What You Call People DOES Matter

Like most areas we encounter in our lives, the field of Family Business has a lot of familiar vocabulary attached to it.

Certain terms become common to those who practice their profession or craft in this space, and words and phrases start to take on common meanings among most of those who inhabit this world.

And sometimes people keep on using words long after better, more appropriate terms come along, and an extra effort needs to be made by some industry leaders to help others make important shifts.

There are also a number of terms that get used to describe certain groups of people that we serve, and these “labels” that get attached to people can become particularly ripe for scrutiny, and overdue for some action to move towards better identifying labels.

This is where I’m going this week, please join me in this exploration.

Succession Planning Vs. Continuity Planning

I can’t believe it’s already been 8 years since I wrote Say Goodbye to Succession Planning in which I first mentioned that because of the negative connotations around the term succession planning, forward-thinking advisors were now using the term “continuity planning” in its place.

When you talk about succession planning, the “NowGen” are forced to think about what things should look like after they’re gone, and few of them really relish such conversations.

Continuity planning feels like it focuses more on what needs to stay the same, regardless of who will be actively involved.

It’s a subtle change, but one that seems to resonate better with the people who are being forced to talk about a subject that many would rather delay or avoid.


NextGen Vs. Rising Gen

Another change in lingo that I wrote about years ago is the use of the term “rising generation” in place of next generation.

This one feels like it has caught on even better, possibly because much of the impetus for the change came from James E. (Jay) Hughes Jr. himself.

See: The Rising Generation in Family Business

For those unfamiliar with his work, if you are at all interested in this wealth transition world, he has written some classic books and has been one of the thought leaders for the past few decades.


Children Vs. Offspring

There’s one big change that I’ve been trying to champion that I hope will also become more mainstream, and that is to get people to stop referring to their children as “children” once they reach adulthood.

As someone recently pointed out to me, “adult children” is an oxy-moron; they are either adults, or they are children.

The problem with using that term is that we end up treating people as little kids long past the point where it’s healthy to do so.

I like the word “offspring” and have been trying to use it every time I speak or write about this. It seems like I’ve increased the tempo too.

I used the search feature on my website and typed in “offspring” and the first 20 hits I got were all from 2021.

I’ve heard parents in their 70’s referring to their offspring in their 40’s as “the kids” and it always makes me shake my head, especially when those “kids” have their own kids!

Heirs and Beneficiaries Vs. Human Capital?

Depending on the profession one comes from, there are also some terms that get used that make me shudder when they’re taken too far.

Those who draw up legal documents use terms like heirs and beneficiaries, and I understand that some of these terms of art are necessary in certain contexts.

But they can often take on a life of their own when those who have those labels ascribed to them are treated as somehow “less than” or somehow undeserving of their good fortune.

I realize that I’m probably going too far for some here, but I would be thrilled if people started to consider the members of their family as human capital, a term that has much more positive connotations.

Slowly but Surely, Change Is Coming

I believe that progress is being made in many of these areas, and that’s a good thing.

What you call people makes a difference.

Now if I could only figure out what to call myself, as I’ve gone from a “family business advisor” to a “family legacy advisor” to a “family legacy guide”.