Even If It Hurts

Even If It Hurts

Last week, in The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”, while writing about people who are “Reliable”, I stumbled upon an idea that I promised to revisit in a future blog.

As I put it then, As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question”.

So expound I will.


Hurting Me, Hurting You

The key point at the root of my “eureka” moment came from this sentence:

“I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.”

These are two completely separate points, yet I’ve never seen them addressed together. That’s what made it so compelling for me to look at this again this week.


Tell Me the Truth, I Can Take It

One of the biggest problems that people at the top always face, no matter what kind of organisation they’re in, is having people tell them things that they “don’t want to hear”.

The CEO of a company will not always hear the truth from their underlings, not because those people are liars, but because most people have an aversion to telling their boss things that are not pleasant to relate.

The interesting part about this is that more often than not, they actually DO want to hear those things.

In fact, good leaders don’t want to be surrounded by “Yes-Men”.


How Long Will It Hurt? 

The reality is that hearing the truth, if it’s something that you really do need to know and you really cannot see yourself, only hurts for a very short time.

Strong leaders realize that they’re not in a popularity contest, and that sometimes you need to hear things that hurt.

In order to make progress, a reality check is often needed, and folks at the top actually need to have MORE people who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

It’s great if you have people upon whom you can rely to play that role.


Despite My Self-Interest

That was one side of the “hurting” question, now let’s get to the even trickier part.

The “even if it hurts them” aspect can best be summed up in one word, “self-interest”. Not sure if a compound word really counts as one word, but I’ll use my “editorial license” to make it so here.

If you aren’t familiar with the “Trust Equation” or the “Trust Quotient”, I suggest you visit this site:  so that you don’t just think I’m making this stuff up.

The denominator of the Trust Equation is “Self-Orientation” as they put it. “Self-interest” and “self-orientation” may not be identical twins, but they are most definitely close siblings.


Not Placing Blame

Business families are served by a variety of professionals from different industries, including legal, accounting, insurance, investment management and banking to name a few of the major ones.

Every person naturally brings their own perspective to the family’s situation, and that perspective is naturally rooted in their professional training, background and orientation.

It’s next to impossible for a banker to look at your family business from any other perspective than that of a banker, and likewise difficult for your attorney to look at things from a viewpoint other than that of your legal counsel.

I believe these things to be true in general in just about every profession, even though there are exceptions in all of them.


So What?

Well, if you’re looking for “reliable resources” you can count on, you really have to understand that getting 100% unbiased advice, especially if it might go against their own interest, will almost never happen.

And I’m not saying that any of your advisors are unethical or crooked in any way. They very likely believe that everything that they suggest to you is actually best for you.


What Are You Paying Them For?

Unfortunately for leaders of business families, most of the professionals upon whom they rely are paid for certain products and services that these people sell them.

Those who truly have their client’s interest as their top concern and only interest, are few and far between.

There aren’t many people who play that role but if you can find one, keep them!

Finding a reliable person you pay only for their counsel can be done.

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”

There are plenty of qualities we look for in people we want to work with. A few weeks ago I had an interaction that made me realize that there are 3 I find to be near the top of my list.

I was working on a project and needed some feedback from a potential partner, “Tom”, who hadn’t responded to my email request for almost a week.

So I emailed Tom’s colleague, “Nicky”, asking if the email address I had for Tom was current.

I got a reply within an hour, with a new email address for Tom, plus an explanation as to why Tom wasn’t checking that old email address very often anymore.

I replied to Nicky with a “thank you”, noting that I appreciated her being a “Responsive Reliable Resource”.

Hmmm, I thought, this could be a blog post!


Three Distinct Qualities

The three qualities all begin with the letter “R”, and there are also definitely some overlaps.

But today, I want to look at each of them separately, because there are aspects of each that are important enough to emphasize individually.



Let’s start with “responsive”. This one has everything to do with timeliness in getting back to you.

In today’s world, things move more quickly than ever, so a timely reply when you need something can be extra important.

Sometimes even after just a few hours, the usefulness of whatever you were asking for has disappeared.

In my example above, I’d already been in limbo for a few days, so a quick reply was what I was hoping for, and what I got.



Reliability is a kind of “catch-all” word, often encompassing the responsiveness mentioned above.

But I want to talk strictly about the quality of what people can deliver, without attaching the timeliness of it.

Not that the time element isn’t important, but because it is, it deserves to be looked at separately.

When I think about reliable people, I’m usually assessing them based on whether or not I can count on them.


Count on them for What? 

So let’s think about what it is that we’re counting on people for, besides, of course, responding in a timely fashion.

Well, first off, I want to believe that whatever I ask of them, they’ll tell me the truth, even if it hurts.

That works both ways, by the way. I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.

As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question.



The third of my 3 R’s is “resource”. Here’s a quick definition I just Googled:

       a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or    organization in order to function effectively

I’ve gotta admit I don’t love it, because the main thing that most people I deal with are looking for in resources, would have to fall under “other assets”.

I love the part about “that can be drawn on”, because that fits nicely. I’m usually looking for information and/or direction, often to other resources.


A “Resource” as distinct from a “Helper”

While doing some of my personal work with coaches over the years, I’ve begun to try to remove the word “help” from my vocabulary.

This arose once when working with Amie, my Bowen Family Systems Theory coach, when I mentioned wanting to “help my wife” with something.

Her reply was simple, “What if you were just a resource to her, instead of trying to help her?”

“A-Ha”, I thought.


What’s the Difference?

I hope some readers will get this instinctively and quickly, but I assume many won’t, so here’s my view on the difference.

A resource is there for you, to be drawn upon, if and when you need it.

A helper is there to help, but it often turns out that the help they’re bringing isn’t the help needed, and comes on their terms.

It also puts the helper in a “one up” position to the “helpee”, which has its own negative consequences.

We all need “Responsive Reliable Resources”.

And in a family business, it’s great to have at least one who isn’t related.

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!

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!)

Word purpose in a dictionary

5 Things you Need to Know: Purposeful Planning

Once again this week’s blog comes from a being an interested listener/participant on the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

The guest thought leader was Babetta von Albertini, who is a relatively new PPI Member, but who also heads up the Institute for Family Governance, which will have its 2nd annual conference in NYC in January 2018.

That these two groups fit together well should go without saying.  Purposeful Planning and Family Governance could almost be considered two sides of the same coin.


Case Studies

The title of the call was “How to Give Powers to Trust Beneficiaries” and during the first part, von Albertini covered the details of two actual case studies that she was involved in recently.

As I listened attentively, I had a bit of an “A-Ha” moment and I realized that Q&A time (where often the questions are replaced by comments) was fast approaching.

I jotted down a few notes about the cases she’d presented, and I concluded that she’d almost given a perfect definition of what Purposeful Planning is (or should be).


Jumping In

I was the first person to “Press 1” so I got the floor first (this isn’t unusual for me on many of these calls).

If you listen to the recording, you’ll note that my summary was well received by the host, the speaker, and subsequent participants.

This not only stroked my ego, but also inspired this blog post.

Without further ado, here are:

5 Things to Know about: Purposeful Planning


  1. High level, strategic planning

So many of the people who are “experts” in the field of estate planning or succession planning are actually specialists in certain “tactics” that are often employed in the process.

Purposeful planning takes things to a higher level, and looks at things from a bigger picture view, from a higher level.

It truly is a strategic exercise, and it involves the complex interaction of a variety of specialist fields.


  1. A team of experts, collaborating together

Because it is complex by nature, a truly strategic effort necessarily involves a variety of specialists.

But a bunch of experts who stay in their silos rarely makes for a great plan. The experts actually need to collaborate and work together to find the solutions that suit the family client.


  1. The family is at the center of everything

As I just alluded to, the client is the family, AND the client is at the center of everything. Purposeful planning looks first and foremost at the purpose of the wealth, which is to serve the family.

Too often, estate and succession planning are simply a compilation of tactics put together in a way that sounds great, in the same way that Giorgio Armani looks great on the mannequin in the store.

If it isn’t custom tailored for me, it probably won’t fit, and it will ultimately be uncomfortable and look silly on me.

But I will have paid a hefty price for it…


  1. Simplicity is valued over complexity 

The case studies that were discussed on the call also involved a very interesting key step along the way. There were many long legal documents, including a bunch of trusts, but there was also a painstaking review process of those.

The key step was a two-page summary that was prepared for each document, which laid out, in simple terms, what was included in the 60- or 80-page document.

That way, anyone and everyone could actually understand them and discuss them intelligently.

Wow, clarity and simplicity, what a novel concept!


  1. Beneficiaries are empowered 

One of the major concepts that I left for last but not least, is that part of the family-centric nature of purposeful planning actually strives to empower the next generation beneficiaries.

How many of us have heard of people who are “trust fund babies” who are actually severely hampered by their position as recipients of funds for little or no effort?

Purposeful planning tries to actually empower them to have a say and some control over their lives, and doesn’t treat them as less capable people who are simply entitled.


An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Members of PPI probably already “get” most of what I’ve written above, but sometimes we all need to be reminded of some of these things.

More than that, we need to grow the number of those who get it, and make this planning the rule rather than the exception.

Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid

Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid

I just returned from another fantastic Rocky Mountain experience: four jam-packed days, over two conferences, hosted by the Purposeful Planning Institute.

This has become an annual trek to Denver for me, which will surely continue for years to come.


Four Going on Five

I first attended PPI’s “Rendez Vous” in 2014 and returned again the following year. Last year, they added something new, an additional conference called “Fusion Collaboration”.

I decided to do both in 2016, and I jumped in with both feet again this year.

There was some confusion again, on the part of some attendees at either or both this week, about the difference between these two conferences.

I came up with an analogy that got a great response from everyone with whom I shared it, and the title of this post gives you a clue as to what it’s about.


Try Some of this Great Kool-Aid

Fusion Collaboration, the newer portion, is aimed at technical professionals who deal with business families, and families of wealth, and its goal is to introduce these more transactional folks to some of the other, deeper ways that these clients need to be served.

The presenters at Fusion are mostly specialists who work on the less technical aspects of wealth transfer, in what I like to call the “family circle”.

Many people used to call these the “soft side” (and still do), but now it’s more often dubbed “relational”, or “family dynamics”.

Fusion Collaboration is PPI’s attempt to get them to try Purposeful Planning Kool-Aid and “get them hooked”.


Let’s Swap Kool-Aid Recipes

By Wednesday evening, Fusion was wrapping up, and many of the lawyers and accountants and transactional specialists were preparing to depart, only to be replaced by a fresh crop of attendees.

The people who came for Rendez Vous, for this, its seventh incarnation, didn’t need to be enticed to drink the proverbial Purposeful Planning Kool-Aid.

Most of these people already subscribe to “Kool-Aid Aficionado” magazine, and they bring their Kool-Aid mixing and serving tips and recipes to share with their friends.

Besides the relational experts, many traditional transactional professionals who’ve become Kool-Aid fans also attend this conference regularly.


What’s In this Stuff?

If you’re curious about the main ingredient in this enticing beverage, it was nicely summarized by PPI’s founder, John A. Warnick, in one slide, which read:

                      Purposeful Planning   =   “Client-centric”   +     “Family-centric”

Most professional advisors already recognize the importance of putting the client’s needs and desires at the heart of wealth transition planning,

They also usually understand (in theory, at least) how important it is to bring next generation family members into the picture, preferably early on.


Secondary Equals?

Many of those who’ve traditionally driven the discussions around the pieces of wealth and business continuity, and transitions to the next generation, would consider themselves the primary drivers of this important work.

That may be true in the strict “transactional” sense, but more and more families are demanding a more holistic approach, which naturally involves a host of other experts from different, perhaps “secondary” domains.

Ideally, a collaborative group, or better yet, a team of advisors, will work together to figure out and design a complete inter-generational solution, along with the client family.

In order to do this work efficiently, and effectively, it really helps if the advisor team can work as collaborative equals.


Who Are They?

To give you an example of the types of specialists I’m talking about, here are some words and titles from some of the business cards I collected this week.

  • Legacy Advisor
  • Independent Trustee
  • Family Enterprise Advisor
  • Facilitator
  • Coach
  • Consultant
  • Psychologist
  • Gift Planner
  • Communications Specialist
  • Family Dynamics
  • Philanthropy Consultant
  • Family Legacy Advisor

And I know I’ve easily missed at least a handful of specialties.


July in Colorado 

After the opening dinner of Rendez Vous, as a table exercise, the “Elders” in attendance were asked to share with the “Tenderfeet” why we keep coing back every year.

At my table, most agreed it was the people, all of whom seem to come for the right reasons, i.e. to serve families better.

It’s also a great place to fill up on information, ideas, best practices, contacts, and lots of hugs too.

Oh, and Kool-Aid, of course!

Hoping to see you in Denver in 2018.

Would you like a glass, or a whole pitcher?

Links to previous Rendez Vous blogs:





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.

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.


Family Communication - How to handle mis-undestandings

No, YOU Don’t Understand!

No, YOU Don’t Understand!

This week I attended a presentation at a local University’s Family Business Center.

The guest speaker was a local legal professional from a well-known firm, and she was there to talk about things that business owners need to pay attention to when doing the legal end of their estate planning.

As she regaled us with her stories, a certain phrase came up a couple of times. When I heard it the first time, I was mildly amused. When I heard it again, I knew that it was going to be the subject of this week’s blog post.

The scenarios were the same each time. During her discussions with clients, at one point the client would say, “No, Janet, you don’t understand…”.


Who doesn’t understand whom?

After listening to the client’s explanation of what she did not seem to “get”, she would turn it around and retort with “No, YOU don’t understand”.

In my experience with families, these kinds of exchanges take place quite often, and they happen at several levels.

They happen within the family, between members of different generations, and also within groups of the same generation, such as ia sibling group.

They are also common between the family (or its representative) and its outside advisors.

When these types of exchanges take place, there is nothing inherently bad about them, at least on the surface. I am reminded of the phrase, “It’s not what happens to you that is important, it’s what you do about it”.


OK, so NOW what?

When the person who comes back with the “No YOU don’t understand” then goes on to lay down the law and force their viewpoint on the others, despite what others believe and understand and agree to, there will likely be problems down the road.

The best case scenario for this type of exchange is one where the family representative is dealing with an advisor and it is the family leader who concludes that they are not being well served, who then concludes with “And that’s why I am going to find myself a better advisor”.

The whole “I understand and you don’t” is so “I am smart and you are ignorant”, and “I know what is best and you must obey”, and it really has no place either within a business family or between a family and their advisors.


The Search for Clarity

One of my new favourite words is CLARITY. When someone asks what I can bring to their family situation, it has become my go-to first response. I will help bring clarity to the members of the family system.

Clarity, in my view, is not really much more than a common understanding. First, the family needs to be sure that they have a common understanding of where they are today.

People are sometimes tempted to rush into figuring out where they want to go, and I usually need to slow them down and make sure that they all know where they actually are first.

Once they all undestand and agree about where they are, then we can look at where they want to go, and of course, how they can get there. This will also require clarity, or, put another way, common understanding.


Inside the Family First, then Outside

Then, and ONLY then, should there be a meeting among the family’s advisors, again for clarity, i.e. common understanding.

Far too often I see situations where the outside experts are brought in with ready-made “solutions” (i.e. products and services) before anyone has done the work on becoming clear on what is required in that unique family’s situation.

Bringing clarity to a family is hard work and it takes time, but it can be done. Successful multi-generation families have figured that out.


FOR yourselves, Not BY yourselves

Here is what it boils down to:

As a family, you need to figure it out FOR yourselves, but that doesn’t mean that you have to figure it out BY yourselves.

You will likely need some outside help, but the person who helps you will be a process person, not a product person.

Achieving family clarity on “where they are now” and “where they are going together” is what it is all about, and the journey to get there is at least as important as the result.

But it doesn’t just happen by itself.



Getting Dirty without Getting Stung

Getting Dirty without Getting Stung

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who don’t mind getting dirty, and others who would rather just stay clean.

That’s an oversimplification, but let’s just roll with it. If forced to classify myself as one or the other, I am quite OK with being in the dirty group.

This week I was involved in organising an annual fundraising dinner at a non-profit where I have been volunteering for the past seven years.

During the evening, I had the pleasure of presenting an award to someone I have worked closely with from my first day there.


Dirty versus Clean

The award was named for a colleague volunteer of ours who passed away last year. The three of us had spent many a Thursday afternoon getting dirty together, distributing food in the organisation’s food bank.

It struck me that few of our fundraiser “committee people” or those who attend our evening events ever actually see the day-to-day workings of this community charity, much less get involved “on the ground floor”.

Likewise the people who come and volunteer in various capacities during the day are not those who typically come out for the evening events.

There are exceptions, but in general there are the “blue collar” types who don’t mind getting dirty, and “white collar” types who prefer to stay clean. One group contributes time and effort on the ground, the other supplies donations and connections at a higher level.


We need both types

Everyone who helps out is needed and appreciated, I’m not making judgements here, and all contributions are welcomed and gratefully received. My point is that most people feel at home in one group, but not both.

Likewise, in the realm of family wealth, advisors who work with legacy families exhibit a similar dichotomy, but from a slightly different angle.

Some work directly with the family members, while other professionals work in other specialized fields and bring particular expertise to the table for those families, but don’t typically meet all family members.


Content versus Process

On the content side, lawyers draw up shareholder agreements, insurance specialists create the best combination of policies to take care of tax liabilities, and advisors craft perfect estate plans, yet seldom interact with the actual family members whom they ultimately serve.

On the process side, we understand family dynamics, facilitation, mediation and coaching. Many come from a psychology background, and are more akin to blue collar, ground floor, and “it’s OK to get dirty” types.

The content/transactional advisors work mainly for firms of professional partners, who specialize in knowing the laws and regulations and have a knack for creating structures and documents that are used by the family as part of the estate planning process. To me, these folks are more akin to “white collar”, upstairs, and “I prefer to stay clean” group.

Once again, both groups are important, absolutely needed, and thankfully available to serve the family. There is a symbiotic relationship here, but who is serving whom?


Really Feeling It

In the charity example, the daytime staff and volunteers see the benefits of their work first hand. Those who come out only for the fundraising events are often told of what goes on, and they are often amazed but never really “feel” it.

Most advisors to families will recognize proverbial hornet’s nests in family situations and steer clear of them, not wanting to get stung, nor leave the family in worse shape.

Working closely with the family members, doing much more “process” work, I see the hornet’s nests too, but I don’t necessarily run away from them, instead I often prefer to point them out.

I am not suggesting that the content people get involved in the process stuff, but if they better understood the implications their work has on their ultimate clients (the whole family) they could do an even better job.


Connecting the Two

When donors come out to a charity event, we try to show them how important the work is that we do for the end clients.

Those who bridge these gaps, in charities and in families, are always necessary, yet not always appreciated. But we will always do it, because it feels so good and so right to make these important connections.

We don’t mind getting dirty, and we are not afraid to get stung.