or system, shouldn’t it, too, have a formal structure, along with decision-making bodies and procedures? A shareholders agreement should contain most of this information, but is it actually ever used, and do the owners know what’s in it?

Last, and certainly NOT least, is the family. Talk about a potentially thorny group, and likely the circle with the least formal structure and rules. But decisions still need to be made.

All in the Family

So if a business is run based on some sort of formalized hierarchy and procedures, and an ownership system is subject to a shareholders agreement, then at least some governance exists for these interrelated groups of people in the family business realm.

Is there a good reason why the Family should be the exception?


Do families really go through the trouble of working this stuff out, “just for family issues?”


Only the ones that care about their legacy and want to make sure that all of their hard work doesn’t end up being for naught.

Bottom Line:

Family Business is complex stuff, and “formality is your friend” when you want to ensure that that the transition to the next generation will be successful, because decisions will always need to be made.

Next week in Part 2, we’ll look specifically at the Family circle and take this to another level, literally, with “Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide?”

Advantages and Dis-advantages of Liquidity Events

Liquidity Events in a FamBiz: Pros and Cons (Part 2)

Part 2 of 2 – The Cons


Last week we looked at some of the positive aspects of a Family Business liquidity event, so now it’s time to look at the other side. Longtime readers may recall a 2014 blog, Solid Wealth Vs. Liquid Wealth, covering some of this territory.

Today we’ll look at career questions, owners who suddenly “expect” to get “their share”, the leaky bucket syndrome, and family alignment.


Career Questions

When a family owns a business, many family members often have jobs and careers that depend on the company. A liquidity event will usually affect that in a big way, and typicallly NOT positively.

Even in cases where only a small number of people depend on the business for their livelihood, those people will usually be intensely affected by the change. Yes, a few people will likely still be needed to manage the liquid assets and other company and family affairs, but their roles will change, and not just a little.

Then there is the question of skill match. You have people you want to give a job to, and you have stuff that needs to get done. Yes, THAT skill match. How will that look after a liquidity event? Does your VP of HR child have what it takes to manage your investments?


Can’t I Just Take “Mine”?

Last week I ended the blog with a laugh, directed at those who “own” a piece of a family company who would like to have the ability to liquidate their ownership.

This week, I will turn and laugh instead at the person who controls the liquid assets and wish them good luck in satisfying a contigent of co-owners, trying to keep them happy.

If you own 10% of DEFG Corp., that’s all well and good, but try spending it.

But what happens when DEFG is sold for $XX,000,000? It’s suddenly tempting to try to get your hands on the $X.X Million that is “yours”.

Note that I used quotation marks because it may not be as much “yours” as you hoped or thought. (See Putting the OWN in Ownership)


What Happened to It All?

The answer to the question about “taking mine” is almost always “NO”. And that’s followed by an explanation about why the family is planning on keeping all of the wealth together, and will manage it for the long-term benefit of the family, including current and future generations.

The fear that these families have, and it is a REAL fear, is illustrated in the image that I chose to accompany this post. Most people won’t come out and say this, so I will.

If you simply take the liquid wealth and divide it up among the family owners, many of them will simply urinate it away. Okay, so I used a different word, but I am sure you get it.

That fear is very often justified. Is there a component of control and “I know better what’s good for you than you do”? Yes, and as long as the one contolling it can pull that off, they will be alright with it. The wealth creator can usually do it, but for their kids, it’s not as easy or obvious.


Family Alignment

“It’s hard to keep a family united around a pile of money”

I wish I could remember where I first heard that spoken, because it has stuck with me. It was surely said by someone who was preaching the benefits of family philanthropy, because getting family members excited about working together for some common good is one of the chief benefits of the establishment of more and more family foundations.

The subject of Family Alignment is worthy of much more treatment than I can give it here, and for those interested, you’re in luck. Please check out my Quick Start Guide on the subject. Family Alignment: What it is, Why you need it, How to build it


Liquidity DO’s and DON’Ts

My preferred style is NOT to tell people what to think, but to make sure they don’t miss out on things that they should think about.

Whether or not to pursue selling a business, or entertain an offer for one, is very personal and depends on a whole variety of circumstances, and timing is often a huge variable.

Thinking through “what comes next” for you and your family should be done before you sign the official paperwork, not after.


Liquidity Events in Family Business

Liquidity Events in a FamBiz: Pros and Cons

Part 1 of 2 – The Pros


The expression “liquidity event” is not necessarily well understood among the general population. Let’s take a look at it from the Family Business point of view.

Essentially, a liquidity event takes place when the owners of a business, in this case a family, sell a substantial portion of their business (either shares OR assets) to an outside party, for cash or another form of asset that can more readily be turned into cash quickly.

Read more

Good Governance Structure for Family Business

Family Governance, Aaaah!

It’s hard to get a handle on “governance” sometimes, and depending on the context, its meaning and connotations can vary greatly.

In some contexts, it’s a pain in the backside. In others, you can’t live without it.

Put me in the “can’t live without it” camp when it comes to family business continuity and family legacy.

Governance in those situations can be tricky, but you really need it, and this post will shed light on that perspective.


Institute for Family Governance 

This week I was in New York for the first annual “Institute for Family Governance” conference. The IFG is in its infancy, and came into existence at the crossroads of STEP (Society for Trust and Estate Professionals) and FFI (Family Firm Institute).

Babetta von Albertini, of Withers Consulting Group in NY, the Program chair, is a member of both FFI and STEP, and I first met her at the FFI annual conference in London in 2015.

She is the driving force behind IFG and must be congratulated for pulling off a great kickoff event.

She also announced that the 2nd annual IFG conference will take place on January 25, 2018, and that none other than the legendary Peter Leach of Deloitte UK will be a featured speaker.


What the Heck is “Family Governance”? 

“What is Family Governance?” could be the proverbial $64,000 question. But it’s more like the $64,000,000 question, because sometimes size does matter

If your family net worth is in the range of $64,000, please skip the rest of the questions, thanks for your time completing our survey.

If, however, your family net worth is in the $64,000,000 range, perhaps this topic is one you need to be paying attention to.

Okay, let me rephrase that.

If you care what happens to your wealth over the next generation or two (or more), then good governance will be important. If you don’t really care what happens after you die, don’t bother reading past this point.


What Happened to “Governance, Ugh!”? 

For longtime readers and fans of my work (Hi Mom!) you may be confused by the title of this blog, which seems to suggest, via the “Aaaah” after “Family Governance” that it’s something good, and which brings relief.

You may be thinking “Hey Steve, how does this square with Chapter 8 of your book, SHIFT your Family Business, which I clearly recall was titled “Governance, Ugh!”?

My answers to this are many, including:

  • Thanks for noticing
  • Yes, it IS available on Amazon
  • Evolution


The Evolution of Governance

Back in 2013 when I wrote the book and called that key chapter “Governance, Ugh”, I did so based on my perception that the word actually conveyed that “Ugh” reaction to a large number of people.

I like to believe that the world of Family Business and Family Wealth has evolved somewhat since I wrote it, and based on what I heard in NYC this week, it has.

Even if the “world” has not yet evolved, though, I know that I have. Let me elaborate. I have always known that good governance is essential to creating a sustainable legacy for a family.

I used to be afraid to tell people that they needed “governance”, but shying away from the word made it seem “unspeakable”, which may have conveyed that it was also undesirable..


My Own Evolution

When the Institute for Family Governance, came to life, and when I realized that I was excited to discover it, that told me that I have evolved, as has my thinking and my desire to call it what it is.

Yes, we can continue to refer to it as “decision-making”, and “communication” and “structures and processes”, and “how we are all going to get along together” and “formalized rules and regulations”.

At the end of the day, for me, the best word to encapsulate all of these is GOVERNANCE.


The Real $64 Million Question

The real question is WHY is it required.

My short answer is:

Because your Wealth and Legacy won’t Preserve Themselves.

Family governance is a must, and it must be custom-developed by your family, for your family.

But it is definitely OK to get help with this. It is even highly recommended to do so.


To Be Continued

Watch this space for an upcoming blog:

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Governance.

Coming in February 2017


Lessons from a drowned phone

Lessons from a Drowned Phone

Happy New Year?

The first week of a New Year seems destined to bring up a challenge for me. Last January I was involved in a car accident that resulted in a concussion, and 2017 started with me accidentally drowning my phone.

I must admit that given a choice for 2018, I would sign up for stupidly putting my phone in the washing machine over innocently getting rear-ended at a red light.

Even though I have nobody to blame but myself for the phone fiasco, I must admit that this year is off to a better start than last. And of course the drowning of my phone has given me a juicy blog subject to boot.


The Incident

Last Friday when I finally found my misplaced phone in the “last place I looked”, i.e. the pocket of my jeans, in the washing machine, well into its wash cycle, I was relieved that at least I had solved the mystery of “where the heck is it?”

The thrill of finding it was quickly extinguished of course, as I had already concluded that it was now merely a paperweight.


Now What? 

Saturday morning I went to my phone service provider with it, holding a glimmer of hope that it might still be useful. No such luck.

I purchased a new phone, and then came the time to transfer what I had in my old phone. There is a great app you can use to transfer stuff (photos, contacts, apps, etc.) from an old phone to a new one. But it doesn’t work when the old one is dead.



My work is all about helping families define and preserve their legacy, which includes very important steps that I explain to client families, which they cannot skip if they want to keep the odds of success on their side.

My old phone had lots of important stuff in it that I wanted to continue to benefit from. But it was now dead, and I had not done what was necessary to preserve what was in it by backing up everything.

Now, recreating what I had, became a much bigger challenge. In fact, some stuff, like photos, was gone for good.

Most of those photos weren’t critical, but they did have some value, which was now lost. Likewise, much of what the senior generation members have in their heads is not truly critical for the survival of the family, but it can often rise to a level above simply “nice to have”.

In case my analogy has been lost on you, allow me to spell it out more clearly. If you wait until after people have died to try to have a valuable relationship with them, it is MUCH harder to do.



What about contacts? The way things turned out for me, thanks to technical ineptitude and the lack of foresight on my part, when my contacts updated on my phone, I got hundreds of names and email addresses from everyone I had ever emailed through my Outlook account, a majority of which are useless now.

The cell phone numbers that I actually wanted and needed were nowhere to be found.

I now have to delete a whole bunch of useless stuff, and I need to email a bunch of people and ask them for their cell phone numbers again.

So I got a lot of stuff I don’t want, and the stuff I want, I need to actually work to get, even though I already had it before.

This is kind of like having to go through all of the files and documents of a deceased relative, while never having had the benefit of the personal introductions to people who were important to the family.


Lesson Summary

  1. Whatever happens, it could be worse. Phone issues are preferable to concussions
  1. To have a back up, you actually have to DO a back up.
  1. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Please realize what you have and figure out how to preserve it. And I’m not just talking about your phone.  There are so many things that the NextGen and the NowGen need to work at transfering.

Better get started today.

2017 Key Questions - Family Business

The KEY Question for 2017

So here we are again at the time of year when the old calendar comes off the wall and the new one goes up. Didn’t we just go through this?

The title of this week’s post comes from a book I’ve been reading, called Finish Big, by Bo Burlingham. I have gotten in the habit of doing my morning workouts while reading instead of watching TV, which has allowed me to cut into my unread books pile.

On my Kindle one recent day, I finished my ride mid-chapter and closed down, and the next morning when I resumed, “The Key Question” was the bold sub-heading that hit me right between the eyes when I rebooted.

Hmmm, I thought, a great and timely blog topic.


What IS the Key Question? 

There are SO many questions that we consider every day of our lives, most of them without thinking too much, and many of them of very little consequence.

When you look at the photo accompanying this post, which shows me along with some models hired for photo ops at a friend’s recent office Christmas party, a number of potential questions may come to mind.

I happened to receive this photo by email from my friend the other day, and when I showed it to my daughter, her laughter was all I needed to hear to know that I needed to include it here.

So if the key question is “Why?”, the answer is because I got the pic, I laughed when I saw it, others thought it was funny, so I decided to share it.

If it is a “What” question, however, as in “what is going on in this pic?” the simple facts of “what” along with “where”, “when”, and “who”, have also been addressed, albeit briefly.

“What” and “Why” questions preoccupy much of our lives, but for me, the Key Question for 2017 should be HOW?

I invite you to also consider more “HOW” questions, many of which you may have been subconsciously avoiding.



Let’s move this over to the usual subject matter here, that of family legacy.

WHAT you have today, the business, the assets, the wealth, is pretty easy to ascertain factually. You have lots of professional advisors who can help you figure out exactly what you have, in hard numbers, on paper.

WHY you worked so hard to get to where you are, and the sacrifices you made to get here, and the reasons behind many of the tough decisions you made, are mostly things that come from the past, and include many important factors that drove you to succeed.

These WHATs and WHYs are very important, but by themselves, they will not suffice.


The Future is HOW

Every family that has worked to develop sufficient assets to be concerned about leaving a legacy, will eventually get to the stage where their main concern shifts to HOW.

How do we keep this going? That’s why professionals who advise such families don’t talk about succession planning, but instead talk about “Continuity Planning”.

HOW are you going to ensure that these assets will hold together into future generations, thereby sustaining your legacy?

These assets are not simply financial assets, by the way, but also less tangible things like human and intellectual capital, and if you haven’t been paying attention to those, the chances of the financial wealth being enough to hold the legacy together will decrease substantially.


HOW is a Transition, NOT a Transaction

Many families delay even thinking about these key questions for a variety of reasons; they’re too busy making the pie bigger, they think they will live forever, they aren’t sure where to start, etc.

It is complex stuff, and everyone in the family has their own viewpoint. Many professional advisors also have a hard time getting out of their silo of expertise to give you proper big picture advice.

Future blog posts will talk about creating a Family Continuity BluePrint. We will be getting back to the basics of the Three Circle Model, so feel free to read these refreshers:

Stay tuned to future posts for more on making “HOW” the Key Question for 2017 for your family.  If you are not yet subscribed, please do so here and now!

 P.S. (The facial expression of the handsome guy in the photo seems to convey “How do I get myself out of this?”, doesn’t it?







Advice to get a family more coordinated

Helping Uncoordinated Families

I am not sure what it is about my brain, but it will often catch a word in one context, completely forget about it for weeks, and then light up like a fireworks show later when that word surfaces again in a different context.

The word will then dominate my thinking for a while, until I write a blog about it. Thanks for coming along for the ride as we deal with this week’s word, “coordination”.


Advisors: Cooperate or Collaborate?

As an advisor to business families, I am forever alert to the goings on in this space, and there’s lots of talk about how professionals who serve families should work less in their individual silos, and much more collaboratively.

I believe in this, of course, yet I am also realistic in my understanding that this is a tall order for many professionals who simply don’t know how to actually do this well, and for whom the short-term negatives will often seem to outweigh the associated positives.

Some like-minded professionals have put lots of work into trying to define the benefits of working collaboratively, as illustrated by this great NAEPC white paper.

I first learned of this document in July, at a breakout session during the annual Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute, where collaboration was shown to go much further than simple cooperation.

Cooperation should be a given between your advisors, but full collaboration may be a step too far for many. There was also some talk about coordination, as an intermediate place.

The word coordination stuck with me, since acting as a “coordinator” is something I already do while working with the members of the family.


Bowen Family Systems Theory

This week, I was in Washington, taking part in the Postgraduate Training Program at the Bowen Center at Georgetown University. Our early morning presenter on each of the three days was Dr. Dan Papero, and as usual he did not disappoint.

He presented some of his views on “Differentiation (of Self) from the ground up”, and along the way, there it was again, the magic word, “coordination”.

The specific context of which he spoke it is now a blur to me, but the jist of the idea was that in a family system, coordination was something to be aspired to. So there it was again!

My head began to spin with the concept of coordinating not just the advisors who work with families, but the members of the family themselves.


Clarity, Clarity, Clarity

The word “clarity” has also been front and center in my brain lately, and it struck me that coordination and clarity have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship.

Wait, what?

One of the biggest hurdles that a family must overcome to get their generational wealth transition “done right” is getting everyone on the same page, i.e. having a shared clear picture of what is at stake and what needs to be done.

When I am asked how I can help such families, providing better clarity is usually my top answer.

Once the picture of what needs to be done is clear, the work of organizing the family’s structures and governance then begins in earnest, but this work does not just magically happen.

You guessed it, that work must be coordinated.

The family’s work must be clear and coordinated, but much like the chicken and the egg, we can never be sure which one comes first.


Back to the Three Circle Model

It is is complex because it combines the three areas of the family, the business, and the ownership (see The Three Circle Model) and these three also share in the “which comes first?” dilemma.


Clarity before Coordination or Vice Versa?

Families who undertake the work required to achieve some family alignment will be better coordinated and therefore be much more clear on the work to be done.

And families who are clear on what needs to be done will find it easier to coordinate this work.

Some families are naturally better at this than others, but most could benefit from outside help.

The families that I had in mind when I titled this piece shall of course remain nameless. Hopefully they do not rhyme with your family name.

Most families are not nearly as coordinated as they could be or should be. Clarity, from an outside perspective, can be an enormous help.


Thanksgiving and Who Needs Whom More

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada

Sometimes these blog posts are inspired by the time of year, and so on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend I will share some thoughts on gratitude.

But a whole post on being thankful is really not my style, so I will also try to tie in another idea that has been ruminating in my head lately.

Last year at this time, I came across a post on Twitter, the contents of which I have shared verbally with a number of people. It was from David Chilton, author of the Wealthy Barber. (If you ever have an opportunity to hear him speak, do yourself a favour and go).


Spotlight on Gratitude

He posted something along the lines of “If you are healthy and you live in Canada, every day is Thanksgiving”. Amen to that.

Gratitude is a subject that entire books have been devoted to, and I know many people who need to be reminded of just how good we have it sometimes.

We can easily slip into complaint mode too often, with what could best be described as “first world problems”.


Process vs Content, Process vs Event

Last week I wrote about process versus content (FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?) but there is another comparison with process that people in the family business and legacy space like to talk about too, and that’s process versus event. (see Striving for a Succession Non-Event)

My challenge is now to try to tie this in to the Thanksgiving theme in the hopes of adding some coherence to this post. Here goes.


Who Needs Whom More?

When you were born, you needed your parents more than they needed you. As you reach the end of your days, you will very likely need your children more than they need you.

There are exceptions of course, but please bear with me here. Life IS a journey, or a process, if you will. Somewhere along the way in life, the answer to the question “Who Needs Whom More” flips.

Your children need you more when they are young, you need your children more when you are old. But when does it flip? And does it “flip” quickly like a coin, or slowly, like turning around the proverbial oceanliner?

I daresay that it is much more of a process than an event.


You Reap what You Sow

When we were kids, my sisters and I were thankful for our parents, although I am not certain that we expressed it frequently enough. As they grew older, and we matured, I know that they became more thankful for us.

Ideally, gratitude is something that we learn from our parents, and then teach our children. Parenting, manners, how to behave, how we do things in our family; all are part of the legacy and heritage we pass along to following generations.

As any farmer will tell you, as you sow, so shall you reap.


Values versus Valuables

Family wealth succession can be very complex and involve lots of detailed transactions and documents concerning the family’s valuables.

But your true family legacy depends much more on passing on the values of your family.

I hope that gratitude is one of the values that my children have picked up from their parents, I know that I got most of my values from mine.

My kids are teenagers now, but I have been treating them as much as possible as if they are adults for a while now.

Trying not to tell them what to do, trying to make sure that “you’re not the boss of me” is not something that even remotely enters their minds.


Equals versus “One Up, One Down”

Am I doing this because I realize that someday I will need them more than they need me? Perhaps, subconsciously.

My point is that the longer it takes to turn around the answer to the “Who Needs Whom More” question, the better.

A relationship of equals, adult to adult, with nobody in the “one up” position, and nobody “one down” either.


It really never is “Too Late”

It’s never too late to try to make things better, and the outreach can come from either side.

This week I was reminded about the old saying that “the people you meet on the way up are the same ones you will meet on the way down”. I think it applies here too.

Please remember that, you will be thankful that you did.


Updating your FamBiz Vocabulary

Families have been around seemingly forever, and some family businesses go back centuries, but the words we use to describe and discuss matters in the field continue to evolve.

Family business as a field of study is still in its first handful of decades, and interest in it continues to grow.

Today I want to add my personal take on a few of the more important concepts, while hopefully updating some definitions for 21st century realities.

After each, there is a link to a previous post in which the subject was also discussed in this space.


“Family Continuity”

Families typically hate discussing “succession planning”. Well, nobody wanted to buy “death insurance” either, so, “Life Insurance” was born, and has become an undeniable success.

So it shall hopefully be for “Continuity Planning” too. It is far more pleasant to think about, talk about, and plan what is going to “continue” (i.e. stay the same) than it is to plan for things “after I die”.

I use “Family Continuity” rather than “Business Continuity” because while the famiy and the business are intertwined, my preferred focus is on the family. I will leave the business continuity matters to other professionals, who are in abundant supply.

See: “Say Goodbye to Succession Planning”


“Enterprising Family”

Most family businesses start small, and as the business grows, more family members can become involved. Other lines of business may follow, as well as more of a focus on the family than on any one business. The family business morphs into a “Business Family”

As this Business Family attitude and behaviour takes hold, in another generation or so, if all goes well, there is a critical mass of assets and people to become what many aspire to be, a multi-generation Enterprising Family.

Many families dream of this, few will achieve it. But you can’t get there if you don’t understand this first.

See “Family Business” Versus “Family Wealth”


“Family Legacy”

There are many definitions of legacy. I like to think about it as “what will we be known for and remembered for”. I say “we” because I strongly feel that it takes a family, through multiple generations, to truly carry out a legacy.

See “Family Business HR – Human Resources, or Human Relations?”


“Family Alignment”

If you want the family legacy, getting the family aligned is a key. Getting them all aligned requires dialogue. Notice I did not say “monologue”?

Two-way conversations, over an extended period of time (months and years) to get everyone on the “same page”, are a must.

There are roles and responsibilities for everyone in an enterprising family, and the clearer these are, the better. But they cannot be dictated from above.

Family alignment must be developed from within.

See “Family Alignment”


“Family Continuity Blueprint”

One of the best ways to get everyone on the same page, is to literally get everything on one page.

I have developed a “Family Continuity BluePrint” to do just that. I have shared it on a limited basis with others working in this space, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

It is my own derivation of the “Business Model Canvas”, designed just for enterprising families, who are concerned with building lasting continuity, to ensure their legacy.

See “Planning your Dreams and Dreaming about Plans”


“Multi-Disciplinary Fluency”

Of course any good plan will need qualified advisors to help set it up and to execute it. Combining family, business, and ownership means that it is unlikely that a one-size-fits-all advisor will be found.

Your best bet may be to find one person with the “multi-disciplinary fluency” to hold it all together (thanks to Dean Fowler for coining the term, and John A. Warnick for helping propogate it)

See “Take My Advice: Don’t Take My Advice”


“Trusted Advisors”

This overused term has almost become meaningless. If you don’t trust them, they should not be your advisor. If you are ever concerned that the advice they are giving you serves them more than you, that’s a huge red flag.

See “The Value of a Trusted Family Business Advisor”



Once you have made the decision that you are an enterprising family, and you want to work on family continuity, to ensure your legacy, that’s a big step.

Then it’s time to work on family alignment, using a BluePrint, to get everyone on the same page, literally. Getting help from advisors with multi-disciplinary fluency is key, and so is making sure that their first concern is your family, NOT selling you a product or pleasing their boss.

Ready to start?