All FamBiz Are Different, And All the SAME

Lots of Ways to Look at Enterprising Families

One of the most interesting things I’ve noted since I began working with a variety of families who own and manage a business or assets together is how so many of their challenges repeat from one situation to the next.

At the same time, each has its own idiosyncrasies because no two families, no two businesses, and no two situations are identical.

This paradox is well known among those who work with many families, but each family typically views itself as “very unique”, which I recognize is not an elegant expression, but it does underline how so many families live under the illusion that they are alone in facing their particular challenges.


Let’s Take a Look Inside Each Family

Of course there’s another problem with looking at families and comparing and contrasting them with other families, and that’s the fact that none of these families is a monolithic unit, but rather a constellation of many individuals.

Much of the most difficult work with families comes from the interdependence between all of the family members.

If we picture a convoy of buses on a highway, and we are looking at them from a helicopter above, they all appear to be quite similar.

The more interesting stuff is what is going on inside each of those buses, which is where they will look and sound quite different.

It sure would be easier to deal with these busloads of people if each held a group of similarly trained people like an army unit, rather than each one containing a separate family group.


What Kind of SAMEness Do We Want?

Many folks like me who work with family groups employ a standard process, which allows them to determine how the members of the family are similar and different from each other.

I prefer to treat each possible intervention as unique, and I spend a lot of time discussing exactly what the family members are hoping to achieve with me, right up front, and I do not reach for any “cookie cutter” solution.

Regular readers know that I have a bit of a penchant for coming up with mnemonic devices in order to make things easier to remember.

See Is Your Continuity Planning PAL in Danger, and Start Cleaning Up Your M.E.S.S. for examples.

So it might not surprise you that I recently came up with a new one that spells out “SAME”.


Remedial Work: Engagement and Alignment

If you like creating mnemonics, you know that vowels carry a premium, because some of those 5 or 6 letters show up disproportionately in words.

Luckily, I have already written a lot about family Engagement and family Alignment, so I already had a couple of key elements ready to go.

The serendipitous thing about this instance is that I wasn’t looking for a way to come up with a creative way of remembering something, but it “found me” nonetheless.

I was a couple of weeks into defining a possible engagement with a family, and I was preparing my notes for a call with the patriarch.

I wrote down “engagement” and “alignment” in my notebook, and then I added a couple of adjectives that I thought encapsulated his three offspring, each of whom I had recently met over Zoom.

I happened to add the words “sincere” and “motivated”.

Are you starting to see what was about to jump off the page at me?


Sincere – Aligned – Motivated – Engaged

I truly felt that all three of these adult siblings were sincere in undertaking the work needed, they were generally aligned in their thinking about how they work together as family, they seemed motivated to do the required work together (which is not always the case), and they were already feeling engaged in the process with me.

So there I had it, they were all the S.A.M.E., despite being quite different individuals.

I feel like I now have a useful checklist with which I can quickly look at a group of people with whom I’m being asked to work, and see how many of these four ingredients are present.


Aligning Different People = Finding Some Sameness

Much of this work, in the “family circle” comes down to aligning people who are different, and that means finding ways where they are alike, or the same.

If you determine that they’re all sincere, motivated, and ready to engage, you will be well on your way.

And please remember that they are not all the SAME.