It’s Not as Universal as You Might Think

The inspirations for these weekly missives have come from all sorts of places over the decade I’ve been sharing my perspectives here.

This is surely the first one that comes from writing a blog two years ago, mentioning it to a coaching client recently, and then sharing that experience with my coach afterwards.

So you get to see how the idea has evolved over the years as I’ve continued thinking about this subject.

Let’s start with that old post from 2021, called The Family HUG We’re All Looking For.

“Everyone Wants the Same Three Things”

That blog came on the heels of my teaching a course on Family Governance for the Family Firm Institute. (GEN 502 for the extra curious).

During the capstone webinar that year, one student claimed that all families want the same three things, i.e. Harmony, Unity, and Growth, which I then put into the obvious acronym, HUG.

At the time, I was pretty much in agreement with the fact that these were things that all enterprising families are truly interested in and concerned with.

Yes, they’re all laudable goals, as that post pointed out, but recently I’ve been questioning the universality of that triumvirate. 

Not So Fast! Coaching My Client

Recently during a Zoom call with a coaching client I’ve been working with for a few years now, he mentioned something from a recent blog I’d written.

I’ve gotta say it’s pretty cool to have a client mention something you wrote for a large audience but that spoke to him personally, even though his situation was not in my thoughts when I wrote it.

It was about the post On Evolution, Emergence, and Rebirth.

That blog ended with some thoughts on the fact that nothing lasts forever, and family branches going their separate ways shouldn’t automatically be seen as a failure.

This client has been working on engaging his rising generation in a number of ways, and was now second guessing himself.

Sharing the Experience with my Coach

A few days later as I debriefed this with my coach, I got to go over it again and had a bit of an A-Ha moment about this.

I walked her through the HUG acronym and came out of it with a new perspective.

Sure, every family wants the Harmony, we can pretty much agree on that.

But what about the Unity? Well, it certainly is nice when it occurs naturally, or even requires some encouragement, but is it really something for every family?

And what if pushing the unity too hard starts to weaken the harmony, then what?

Can We Even Agree on Growth?

As I went on, the HUG started to fall apart.

My client is in the fortunate position to have attained a level of wealth where the idea of growing it even more is not really a priority.

It’s hard for many in the 99% to understand this, but after a certain point, more wealth can be tougher to deal with than less.

Back to the HUG scenario though, if you are going for Unity, then you actually need the Growth, because otherwise the family will continue to get bigger and then the wealth better grow too!

Just talking through this made me come away with a fresh take on those in my field who make our living serving such families.

Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

A decade ago I was typically lamenting the fact most families were ignoring the “family circle” and only getting professional help on the structural side of their transition planning.

Now I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve gone too far in some cases, to the point where the families feel that they must be working on Unity or else they are wrong or bad.

I’m pretty sure we have not overshot in general, but the idea that there’s something that “all families” want or need must be questioned.

What Makes Sense for THIS Family, Now?

My conclusion for those of us who work with families preparing to transition their wealth to the next generation is to help them consider all the ways they can go about it.

As we get to understand their reality, we can then support them as they evaluate which path makes sense for their particular circumstances.

And, we also need to consider where they are in the arc of time in their transition. If we try to push them down a certain path too early, that can backfire too. Please be careful.