Blocks of wood with DIY letters

For enterprising families to remain successful over generations, they will eventually need to begin to take their family governance seriously.

As a family grows, and as their wealth becomes more complex, they need to figure out how they will address important questions relating to ways they’ll make decisions together, how they’ll communicate, and how they’ll solve problems as a group.

The very idea of going down this road can be frightening for some, but it doesn’t have to be.



A Bank Slogan to the Rescue

The idea for this post came a few months ago when I was in the lobby of a downtown office building, which also housed a large branch of one of Canada’s major banks.

While killing time because I was early for my meeting, I was looking around and I noticed a banner for one of the bank’s investment services.

It read:

“Invest FOR yourself, not BY yourself”

Hmmm, I thought, that’s pretty straightforward and quite clear messaging.  It also happens to apply, in a way, to my ideas around family governance.


FOR the Family, BY the Family

If you’re familiar with my writing, you likely already know that when it comes to family governance, I believe it really needs to be done “For the family, by the family”.

But, I never said it needed to be done by the family, by themselves!

In fact, I can think of a number of reasons why a family shouldn’t turn the development of their governance procedures into a complete “Do It Yourself” project.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.


sunset and a lighthouse


Get on Track, Stay on Track

Developing governance systems is actually quite a project.  And, it’s often a project that really isn’t anyone’s “job”.

Sure, getting started and keeping it going often falls to one or two key people, but it’s never the only thing that they have to worry about.

Hiring someone to guide you in this project means you also have someone who will keep things on track, because it’s really pretty easy to let things slide if nobody is making sure that things are continuing to evolve on a more-or-less regular basis.



Third Party Neutral

Establishing family governance naturally involves getting a number of people together to discuss many important details.

Even though the people are related, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll always agree on everything.  Discussions can get personal at times, and that’s another reason to bring in an outsider.

A trained facilitator will also bring an objective, neutral viewpoint that just isn’t there when the only people around the table are family members.



Things Don’t Happen By Themselves

An expression that I use frequently is “things don’t just happen by themselves”.

I guess I already covered this in my first point, but it bears repeating.

An outsider who comes in with a mandate to make things happen is more likely to help the family persist, even in times when they begin to feel like they’re not making progress quickly enough.



Hire the Expertise You Need

Enterprising families usually have a wide variety of human capital to draw from, as many family members have useful talents that help the family continue to be successful.

However, it’s pretty rare for a family to have exactly the expertise required to lead the development and implementation of their governance procedures.

The good news is that there are people who know what needs to be done and can be brought in as the important resource that the family needs.



Architect, Contractor, Decorator

When you bring in such an advisor, you’re looking for someone who is partially an “architect” to get the design right, but also partially a “general contractor” who will help build it.

As things progress, continuing on my building analogy, you will also want to benefit from that person’s expertise and experience as kind of a “decorator” who helps the fine-tuning as well.



Guidance and Facilitation

Ultimately, you will need someone who can provide the guidance you need as well as the facilitation required to get the family to come up with the systems themselves.

Ideally the family will co-create their governance.  You cannot just “buy” your governance from a consultant, although that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who will try to sell it to you.

I suppose you could “save time” and buy it, but most family members won’t buy into a system if they weren’t part of creating it. It just won’t stick.