During one of my too-frequent hotel stays this summer, I noticed a bathrobe hanging in the closet of my room, and there was something about it that struck me. There was a tag sewn into it, with the letters “OSFM”.

This set my “blog antenna” into action, as usual, as I wondered at first what those letters stood for, and then after my “A-Ha” moment when it dawned on me, the antenna kept vibrating until I had come up with a way to tie this into my work with business families.

As the title of this post has already given away, OSFM stands for One Size Fits Most. True enough, for most people, the robe in the closet would fit. For those who know me, you have already figured out that I am one of the exceptions. So be it.

There was probably a time in decades past when the more all-encompassing term “One-Size-Fits-All” would have been used, but either through a realisation or some sort of legal threats, the robe makers re-stated the case to “most”, which is surely more accurate.

So what does this have to do with family business?

All business families rely on outside advice from professionals of one kind or another, even though most really do not enjoy the process. They will usually try to limit these occasions as much as possible, wanting to minimize costs and what they often perceive as non-family people trying to influence things that are too close to home, and none of their business.

But here is where the downside of this comes in. Because of this reluctance to allow outsiders to truly get to know and really help their family, what ends up happening far too frequently, is that these advisors will “recycle” solutions that they have used for other families.

The family ends up with a solution that probably does fit MOST families. But it will not always fit THEIR family.

The advisors themselves can be part of the problem as well, if they do not know how to ask the right questions of the family leaders, or if their accounting or legal practice is set up in a way where cranking through a file as quickly possible so you can get to the next one and send out another invoice is part of the culture.

Inter-generational transitions are complex, and few professionals understand all the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together.

When the lawyer works on his part, the accountant on hers, the wealth managers on theirs, and the tax specialist on hers, the client will often end up with what they believe to be a great plan.

The problem is that they can live with that feeling for many years before anyone learns the truth and that the pieces did not fit together very well at all. Not only will the one size not fit the family, it would not fit ANY family. Unless that family wanted a robe with different sleeve lengths, a non-matching belt, and polka dot elbow patches.

The complex planning that goes into the business or wealth transition from one generation of a family to the next MUST be a coordinated activity.

There is more and more recognition of the need for one of the advisors to have the “inter-disciplinary fluency” (term coined by Dean Fowler, I believe) to coordinate the process among the professionals.

“One size fits most” might be good enough for a lot of families, but I don’t think you truly believe that it is the best that you can do for YOUR family.

No professional will be able to truly be of service if you don’t both take the time required to work through a proper plan from A to Z.

And if you end up hiring someone who doesn’t fit into the hotel’s bathrobe, that’s OK too.