Co-Creating How You Will Be Together

Last week in Setting Expectations for Regular Meetings with Family, we ended up running out of racetrack just as I was getting to a key idea I wanted to share.

So because I enjoy having complete editorial licence over all my writing, I decided to kick this forward a week and address it here now, which will actually allow me to properly share it here in more detail than I would have as part of last week’s missive.

So much of what I write about here is borrowed, recycled, repurposed or re-shared from the work of other respected colleagues who work in this space, and I am eternally grateful for everyone else who openly shares their work with others in various ways.

It is therefore actually pretty rare for me to be able to write about something that I came up with completely on my own, which I will be doing here now.

“Let’s Have a Meeting # 0”

The origin of this idea goes back several years when I was working with a family client where I’d been brought in to coach the rising generation (G4) as they were preparing for various roles in the family enterprise.

After a year or so of helping them understand how to relate with and rely on each other, they were getting into the swing of things and had already worked together on organizing a couple of weekend family retreats.

Eventually, when it became clear to them and their parents that they were now ready to create a true “family council”, I congratulated them on getting to this point, and then suggested a first step.

“Let’s start with a Meeting # 0” I said. (Meeting Number Zero)

After digesting their somewhat quizzical looks for a moment, I continued.

“Let’s have a meeting with everyone who’s going to be involved in the family council, but we won’t jump right in and have our first family council meeting, we’ll make sure to lay a good foundation, and spend the time necessary to co-create what we want those meetings to look like and feel like”.


A Meeting About the Meetings

It would have been tempting to throw together an agenda for “Meeting # 1” and jump right it, but I recognized that because they were paying me for my guidance, it behooved me to do the hard work of slowing them down a bit.

I’ve since come to realize the importance of this, as I have deployed this idea on a number of occasions, pretty much whenever I’m involved with a group who are embarking on what is to become a series of regular meetings together.

A this point the idea of who will be involved has typically been agreed to, and the general reasoning behind the need for the meetings is also pretty clear.

What remains to be done is to set the stage for two key questions:

  • What are we going to DO?
  • How are we going to BE?

What Are We Going to Do Together?

This is the simpler of the two questions, as it falls under the heading of things we typically think about when we are talking about getting together.

The agenda of topics to be discussed is important, although before you actually begin, it’s hard to get into anything more than generalities.

In fact, if you already knew all these details, you wouldn’t necessarily even need to have a meeting, except perhaps to disseminate information.

As noted in Live from the Forum: Successful Transitions, when you are planning a “forum”, that entails plenty of open discussion, which theoretically can then go into a variety of unplanned directions (and that’s a good thing!)

How Are We Going to Be Together?

By far the trickier question you want to address in Meeting # 0 is how you’re going to be together.

See The Being/Doing Connection.

It’s something that will evolve, of course, but it’s worth spending some time upfront on expectations and desires here.

I hinted at a big part of this just above, when I noted that a “forum” or open discussion is desired.

In fact, the Meeting # 0 idea doesn’t usually apply in other circumstances where a “meeting” is essentially just an occasion to deal with the “same old, same old”.

We’re talking about an exchange of ideas with the goal of co-creating a future together, and that merits more time spent on building a clear, strong foundation.

What People Like to Know Beforehand

Whenever experts share what’s important for families to do to successfully transition their business to the next generation, the concept of holding regular family meetings is always at or near the top of the list.

That all sounds pretty straightforward and simple, doesn’t it?

Of course simple is not the same as easy, as I frequently repeat.

Losing weight and quitting smoking are also pretty simple to explain, yet obviously much more difficult to do.

Ideas, they say, are a dime a dozen. It all comes down to implementation.

So this week we’re going to look at one of the key parts of getting families on the right path to regular meetings, by properly setting expectations.

See Great Expectations in Enterprising Families

Start with WHY

Whenever you bring people together for a specific reason, it’s so important for everyone to be on the same page as to why they’re being asked to assemble.

If people are unclear, and/or people arrive with different understandings as to why they’re there, then you should not be surprised if your results are sub-optimal.

Of course that doesn’t mean that all meetings are always perfectly in sync with respect to this question, far from it.

It is, though, something I recommend you strive for, and constantly work to ensure.

Knowing why you’re getting together, and working to constantly keep that “why” clear and consistent for all attendees, is so important.

It’s essential to try to instill this for meetings with family members, around the transitions you’re working towards.

See Live from the Forum: Successful Transitions

What to Expect, Generally – Why vs. What

Assuming you can all get clear and agree on why you’re coming together, we can now switch over and start looking at the “what” questions, or some of the details.

In my world, “what” questions are a category that also includes some of the other important yet mundane details, such as “when” and “where”.

It’s obviously key to make sure that the time and place are clear, but once those are set, they’re quickly forgotten. Not so with some of the questions we’ll get to now.

Another relatively simple question might seem to be “what are we going to discuss?” which typically becomes another version of “what’s on the agenda”.

This seems straightforward, yet can become tricky as well.

Because we’re talking about what’s supposed to become a regular series of meetings here, having a “standard agenda format” is ideal, yet not something you can expect to get perfectly established right from the first meeting.

Some Key “Who” Details

We’ve covered some key details so far, yet haven’t even addressed the “who” elements.

Who’s invited, who’ll show up, who’ll lead the meetings, who’ll support that leader, and who’ll speak in what order, are all areas to be considered.

Again, the answers to these questions can evolve with time and vary as some trial and error naturally takes place.

Having someone who cares about such details and who works to make things clear and consistent is paramount.

Repetition and Reinforcing Habits

For such a series of meetings to get traction, it’s important to find a repeatable process to get everyone in the habit of understanding what is expected.

A regular opening to set the stage can involve a check in around good news or gratitude, or re-reading a family mission statement.

Early on, if things have been contentious, maybe re-reading agreed upon guidelines might be necessary.

A standard ending about setting the next date, going over what was agreed to, and who will do what in the interim can also make sense.

Engagement and Alignment Revisited

Families who are working on these transitions can struggle with getting all family members engaged, so it’s important not to set expectations too high. 

It’s normal for it to take time, especially when beginning such meetings comes out of the blue.

See Family Engagement and Family Alignment – Chicken and Egg

Remember that engagement and alignment need to remain top of mind, and when one is missing, you can sometimes work on the other and get success.

My “Meeting # 0” Philosophy

I shared more here than I expected, and I didn’t leave myself enough room to talk about my “Meeting # 0” (Meeting Number Zero) idea.

I came up with this a few years ago and have used it on a number of occasions with success, and now other folks I know have begun to use it too.

We’ll look at that some more next week.

On Dealing with Criticism in Family Enterprise

This week we’re taking a bit of a different tack, and entering into some territory that’s relatively new for me.

I can’t even really say how this idea came onto my radar, except to say that it first arose a little over a month ago while I was on vacation in the Caribbean. 

Perhaps a few days sitting on a beach created some new thinking.

It had been a few months since I last recalled hearing about the speech commonly known as “The Man in the Arena”, but something brought it front of mind for me in Antigua one day.

The gist of it that I recalled is that the person busy doing things should not pay too much attention to their critics, and so I decided to save it to my “future blogs” folder.

In the Spotlight of Potential Critics

As I researched the speech to get the more context, I learned that Teddy Roosevelt made this speech in Paris in 1910, which would have been soon after his second term as US President ended.

Presumably as President he was the subject of much criticism, and now felt he had some perspective to share with other “doers” who constantly suffer the slings of so many “watchers”.

A brief excerpt:


                         “It is not the critic who counts… 

                           …The credit belongs to the man who 

                           is in the arena, whose face is marred 

                           by dust and sweat and blood….”


Roosevelt’s speech was about citizenship in society, but that’s not the area I normally cover, as I typically write about families and the challenges they face when transitioning their wealth to the next generation.

Let’s pivot to that world now, and see what we can uncover.

Giving Credit Instead of Criticism

Quite often the person who founded a family business that becomes successful ends up getting a lot of credit for their hard work and ingenuity.

Along the way, though, they surely almost always have to have ignored many critics and persevered in spite of many naysayers.

At some point though, after achieving success the credit outweighs the criticism.

As the business passes from one generation to the next, this often changes markedly, though.

As any second-generation successor will attest, the criticism and second-guessing typically outweighs credit for a long time.

I suppose that in the end, they need to develop the same thick skin that their parents had to persevere in spite of criticism for decades before the credit finally comes.

Attitude Changes from One Generation to the Next

Of course one of the key differences for the generations that follow that of the founder is that many of the critics are actually other family members.

While cutting “Dad” some slack with an attitude of “it’s his business, so he can do whatever he wants with it” is normal, that attitude rarely survives to the successor, who often attained that leadership role in some sort of “coronation”.

Those who did not receive the crown can become the greatest critics of the one who did.

Taking a big leadership role in a family is fraught with risk and isn’t for everyone, and criticism can be one of the biggest drawbacks.

Surviving the criticism while awaiting the credit can be exhausting.

What About Tom Brady in All of This?

If you Google “the man in the arena” nowadays, you will come across references to a recent TV series with that title, featuring football star Tom Brady.

As I mentioned this blog topic to my son he asked “Are you writing about Tom Brady?”. I said “No, Teddy Roosevelt”.

But then I awoke the next day and realized that a Brady tie-in could work for me.

Having won the Super Bowl seven times, he’s received his share of credit from many fans, as well as criticism from detractors. 

He also benefited from playing for some great coaches over the years, most notably Bill Belichick.

Coaching as Part of the Solution?

Brady as the man in the arena certainly spent a good deal of time working through challenges with his coaches.

A good coach can keep you from getting too high on yourself when things are going well, while also boosting you up as needed when things aren’t going as planned.

For those who are busy “doing”, they certainly should be encouraged to continue moving forward, but while also taking time to reflect with someone they truly trust.

Back to the Water for More Analogies

A few of weeks ago, in Diving into a Family System Without Making a Splash we were in the ocean, playing with a metaphor.

Well, we’re going back to the water again this week, thanks to some new thinking I want to share here.

I’ve recently taken on yet another role in this wonderful field of ours, which has me re-doing some coursework I did over a decade ago.

As part of my training to become a “project advisor” for teams enrolled in the Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) program, I’m observing each of the seven modules of the course over the coming months.

While sitting in on the Facilitation and Communication module recently, I was part of a background discussion with the instructors and the team responsible for the course deliverables.

What Needs to Be Done Vs. Who’s Qualified to Do It

While the enrolled participants were in a breakout room doing a role play, we talked about the fact that some former students would sometimes think that having done a quick two-day workshop on facilitation immediately qualified them to run complex family meetings with clients.

The vast majority of students come from a specialized technical profession and quickly recognize their limitations and rightly hesitate to offer themselves up as skilled enough to play that role without additional training.

But there are always a few who overestimate their ability and underestimate the complexity, not to mention the damage they can cause.

While the module on facilitation is meant to serve as a primer so that students understand what families need to think about doing with respect to having regular family meetings, it was not designed to make people skilled experts.

And that’s where I began to think of the analogy that we’re going to jump to now.

My Pleasure Craft Operator Card

I mentioned going back to the water again so let’s look at what you need to have to be able to operate a boat in Canada.

For the record, I obtained my Pleasure Craft Operator Card a few years back, making me, at least theoretically, qualified to operate a boat on the open water anywhere in Canada.

If you own such a boat, however, I strongly suggest that you not allow me to operate it, because I really don’t know what I’m doing, never having really driven a boat before.

My wife grew up on a river with a boat just outside her back door, and hence has decades of experience in everything concerned with safely taking a boat out on the water and bringing it and everyone on it back in one piece.

I play the Gilligan role to her Skipper, although I certainly bear more of a resemblance to the latter.

In case my point is not clear, taking a quick test of my knowledge on boating does not, in any way, give me the skills to safely operate a boat.

That Looks Like It Could Be Fun

So let’s see if we can put the analogy together with the point I’m making.

Taking a boat out onto the lake or river certainly looks like it could be a lot of fun. Let’s face it, that’s part of the attraction.

It’s also not as easy as it looks

There’s a show on YouTube called Boneheaded Boaters of the Week that you can check out if you don’t believe me.

There is no equivalent show about underqualified people leading family meetings, leading to suboptimal results.

Facilitating family meetings can also be fun, which is probably why some people want to try it.

But, staying in the water for a moment, if you just read a book about swimming but have never done it before, would you want me to drop you off in the middle of a big lake for your first attempt at it?

Skill, Confidence, Comfort

Almost a year ago, in On Clergy and Family Meetings, I shared a story about someone who had been a hospital chaplain, who now worked for a multi-family office.

I noted that I believe he’d be qualified to run family meetings because he had certainly experienced what it’s like to be in the room with a family during a difficult time.

He clearly has the skill and confidence to walk into a situation where a family is trying to make important decisions together during less than ideal circumstances.

Feeling comfortable playing a key role in that environment is not something everyone is cut out for.

Back to Vermont in January, Again

My annual calendar of events is probably longer than that of many people.

Kicking off each year, there’s a unique event I’ve been honoured to be a part of, and regular readers will recognize it, as I almost always write about it here.

I’m just returning from the annual SG-FECC, the world’s only Family Enterprise Case Competition, where I’ve participated as a judge almost every year for the past decade.

The fantastic team at the Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont has been doing this so well that they’ve truly earned the distinction of the “World Cup of Family Business Education”.

Student Teams from around the Globe

Every year in early January, a couple dozen teams of students descend upon Burlington Vermont to compete in a business case competition unlike all others.

Each case deals with a situation involving a family enterprise, and anyone who works in or with such companies knows they’re quite distinct.

Such cases are also quite different from the other 99% of cases taught in business schools.

During the two days I judged, I saw presentations from graduate teams from three different Asian countries, two from Europe, plus one each from Canada and the US.

And that’s been the type of global reach this competition has had since day one.

Such a Small World After All

Just as is the case with all the other events I attend annually, it’s all about the people.

The world of family business is very much a niche, even though family businesses are a huge part of the economy everywhere around the world.

It just seems like those who work with such enterprises, as advisors, consultants and academics, are a relatively small circle of people, and everywhere I go I run into people I know, which makes it that much more enjoyable.

And yet once again, as happens every year, I always meet new people too; I got to serve on judging panels with a handful of new friends again this year.

Leadership Roles for All

One of the aspects of this case competition that never ceases to amaze me is the quality of the young students I meet every time.

The judges and the coaches are the proverbial adults in the room, but everything else is done by the students.

In addition to several dozen competitors whose average age is somewhere in the low 20’s, those who do all of the legwork are student volunteers, over 60 of them every year.

In what is clearly a meritocracy, I’ve yet to meet anyone who was less than 100% professional in all my interactions with them over the years.

Students apply for these positions and the best ones move up the ranks in subsequent years, providing lots of leadership opportunities.

Hopes for a Bright Future

I always leave with a big smile, and high hopes for a bright future for the world, after being with a slew of bright young people who can and will change the world.

Add in the fact that many of these people will enjoy careers in the field of family enterprise, and it gets even better.

When I think back to when I was a student, preparing to take on a role in the business my Dad had started, there was no mention of family business anywhere around any university.

I suppose my timing just wasn’t good, as I finished my undergrad in 1986, which coincidentally is the same year that the Family Firm Institute came into existence, which can be considered the birth of the field.

Plenty of Winners, as Usual

The team that won the Graduate League was from the Sasin School of Management in Thailand, while the Undergraduate winners hailed from Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

While it is certainly nice to win, I really don’t think that there are any losers at this event.

Like so many things, the shared life experience for all of these young people is what it’s all about.

Part of me feels a bit guilty that I was able to drive back home in about an hour and a half after judging on Friday, while most of these teams face a long return back home.

Another part of me feels jealous though, that they get to do it with their teammates, searing in the memories of their once-in-a-lifetime trip.


The Field Continues to Evolve

During the past decade or so, my views on how best to advise families around transitioning their wealth have evolved greatly. 

I’d like to think that they remain a bit ahead of the curve vis-à-vis the world of professionals who work with enterprising families, although the field as a whole seems to be doing its best to progress as well.

As the thinking around the type of advice and resources families require makes progress, I think it’s a good time to revisit another related question.

I touched on some of this recently in Not Everyone Wants to Be Hugged not too long ago, and some feedback I received has me returning to this week’s topic.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda – Revisited

We had already looked at part of this back in ’22 in Some Woulda Coulda Shouldas for Family Enterprises. 

As more and more professionals get exposed to examples of families who’ve had success in the types of more “family-centric” wealth transitions, I think it’s important to not get too far ahead of ourselves.

I’ve been coming across examples of families who’ve been strongly encouraged by their advisors to pursue ways of remaining tied together, even when the family really was not cut out for that much heavy lifting.

I suppose that in many ways it’s better that more professionals now recognize that there are better ways to go than the old fashioned practices where the rising generation family members are kept in the dark and dictated to, but expecting all families to want to all stay together isn’t necessarily optimal.

Wielding “You Should….” Lightly

After Not Everyone Wants to Be Hugged went out to subscribers, I got an email from a regular reader thanking me for bringing this up.

It came from someone whose name most readers would recognize, so it was even more meaningful to me.

One small excerpt stood out: 

“But turning shoulds into coulds is really healthier for the family.”

Just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should.

And just because one family was able to do something, that doesn’t mean that every family will be able to make it work.

“Results Not Typical”

If you watch TV commercials that promote some method of weight loss or some way to get rich quickly, you’ll be familiar with some of the “fine print” that is often included as a disclaimer.

Phrases like “Results NOT Typical” may appear on screen for a few moments, probably at the behest of their legal counsel.

I like to think that when we hear from families who’ve successfully transitioned their enterprises down through a few generations, we should also be cognizant of the fact that these results are far from typical.

As I wrote last year in Working with Exceptional Families – Redux, such families are exceptional in the true sense of the word, i.e. they are the exceptions to the rule.


Leave the Prescriptions to the Doctors

More recently in Turning Need into Demand – Lessons from Big Pharma we looked at the fact that large pharmaceutical companies had found ways to get consumers to ask their doctors for specific drugs as a way to increase demand.

While that feels a bit suspect in some ways, let’s consider what that looks like in the context of today’s post.

I started out lamenting the fact that some professionals are encouraging clients to do things that may or may not be suitable for their situation.

The best solution for any family is almost always one that the family is able to co-create, together.

Doctors can and should give prescriptions, but as an advisor to a family, we shouldn’t be prescribing anything.

Guidance, Options, Timing

We need to recognize that we’re talking about a process, not an event, and we need to make sure the family understands this as well.

That helps everyone keep in mind that there isn’t one pill to take or one structure to implement.

As professionals who have done similar work with other families, we should be well positioned to provide guidance to families, and outline some options that they may wish to consider.

Facilitating conversations around such options can become the most important part of this work, as we help the family members make informed decisions about how they feel things could work for their particular situation and desires.

We can’t be in a hurry to finish either, because while the decisions the family needs to make are very important, they shouldn’t be treated as urgent.

This work is best done slowly.


Finding the Right Level Is Key

One of the aspects of my current career and life right now that I truly enjoy but had not anticipated is that I get to speak with a wide variety of people on a regular basis.

Some might think that I spend too much of my time simply interacting with just about anyone who contacts me, and every once in a while I’d have to agree with them.

A while ago in Chemistry Is a Two-Way Street, I mentioned that I kiss a lot of frogs while searching for a few princesses, but that’s only part of it.

Many of my blogs are inspired by my many interactions with colleagues in one form or another, and I always get something out of every peer interaction.

But this week’s post was motivated by a recent conversation I had with someone who sought me out for some career advice.

What to Do, and How to Be

The ability to find and contact people in your field of interest has never been greater than it is today.

I’d like to think that if I were at the beginning of my career today, I would avail myself to the opportunity to reach out to those doing the kind of work I aspire to do.

The truth is, though, that I’m not sure I would have both the confidence to try and the ability to withstand the possible rejection at a younger age.

So when people who are around the same age as my own children do reach out to me, I do answer their requests as opposed to ignoring them, and I do set up a call with them and share my thoughts with them.

While this speaks to my actions and what I do, I think it has much more to do with how I am

Let’s hold that thought for a moment, as we’ll get back to it later.

“So I Should Be More Aggressive”

As I was speaking with this young woman from across an ocean, I suggested some actions she might consider taking, in order to better position herself for success.

At one point she nodded and said, “So I should be more aggressive”.

As I wrote that quote just now, I considered ending it with a question mark, but chose not to. As I recall it, she was making a statement, not asking a question.

But that didn’t stop me from offering her my “answer”.

“No, not aggressive”, I replied.

“I think you should be proactive and intentional, there’s a difference”.

The Unconscious Limits of Aggressiveness

This young woman did not come across the least bit aggressive during our time together, and I believe that quality will stand her in good stead throughout her career.

Most people will agree that there are some gender differences that still persist, whereby women who are perceived as too aggressive are judged rather harshly.

However, being proactive is not something that suffers the same drawbacks. And neither does being intentional.

My view is that it is possible to be too aggressive, but much more difficult to be too proactive or too intentional.

What I Do Versus How I Am

Let’s get back to the doing versus being idea we touched on earlier.

While it certainly is true that the way you are influences what you do, I think it’s more the other way around.

That is, what you do, habitually, becomes the way you are.

And maybe the key word in that sentence is “habitually”.

I work with families, where two or more members of a family actually work together, which can lead to some friction.

The good news here is that habits can be changed, slowly but surely, over time.

This takes practice of course, and also, intention.

Intentionally Being Less Aggressive?

It’s beginning to feel like we’ve come full circle, as we’re right back at being intentional. If you think this was cleverly planned, you’re giving me too much credit.

As I’ve shared before, writing these weekly posts is a major way for me to process my thinking, and this post is a perfect example.

You can, in fact, intentionally work on being less aggressive, and it starts with being conscious of one’s actions and how they are being perceived by others.

Such consciousness and awareness isn’t always present, however. Some gentle, non-aggressive feedback can often be very valuable in such cases, assuming it’s welcome!

It’s Not a Chicken and Egg Situation

Legacy is one of those words that evokes different feelings in people depending on a lot of personal factors.

For most of us, it isn’t something we think about a lot and when we hear or read the word, it will typically pass without much resonance.

For some, though, especially as we get older, legacy can become something that begins to take on more importance.

I’ve dealt with this subject here on occasion over the years, but this week, inspired by a quote I saw on LinkedIn recently, we’re going to take a fresh look at it, from a whole new angle.

For reference, I did touch on this earlier this year, in Leaving a Legacy They’ll Be Proud Of.

Back to David York’s Well

One of the people whose writings and speeches have been at the root of a number of blogs of mine over the years is friend and colleague David York.

Normally whenever I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him speak, a post based on what I heard has quickly followed suit.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that he has nudged me once again, although this episode comes as the result of a single sentence he recently posted on my favourite social platform.

It read, simply:


             “You Cannot Leave a Legacy Tomorrow

                       That You Aren’t Living Today”


If you need a moment to pause and let that sink in a bit, then you know how I felt when I saw this.

Of course I quickly went on to send it to myself so that I wouldn’t forget to share this here.

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Just Doesn’t Work!

This idea of having to live a legacy today in order to leave one tomorrow, immediately conjured up an expression that most people will be familiar with, that gets thrown around when discussing the wonderful subject of parenting.

Those who like to tell their kids what to do, while behaving in ways that are not aligned with those words, are probably familiar with the facetious expression, “Do as I say, not as I do”.

Another more general version is that you need to “walk the walk”, because you won’t succeed if all you do is “talk the talk”.

Actions speak so much louder than words, and as York points out, this also applies to one’s legacy.

Actions Speak Louder Than Money

When people become successful financially, they quickly learn that their wealth can create a number of shortcuts that are not available to those lower down the wealth pyramid.

This is wonderful in many areas of their lives and enjoying the benefits of their hard work is part of the reward.

However, when they begin to believe that such shortcuts are applicable universally, in every area of their lives, that’s when they sometimes learn an important lesson.

Money can fill in a lot of gaps in one’s life, but not all of them.

Back to parenting, I know that most people who play the parent role can identify with the idea that money is not an adequate substitute for time spent with your offspring.

And so it is with legacy. Money alone cannot buy it. And I believe that that’s what York was driving at with his message.

People + Assets = Legacy

This harkens back to a post I wrote way back in 2017, Is Your Continuity PAL in Danger, where we looked at the fact that without “people” willing to carry out your legacy, the assets that you accumulated would not be sufficient.

That blog was inspired by Tim Belber, and I think that York’s quote takes that a step further.

Those people who will be carrying your legacy forward after your time on earth is over necessarily need to have been inspired to do so by seeing your actions while you were alive.

If all you do is finance them to do something, without them having seen you model the behaviours, the likelihood of creating a sustainable legacy shrinks dramatically.

If You Haven’t Lived It, You Can’t Leave It

This message is not reserved for the wealthy, of course, as it applies regardless of one’s socio-economic status.

At lower levels, though, there are typically no illusions that a legacy will survive unless it is built upon actions.

I believe that York’s message was aimed straight at those we were discussing above, who somehow think that their financial wherewhithal can buy them something without putting in the sweat required.

Govern yourselves accordingly.

Another Look at Human Capital, Family Style

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to serve on a number of boards and committees in various areas of my life.

Of course it typically feels good to give back in time and effort to causes one holds dear, but there’s much more to it than that.

The opportunity to be part of something and shape how it will move forward is also significant, and a great reason why many people choose to get involved in such service.

One undervalued part of such an experience, though, is the chance to continue to learn.

As someone who toils in the area of family governance, any situation where I’m part of how anything is being governed is a valuable (and valued!) learning opportunity.

An Organization Taking Its Next Steps

I’ve been part of an international organization for almost a decade now and have served on some committees for its annual conference for most of that time.

We’re currently going through some big changes as we prepare for a future where we’re evolving from the work of a founder, and now need to put in place a more sustainable structure, one that’s more about shared leadership.

Naturally there’s a whole “meta” thing going on here, as what we are doing mirrors the work many of us do when we work with family clients who are going from their first generation founder to a sibling leadership team.

I was happy and proud to have recently been asked to join the committee that is charged with initiating and overseeing our governance and recruitment processes.

People as a Strategy

During our initial meeting as a committee, the head of the group, who also has a seat on the Board of the organization, had us spend some time on figuring out how we all saw our mandate and how we wanted to be together.

As someone who’s been involved with families as they set forth on a new journey around how they want to govern themselves, I was in familiar territory here.

Thankfully, because the other members of this group had been well selected, we all felt that this was time very well spent.

But just as we all felt at home spending time on seemingly unproductive activities, we all know that in most business settings this could be viewed as a waste of everyone’s time together.

And then the leader of our group quoted someone (sorry, I forgot who it was, and Google unearthed several possible sources) who said “Our people are our strategy”.

All Our Heads Were Nodding

At this point all of our heads were nodding, as our small group understood that the strength of our whole organization was in its human capital, and it was important for us to maintain that moving forward.

When working together with family members, it isn’t always easy to get such solid agreement. 

So many other issues can arise when everyone is related, and the freedom to add or subtract people from the group is much more limited, or at least can be tricky.

I’m going to pivot in an unexpected direction now, as I just had an A-Ha moment as I wrote this.

The Right Seats on the Right Bus

Because it’s typically much harder to get rid of a family member than someone who isn’t related, perhaps a reassignment of seats is more realistic in many cases.

Much like the committee we were discussing earlier, which was hand selected, putting the right people in the right seats is key when you are working with a family enterprise.

And, thankfully, once you’ve achieved a certain size and maturity, there can be a number of different places where family members can be placed for positive effect.

As noted a few months back in Supporting Roles in the Family Enterprise, various family members can occupy a number of different roles in support of the family’s overall success.

Addition by Subtraction Is Also a Thing

There’s always a balance that’s in play when finding the best place for everyone.

You need to find people to play important roles, but at the same time you can sometimes need to find roles for people.

Don’t forget that sometimes you can make something better by adding someone, and at other times you can make something better by removing someone.

Hopefully your family isn’t a hotbed of addition by subtraction, but sometimes it’s a reality you must face.

Testing My Message for Resonance

I recently returned from a quick swing through the Toronto area, along with some new business partners.

We met with a number of folks I’ve already known for a while, along with some new faces.

Having recently aligned my services for family enterprise clients with a group of like-minded professionals, we did a little “road show” to explain our methodology and offering to potential collaborators.

These visits allowed me to repeat a favourite message of mine on a number of occasions, to a varied audience, which helped me to gauge its resonance.

I’m happy to say that most people truly got it, and so I’ll address it here once again, along with a new twist.

Unfortunately, this new idea won’t be a panacea, but I hope it will stimulate some thought among readers, which is always a goal of mine here.

Getting Clients to Realize They Need Us

I’ve long understood that the type of resources and services that enterprising families could benefit from are not necessarily very obvious, even to those families who face the challenges that they do.

Working with family members or co-owning assets together presents some significant yet predictable challenges, but the families themselves typically think of themselves as unique.

Of course each family is unique, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other families who have successfully faced and overcome similar challenges to theirs.

The way I’ve explained this is to say that while there is a huge need for what we do, that doesn’t nicely or neatly translate into a similar demand for these services.

That message, the one about the fact that there’s a large need, but not necessarily a huge demand, was the one I repeated at each meeting.

Most heads nodded in agreement, as I had expected.

Big Pharma Seems to Have It Covered

Anyone who watches TV, especially programming from the US, will be quite familiar with the multitude of pharmaceutical commercials with which viewers are constantly bombarded.

The drug companies spend millions coming up with products that solve for a condition from which many people suffer.

But in order to get those people to buy their product, the end customers need to learn about the existence of this magic solution, so that they can then go see their doctor and ask for it.

Of course it wasn’t always this way, but it seems to be quite prevalent now, so I think we can conclude that it must be working.

Rather than focusing on pushing their product through the medical community (which they surely also continue to do) they create awareness through their commercials to instead pull the demand through via the end users.

“Ask Your Advisors About Family Governance”

So whereas we’re all familiar with phrases like “Ask your doctor about Blekthrypligo”, somehow a similar “Ask your advisors about family governance” doesn’t sound like it holds as much promise.

This field is continuing to evolve, though, and has a lot of room to grow still.

There are many players from a variety of professions who serve and interact with families every day.

These people can see and detect issues that each family faces, even though they may not be in a position to work with the family to resolve these needs.

Our hope is that once other professionals are aware of our offering and ability to become additional, complementary resources to their family clients, the necessary introductions will be made.

Turning Supply into Demand, One Family at a Time

This requires these other professionals to have an abundance mentality, and not fear bringing in outside specialists with complementary skill sets.

I wouldn’t say that this attitude is prevalent or even widespread yet, but it does feel like we are moving in that direction.

In some fields, notably financial wealth management, it seems to be moving a bit faster.

Collaboration in this space continues to be a challenge, but progress is happening.

With time, and with more and more people concentrating on serving the families and not just their enterprises, we can make a bigger impact.

Not every family needs these kinds of resources all the time, but as a generational transition approaches, complexities increase and “structural” solutions are often insufficient for handling “relationship” issues.

Families don’t typically handle these challenges well on their own.

But reaching out for guidance and assistance doesn’t have to be a challenge.