An Old One, But a Good One

Writing a weekly missive here gives me the chance to share a lot of different ideas that I’ve picked up over the five and a half decades of my life.

Often it’ll be something recent that I heard from a colleague, or based on some interaction I just had with a member of a client family I’ve been working with.

And then sometimes, like this week, it’s something that has been with me for so long that I can’t even pinpoint how and when the idea first came to me.

There are times when I believe that I’m sharing something that’s already well known, and it turns out many readers are learning it for the first time, and other times when I think that I’m writing about a “new secret”, only to discover that everyone’s already well aware of the concept.

I’m not sure where this week’s subject falls, but I do know that it’s an old one, but a good one, for me.


Good – Fast – Cheap: Pick Two (You Can’t Have All Three!)

This applies to all sorts of services that one ends up needing at some point in time, from clothing repairs to home renovation projects and from legal services to therapy.

You want good service, and you’d like it done quickly, and you prefer not to overpay for it too. And if you expect to get all three of those things at once, you’re probably out of luck.

  • If it’s good and cheap, you’ll probably have to wait for it;
  • If it’s good and fast, it will likely cost you;
  • And if it’s fast and cheap, it’s usually a crappy job.

I’m sure that there are some exceptions, but when they occur, you should be extra thankful, because they are rare.


An Unexpected Bill in the Mailbox

My daughter unwittingly provided me with an opportunity to share this with her recently, as she related a recent visit to a medical clinic.

Instead of going to the clinic at her school, which required an online appointment, a friend had told her about a nearby walk-in clinic, so that’s where she went.

She was in and out in 20 minutes, with a prescription that took care of her problem promptly.

She was quite happy with it all, until a number of days later when she found a bill for $150 in her mailbox. 

As a Canadian in the US, she was also learning first hand about the differences in our medical systems.

When I told her about the Good/Fast/Cheap quandary, she understood it right away. 

When I told her I was going to write about it here, she asked me if the example was worth $150 to me.


What About Family Enterprise Services

When a family enterprise requires the services of professionals, the same rules apply.

In fact, sometimes you may be lucky if you get two of the three, as my mind goes to families who think that they can simply purchase everything they need for their family governance from professionals who offer to write a constitution for them.

Such families pay a lot of money for that work, and end up with something that’s nearly useless.

I believe the last place you should skimp is on your family, so when you want good service you should be prepared to pay for it.

Likewise, it’s always better to do family work before it becomes urgent, because then it will cost you more for the convenience.

The place where “fast” comes into play is in responsiveness, because when you’re paying someone to serve you, promptness should be expected and included in the price.


Please Don’t Ask Me for Fast and Cheap

When people hire me, I try to make it clear that I’m not interested in fast and cheap, because that would mean that it probably wouldn’t be very good, and I’m not interested in doing shoddy work.

While I know that some colleagues charge more than I do, I know that many others charge less. 

The kind of work I do isn’t often doable quickly, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not quick to respond, it’s more about the nature of family relationships and how long it can take for sustainable changes to occur.

And of course there’s never a surprise invoice in anyone’s inbox either, because that gets worked out well in advance.

Too Many Important Subjects Don’t Get Discussed

Everyone is familiar with the old story about pulling a jacket out of a closet and then serendipitously finding a $20 bill in a pocket.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago, that didn’t involve clothing or money, but I feel even luckier.

I was getting ready to go to a face-to-face meeting with a man from a local business family, and in-person meetings have not been a regular part of my routine lately, so it was kind of cool just because of that.

I don’t usually take many notes when I speak to someone for an initial meeting, because I think it’s important to give them my full attention and not seem like I’m interviewing them (because really they’re the ones who are interviewing me).

But I do need to make a genogram so that I can follow along with who all the people are and how they are related.


Oh, There’s That Old Clipboard

So I dusted off an old clipboard and opened it up to discover some notes from the last live conference I attended, in January 2020.

It was by the Institute for Family Governance in NYC, and there was the one-page brochure and some notes I had taken.

I noticed something at the top of the page that I had written:

            “On everyone’s mind, but on nobody’s agenda. K.G.”

I instantly remembered the quote, but struggled to recall who K.G. was, so I looked at the conference papers and at all of the names of the speakers, but there was nobody whose initials matched.

Finally, it hit me; there was also a half-day, pre-conference session the day before, where the presenter was none other than Kelin Gersick, one of the founders of the field of advising enterprising families.

Now it all made sense, and I could properly credit the quote.


You Are Always On My Mind…

Apologies for the Willie Nelson flashback, but there are some subjects that are always on the minds of people who belong to a business family, and there’s a subset of those thoughts that just don’t ever make it onto an agenda for discussion.

Speaking of flashbacks, I recall a first meeting with “Sally,” a mother of four, who told me “I’ve been thinking about this for 10 years, and talking to my husband about it for 5 years, and now, we are finally going to do something about it”.

I ended up working with their four offspring for about 4 years, and as I share the types of things we worked on together, you’ll understand that while the concerns of such parents are common and widespread, that doesn’t mean that they are easy to put into words and describe.

It’s also not always easy to know where to turn when you do decide, as Sally did, when it’s finally time to do something about it.


It All Boils Down to Family Governance, Again

As I wrote in Instituting Family Governance, Incrementally, the blog post that I wrote immediately after that IFG Conference, families need to make a commitment to doing this work, and to find someone from outside the family to help lead the way.

Nobody just wakes up one day and says, “Today we’re going to start to work on our family governance”.

What is on their minds is typically some worry, about how their offspring are going to get along once their parents are no longer around, at some point long into the future.

Somehow, that idea that’s on their minds needs to make it onto their agenda, and it usually doesn’t happen all at once.

Like Sally, who was thinking about it for 5 years before she even shared those thoughts with her husband, and then it took them another 5 years to start to move


From My Agenda to OUR Agenda

To go from one parent to both is already a huge step, but the bigger step remains, getting the rising generation interested and involved, aligned and engaged.

I worked with the four siblings, every month or so, together and as individuals, and got them used to working together on projects that were important to their family, especially as they approached their eventual intergenerational wealth transition.

It isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t just happen all by itself either.

Get it on your family’s agenda already.

Spotting Something “Wrong” Is the Easy Part

Every once in a while I see a couple of cases in quick succession that have a common thread, and that makes writing something here each week even easier for me.

As I think about the commonalities, I invariably recall other analogous situations where I’ve been involved in some fashion, and that allows me to paint an even more colourful picture for you.

We’re going to be looking at working with families where it may seem obvious what’s needed, and the temptation for a quick fix is there, but where we need to take a deeper look before reaching for the Band-Aid solution.


OH, Look!  I Found THE Problem

I recently started working with group of three siblings, who’ve been working together successfully for over two decades, having bought the company from their parents years ago.

These people were referred to me by some other local professionals that I know, which is always nice.

After I began the work, I encountered one of the folks responsible for the referral, who shared some of their ideas of what the family needed to do.

Everything they mentioned was perfectly logical and made theoretical sense, and all their ideas and advice were valid.

And, despite all of the positives, most of it is probably useless for the particular situation those siblings are facing at this time.

Spotting “the problem” is the easy part. 

In any family business situation, it’s actually quite easy to find something that could be done more formally or professionally.


Look at What’s Going Well

This made me think about a podcast I hosted a while back where my guest was Ken McCracken, a long time family business advisor from the UK.

Ken talks about the “Natural Advantage” of family business, and I really think he’s on to something, and most of us who work with families would do well to heed his counsel.

(Go Here for The Natural Advantage of Family Business podcast)

The gist of it is that they’ve been doing a lot of things right to get where they are and to have built the business that they are operating. 

Let’s give them credit for that, and not be tempted to run in there like a bull in a china shop because we are so smart and we can see something that we think could be done better.

They also likely already have a pretty good idea of what they could be doing differently, and if they ask for help with that, then fine, work with them to address that. 

But otherwise, try to resist the urge to look smart and point out your bright ideas.


Just Give Me That “Missing Piece”

As an example, I am just about to embark on a new mandate where the patriarch knows full well that he and his family need to work on their family governance, as he prepares to transition the ownership of the business he founded to his three offspring.

He knows that he needs for them to have a shareholders’ agreement, and some basic agreement on family governance (e.g. family charter, family compact, family constitution).

Unfortunately, he also believes that he should be able to simply “purchase” these things from a qualified third party.

Thankfully the members of the rising generation understand that the documents that will bind them are best to be co-created by them, and not delivered from on high from either a consultant or the guy they call Dad.


Simple Solutions Aren’t Sustainable

I want to conclude on another related request I had a few years ago that I wrote about in When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient.

In that case, an overseas colleague was looking for a way to structure the operations of a business being run by two siblings who were not on speaking terms.

Well, sure, I guess that there may be some way for them to structure their company so that they can continue to operate without ever speaking to each other, but…. I really don’t think that’s the best way to address the issue at hand.

Bottom line, if you think you can solve a family dynamics problem with a structural solution, your chances of success are miniscule at best.

But once again, it is tempting to reach for such a quick fix, because it avoids all that messy work that most people want to avoid.

Too bad it doesn’t work.

Are Messages Getting Lost in Translation?

This week I’m on the Family Governance beat once again, having recently attended a webinar on the subject of establishing a Family Council, and it got me thinking of some new ways to talk about the whole subject.

As regular readers know, being based in Montreal, Canada, I work in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French.

Being bilingual offers lots of interesting opportunities, including learning from groups that are outside of your “main” language.

English is my main language, but I do speak French every day as well, and I’m so glad that my parents “forced me” to go to French school all those decades ago.


Etablir un Conseil de Famille ?

A few weeks back, some francophone colleagues had set up an informative webinar to explain how some local enterprising families had set up their Family Council, why they had done so, and how it has been helpful as they plan for their family’s future transitions.

The webinar featured a small panel, including members of two such families to talk about their real lived experiences.  These included a woman in her thirties and a man in his sixties, so they had representation from both a “NowGen” and a “NextGen”.

There were dozens of attendees on the call, which is great because it confirms that families are interested in the idea of family governance in general, and in establishing a Family Council more specifically.


You Can’t Improvise It!

I was nodding along with everything that was being shared by the hosts and guests, glad to know that more families in my local area were interested in this and were now hearing from some folks who are doing the work.

Then I started to hear them use an expression, two or three times, that put a puzzled expression on my face.

               “La gouvernance familiale ne s’improvise pas !”

My French is slightly below 100% fluent, and this now seemed like it was from the part I was less familiar with.

It seemed at first that they were saying that you cannot improvise your family governance, which felt like it made a bit of sense, but in my head it took it way too far.


It’s All About Customization and Evolution

I always preach that you shouldn’t try to go too fast when working on family governance, and that you have to take things one step at a time and see how it goes, and then let things evolve in a logical way and at a pace that works for the family members.

I’ve actually toyed around with analogies that liken the process to “improv”, as in improvisational theater.

When my daughter was younger I signed her up for some Improv classes and ended up liking some of the key ideas, which enhance your creativity, teach you to “go with the flow”, and adopt a “Yes, AND…” mindset.

So to me, family governance, the way I encourage it, is in many ways very much like improv, but these folks were seemingly saying “Nope!”


Professional Driver – Do Not Attempt

Upon further investigation, I’ve since discovered that a better way to think of the translation is that you shouldn’t just make it up on your own.

The idea of an IED came to mind recently, as in “Improvised Explosive Device”, which is a fancy way of naming a “home-made bomb”.

It turned out that both the panelists were talking about the fact that their families had each engaged an outside professional to facilitate their Family Council meetings and to coach all family members around their participation on the Council.

You’ll probably guess correctly that I’m in total agreement with that point.


D.I.Y. – BUT, Not BY Yourselves

You cannot buy family governance, you need to build it yourselves, as I like to say. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourselves, it works best when several family members are involved and the entire process is led by an outsider who knows what they are doing.

That statement about not buying family governance isn’t perfectly true, because there are professionals who’ll try to convince you that you should buy it from them, and some do.

You could go that way and end up with a professional-looking family constitution, but it would of less value than even a preliminary and improvised attempt at creating a family council.

Coaching and Podcasting Combine for Lessons

Ideas for these blog topics come from anywhere and everywhere for me, and often they just seem to combine thoughts from one part of my life with something from a very different sphere.

And so once again I’ll write about how some seemingly random discussions have come together for me in a way that allows me to share ideas that can be useful to families and those who advise them.

Regular readers will likely be familiar with the fact that I’ve done coach training and certification, that I’m a huge fan of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI), and that I have also been on a number of podcasts, on both sides of the mic.

All of these will come together this week in this piece.


Listening Without Judgement Is Where It Begins

Whenever people ask me about the coaching training that I did years ago with CTI, I almost always end up sharing the importance of listening without judgement, because that’s one of the two main takeaways from that whole training. 

(The other is “being with”, for the record.)

Of course knowing that you need to listen without judgement and being able to actually do it does require a LOT of practice, but that’s a whole other post. 

(Perhaps Skills vs. Knowledge in Family Enterprises?)

Being able to listen to someone speak, while suspending your own personal judgement about what you are hearing, is not as easy as it might sound, and for some people it’s almost impossible.

But if you want to be a resource for people who work with their family members, or who own assets together with their siblings, you won’t get far without that ability.


It’s Much More Than Just Listening

At first I really only thought about the listening aspect, but I had a recent A-Ha moment that put this subject back on my radar.

During one of the recent weekly Tuesday Thought Leader webinars hosted by PPI, the guests were Sandi Bragar and Cammie Doder, who co-host a podcast called Money Tales, where they interview guests about the role that money has played in their lives.

Having been one of their guests, I joined this webinar with added interest.

During the webinar, Sandi noted that it was important not to judge people as you interview them, and I naturally thought to myself “yeah, listening without judgement strikes again”, but then it hit me.

They’re interviewing people, so they aren’t only listening, they’re also asking!


Asking Without Judgement

So many of our conversations contain questions and answers, therefore much of the listening we do comes in response to our questions.

As you work with people with the goal of helping them through situations, you need to ask about a lot of subjects. 

If you want to truly understand someone, which is pretty useful when you are trying to make their lives better in some way, it’s kind of important for you to get their true thoughts.

It should not surprise you that I think that what you ask them, and perhaps even more importantly how you ask them, can be pretty important.

Of course as mentioned last week in Yes, AND… Don’t Neglect the Follow-Through there is no magical “secret list of questions”

And even if there were, you need to know how to ask them (without judgement).


Being Curious for All It’s Worth

The good news is that once you realize how key it is to park your judgement at the door, it actually gets easier with practice.

Engaging and flexing your curiosity muscles can also be a big help, and if you truly want to be a trusted resource to a family, you really should be curious about what makes them tick.

Of course simply being curious doesn’t necessarily force you to ask less judgemental questions, it could actually take you even further in the wrong direction if you get too “inquisitive”.

I’m flashing back to when my kids were young and I can hear my son objecting to my dirty look with “What? I was only asking her a question” after an exchange with his sister.


Judgemental Family Members Are the Norm

It’s actually quite normal for the members of a family to judge each other; many have been doing it for decades.

We can’t expect them to change much after getting so much practice.

And that’s an even better reason why we, as the outsider, need to offer them something different.

It All Comes Down to Implementation

Back in June in Skills vs. Knowledge in Family Enterprises, we looked at the fact that knowing what should be done was nice, but if you didn’t know how to make sure it happened, you were bound to miss out on most of the benefits.

Since then, I discovered some more ways to get this point across, as well as some other related subjects.

I’ve decided to look at these scenarios as a question of “follow-through”, because too often lots of great work is done identifying what could be helpful for a family, but the good stuff never happens because things fall apart somewhere along the way.


Let’s Just Develop a Vaccine!

The most obvious analogy that jumps out is the idea that a vaccine can accomplish a lot in terms of eradicating a disease, as many examples throughout history can attest.

Unfortunately, our current reality demonstrates what happens when there’s a vaccine, but, not enough people are following through and getting the vaccination shot into their arms to have the desired effect.

I won’t delve into all the reasons here, because that’s not my beat, but I think I’ve phrased this in a way that explains that a vaccine without enough vaccinations doesn’t quite get us where we’d like to be.


Family Meetings, Sounds Good….

When it comes to my work with families, it’s actually relatively easy for many of the family members to understand the importance of the concept of having family meetings, so that everyone can get together to discuss important matters about the future, together.

For them to “get” the concept, unfortunately, is the easy part.

My Dad had a similar idea back in 1985, when he convened a family meeting with his three offspring and one son-in-law.  

It was mostly one-direction communication, not a dialogue of any kind, without any outside facilitation, and worst of all, no follow-up.

As a result, our next family meeting only happened again in 2006, and that was triggered by his cancer diagnosis.

Waiting 21 years between family meetings is “sub-optimal” as you might imagine.


Having the Skills to Make It Happen

We’re back to the idea of skills versus knowledge. Many have the knowledge of what should happen, but not everyone has the skills to make it happen.

You need to have people who are comfortable with the tasks involved because they are the ones who make the difference in the outcome.

Some professionals who work with families realize that they can add value to these family clients, and manage to convince family leaders to let them help, by facilitating a meeting, since it’s good to have someone from outside the family there.

That’s fine on the surface, but I know I’m not the only person who does this work who’s received a call from some well-meaning advisor who’s on their way to facilitating their first family meeting, begging “What questions should I ask?”.

If only it were as simple as having that “secret list of questions”.


Learning to Swim from a Book

I’ve got a new favourite example to illustrate this, that I now love to share.

But before that I want to rehash another version that I like to use when talking about learning Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), which was the subject of my 2019 book, Interdependent Wealth.

Learning BFST just by reading a book is really not possible, you need to actually work at it, by doing your own personal work on yourself, examining your own place in your family of origin, for starters.

As I relate this idea, I typically bring up the swimming analogy, saying that if you read all the books about how to swim, but have never been in the water, and then I take you to the middle of a lake in a boat and toss you overboard, that “book learning” may only have limited value.

Well now I have my cow example of the skills versus knowledge concept.


Got Milk? (You Need a Cow)

So let’s say you like milk or cream in your coffee, but there isn’t any around. But now you spot a cow in that field over there.

Well, you know that milk comes from cows, so you should be fine. 

Except….

Not everyone can safely approach the cow and come away with the milk.

It takes more than a list of questions.

You need to know how to milk the cow.

When a Nudge is Better than a Shove

Forcing People to Do Things Often Backfires

Working with people who are very involved with their family members in the management and/or ownership of a business brings with it a lot of variety, as you might suspect.

However, there are many things that repeat from one family to another with great regularity.

One of those “regular” occurrences is family members reacting negatively when they feel like they’re being “pushed” to do things that they’d rather not do.

 


You’re Not the Boss of Me

When the relationships in a family business involve members of different generations, it’s common for the elder family members to be the “bosses” of those who are part of the rising generation.

In such instances, “telling” your direct reports what they should be doing is usually acceptable, but even then, a more subtle approach would often get better buy-in and results.

But when family members are siblings or cousins, i.e. members of the same generation, the “you’re not the boss of me” attitude is quite prevalent, even in cases where there exists an org chart somewhere that actually denotes that you ARE, in fact, the boss of me.

And that brings us to the idea that a nudge, or actually a series of nudges, is typically more effective than a shove.


The Matriarch Who Felt Shoved Out

I was recently talking to my coach about a client who recently resurfaced in my life after a chance encounter.

I shared with Melissa that “Nancy” wanted to work with me again and I mentioned that I’d see what I could accomplish with her, by nudging her to take a fresh perspective on her situation, now that she’s no longer involved in the business she once led.

My coach suggested that for this client, perhaps a shove would be more effective, and that got me thinking about this a bit more.

My “go to” move is nudging, and that can work well a lot of the time – until it doesn’t.


Newton’s Third Law All Over Again?

Maybe a nudge, and then another nudge, and another, is the way to go, as long as that works, but then sometimes you need to switch it up and try a shove.

In Nancy’s case, since she felt like she was shoved out of the business, only a shove will work to dislodge her from where she is now.

This is making me think of Newton’s third law of physics, and the “Equal and Opposite” reaction.

I guess we’ll see how it plays out in this case, but I think I’m likely to remain a “nudge first” kind of coach.


Too Many “Yes Men”

In Revealing a Family System to Itself a couple of weeks back, I finished the piece talking about how it’s easier for someone from outside the family to reveal things to family leaders, and here we are again.

People in top positions in a business, family or not, are often surrounded by folks who tell them what they want to hear, because of the self-preservation instinct.

Could it be that sometimes family members gently nudge and go no further, and then it becomes even more important for an outside coach to do the shoving?

Maybe that’s just part of the courage such outsiders need to have to earn the money that we charge.


Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

The nudge or shove discussion is reminding me of a great book I read a few years back, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk.

It’s about using social media for business development, and if I recall correctly, what “Gary Vee” was trying to get across was the importance of “giving” in small steps, repeatedly, before “asking”, which was the right hook.

My analogy here is that it makes sense to nudge, nudge, nudge, first, and then, if and when it’s necessary, you can always resort to a shove.

Before you earn the right to shove someone, you need to build up their trust in you first, and the best way to do that is with nudges.


Connection Is the Key

When you become a resource for people as they work to improve their lives, their businesses, and their families, it really helps when you first take the time to make a deep personal connection with them.

The expression “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” is valid in most cases.

That’s true if you’re nudging, and especially if you plan on shoving.

Can You See What I See?

As someone who works with enterprising families as an outsider, there are naturally disadvantages to not being part of the inner circle, and a lot of work always goes into trying to play catch-up.

However, for every disadvantage there are always (yes, always, if you look hard enough) advantages too.

Some families hesitate to bring in outsiders for fear that they will not be able to offer much that will be of value.  

I beg to differ, and this week we’re going to look at one of the most important abilities that a skilled outsider can bring to a family.


Following Up on a Promise – Quickly

Last week in Hope – Not a Strategy, but a Strength I referenced a facilitation training program that I’d taken part in a few years ago, called ORSC (Organisational and Relationship Systems Coaching).

I really rushed through a key point because it wasn’t germane to that post, but noted a desire to deal with this sometime soon in another post.

Alas, here we are, it’s been burning at the back of my mind ever since and I need to get this done now, because in reality I cannot believe I haven’t yet shared this key learning.

Perhaps because it was ingrained so deeply I had forgotten to write about it, but here we are, let’s go.


A Family as a Relationship System

During the ORSC training, most people in my cohort worked mainly with organisations and groups of work colleagues, and these people were almost always NOT related by blood or marriage.

Whenever we did introductions and I noted my work with business families, eyebrows were raised, and I can’t help but think that some of my colleagues were happy to not have to switch places with me.

A family is indeed a relationship system, and it’s often much more complex than any system that’s simply employment-related.

A key learning from the training was just how much of a resource we could be as an outsider to any system, if we could help reveal the system to itself.

Because it took a while for me to absorb the full meaning of that statement when I was right in the middle of it, I’m going to assume that a bit of explanation and amplification would be welcome.


My Go-To Example: My Aquarium

When talking about systems theory with people I almost always talk about my aquarium as a ready example

The fish I love to watch swimming about do not know that they’re swimming in water, because they’re in it. Similarly, we breathe air but rarely think about it, until we dive into a pool and suddenly realize we crave the very air we took for granted.

Back to the aquarium, I, as an outsider, and, importantly as a curious observer, can see a lot of what’s going on, including many things that the fish don’t see.


Do We See First, Then Reveal?

You might think that a trained observer may be searching for clues about what’s going on within the system, and then reveal them for the benefit of those in the system, so that they can learn new things about their inter-relatedness.

While that does happen and is useful, much of what a skilled facilitator will do is work with members of a system in ways where the system members are discovering things about themselves and their relationships “live”, and the facilitator is learning these things at the same time.

It’s the outsider’s ability to act as an observer, one who’s not enmeshed in the system, that gives them the independence necessary to properly play this role.

When any group, especially a family, decides to have an important meeting that they plan to “self-facilitate” (i.e. a member of the system runs the meeting) I typically grimace and try to explain that their results will likely be sub-optimal.

Yes, I do realize that it can seem that I’m simply trying to sell my services when I do this, so I try to do this judiciously.


Great Value from New Perspectives

A trained outsider can offer new perspectives to those who are part of the system, and, I might add, will likely have an easier time revealing what they see to those on the inside.

You do recall what sometimes happened to “the messenger” in bygone days?

When it can be done via an activity where everyone has important revelations together, it’s even more powerful.

Yet Another Inspiring Conference

My favourite conference of the year just wrapped up, and once again I was not disappointed. 

Of course it would have been much better if we could have met in person, but we really did get as much as we possibly could have out of the virtual format, thanks in large part to the wonderful spirit of collaboration and sharing that everyone brought in spades.

The Purposeful Planning Institute, a.k.a. my “tribe”, has been holding its annual Rendez-Vous for over a decade, although the ’20 and ’21 editions were converted to “RendeZoom” instead.

I first attended in ’14 and vowed to never miss it, and I feel more strongly about that today than ever.

Now, let’s get to the cape story.


Opening Keynote Sticks to the End

I always get so much out of the very interactive breakout sessions, because there are always things to learn from colleagues who share about the ways they work with families.

There are also plenary keynotes of course, and for me they’re all part of a great package, but rarely the highlight of conferences that I attend.

Well “rarely” is not the same as never, and the kickoff presentation from Dr. James Pawelski was the exception.

The Red Cape / Green Cape metaphor that he shared stuck with me through to the end of the conference, and I brought it up over and over in the many breakout sessions that followed.


There Are Too Many Red Ones Out There

The theme of this year’s RendeZoom was “Courageous Resilience”, and Pawelski is the Director of Education in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

I probably don’t need to explain the relevance that Positive Psychology has on resilience, nor why resilience was chosen as a theme for a conference for those who work to help families flourish, seeing as we continue to be constrained in how we live our lives.

Pawelski’s metaphor was all about the prevailing attitude we each bring to our work. The red cape is the one preferred by those who concentrate on stopping bad things from happening. The green cape is worn by those who prefer to work on making sure that good things happen.

When you think about the people that legacy families hire to help them transition all their wealth to the rising generation, far too many of them wear red capes.

I wear a green one.


How About a Two-Sided Cape?

Pawelski went on to note that he preferred a two-sided, or “reversible” cape, with red on one side, and green on the other. Clever.

I really liked that idea and then I tried it on and it didn’t feel like it suited me

You see, because so many of the other people who deal with the families I like to deal with are already wearing the red cape, I don’t feel like the reversible one is the one for me, since it would almost feel like I’m trying too hard to fit in.

I might even be tempted to wear it with the red side out so I could be accepted by them, only to secretly go home and strut about my neighbourhood showing my true colour, green.


Adult-to-Adult Relationships Are the Key

When you get right down to what’s required to transition a family’s wealth from one generation to the next, much of it comes down to fostering proper adult-to-adult relationships between the generations.

Too many of the red-cape-wearing experts concentrate on creating ways to stop the rising generation from “screwing up” the wealth, and many parents worry that their wealth with “screw up” their kids.

 As someone pointed out to me during the conference, the term “adult children” is an oxy-moron; they’re either adults or they’re children.

When you treat them as capable and put on your green cape and work with them to make good things happen, you’ll usually get much better results.


Filling Up My Pitcher

During our 3 days together, I shared with many colleagues that I love Rendez-Vous because it allows me to refill my pitcher.

For 51 weeks a year, I pour out whatever I share to too many people who still don’t get it.

And then I spend a few days with my PPI Tribe and fill it back to overflowing again.

Thanks again to everyone who worked on pulling it off, see you back in Denver in July 2022.

Examples of Each Type Abound

Anyone who has spent any time in the family enterprise world has surely encountered a variety of different versions of sibling partnerships.

Sometimes sibling groups come together and end up working so well together that people are rightfully impressed by the way they can combine into what appears to be a “1 + 1 + 1 = 10” arrangement. That’s good, and maybe even great.

Other times, things might start off on the right foot, but after some time, and typically after the previous generation has fully exited, they may be lucky to find themselves staying even, i.e., where 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.  If you were expecting at least a 5, then 3 feels pretty bad.

And of course when you read about disaster family business stories on the front page of the newspaper (remember those things?) well then it’s often more of a case of (1 + 1 + 1) X 0 = 0, or maybe even a negative number, or downright ugly.


Avoid Ugly, Strive for Good

I don’t want to spend too much time on the ugly version, except maybe to say that before things get ugly, they usually go through some “bad” on the way.

I’d rather share some ideas on what you want to look for when things begin to turn bad, and encourage folks to cut their losses well before they get to ugly.

Let’s talk about some examples of good, and look at what families are doing right, and concentrate on the positive.

I was recently privileged to serve on a committee charged with determining the winners of a competition that some family businesses have entered to choose an annual award winner to be announced this fall.

The three finalists all shared certain characteristics that made me think of this topic, and I think there are definitely some lessons worth sharing.

 

From Autocratic to Democratic Leadership

Family business literature typically talks about G1 being a one-person show, that hopefully moves on to a sibling partnership in G2, on the way to becoming a G3 “cousin consortium”.

The three FamBiz we judged were all past G2 and yet they were each currently involved in transitioning to a group of their offspring for the first time, since each of the past generational transitions were of the “father-to-one-son” variety.

Perhaps one of the secrets to FamBiz longevity is to avoid passing the company down to more than one child or branch (?)

The biggest change that occurs when going from one leader to a few is that autocratic decisions no longer typically work as well, and are usually not deemed acceptable by the other sibling partners.

Learning how to “make decisions together” is something I talk about a lot when discussing the importance of family governance.

 

Family Governance? Not Again!

“Oh boy, here he goes again”, I can almost hear some of you thinking. 

But once again discussing the three finalist business families we looked at, they had all been working on their family governance for at least a few years now, and each of them had done so with the help of at least one outside expert brought in specifically for that task.

If you are hoping for a “good” sibling partnership, one key is to begin working on your family governance, so that it has a chance to evolve while both generations are still involved.

While each generation learns how to deal with the transitions involved in moving from one to the next, the siblings in the rising generation also learn how to work together effectively, or at least that’s what’s hoped for.

 

Avoiding Bad Before It Gets Ugly

The key to avoiding ugly is to be able to recognize a situation that has a likelihood of turning bad. 

Sometimes families recognize that certain siblings will not likely mix well in a business context, and so they transition to one of their offspring and find other ways to treat the others. That’s one way to avoid “bad”.

But once a sibling partnership exists, as soon as things start to get sticky, there’s still a chance to avoid “ugly”, but it almost always involves getting some outside help to allow the important conversations to happen in a productive way.

See Getting Legal Advice for your FamBiz vs. Lawyering Up for more on ways to react before things get too far out of hand.