Overdue 4-D Connections at FEC Symposium

So Refreshing after Years of 2-D

Far be it for me to declare an end to the Covid pandemic, but it sure feels like we’ve entered back into the land of face-to-face connections with colleagues and clients, both new and old.

I’ve just spent a few great days in Vancouver at the Family Enterprise Canada (FEC) Symposium, and I’m more energized than I’ve been in a long time.

The reasons for my positivity are varied, but mostly stem from so much pent up demand within me and others to actually spend time with other like-minded people, in each others’ physical company.

I can’t tell you how many times I shared face-to-face conversations with familiar people who I had only ever seen on Zoom, in two dimensions (2-D).

I even got so tired of my own joke about this, “So nice to see you in 3-D” that I decided I needed to go a dimension further, but you’ll need to stick around to the end for that punchline.

 

Let Me Count the Ways

FEC brings together two major constituencies, members of enterprising families, and advisors to such families who’ve completed FEC’s family enterprise advisor (FEA) designation. There are now over 400 FEA designates, and our numbers at this sold-out Symposium were well into triple digits.

I got reacquainted with several colleagues whose hands I’d already shaken in years past, and also to finally size up some people I’ve known for a while but whose height I’d been unable to assess thus far.

Not that that’s crucial, but more than one person told me that I’m taller than they expected from our online encounters, where Zoom is the great height equalizer.

I even had a chance to meet a former client in attendance, who brought me up to speed on their family’s progress since I last saw them a few years back.

I also slipped out of the hotel briefly to meet with a current BC-based coaching client who happened to be in Vancouver at the same time.

Thanks to CC who alerted me to his presence and for inviting me to their work meeting; it was so cool to see a group of advisors in the same room together working to develop solutions for a complex family situation.

 

Fun Being Back Up Onstage

By far the key element of my time there that created the most lasting memories was the fact that I had been recruited to co-MC the event over the two main days.

Getting mic’ed up and going up onto the stage to introduce all the wonderful session facilitators was an honour and a pleasure.

Getting to know my co-host, Keita Demming, and developing the rapport required to pull that off relatively seamlessly is a testament to his flexibility in dealing with my “Costello” to his “Abbott”.

The kind feedback I received from so many people, friends and strangers alike, will keep me pumped for months to come.

Something about being in a room full of family business types makes me feel like I’m in my element and that I’ve found “my people”.

 

True and Authentic Sharing of Experiences

The format of Symposium included a few breakout sessions where the family members and advisors went to separate sessions, but the majority of the time was spent together in plenary sessions.

There was lots of magic in those, because of they way they’d been ingeniously set up, which was quite well received.

The main room sessions were mostly panels moderated by seasoned family business advisors, where the panelists came from family enterprises.

The result was so much valuable sharing of true, lived family business experiences, which benefits both family attendees and the many FEA’s in the room.

 

So, What About that “4th” Dimension?

Alright, so what did I mean earlier when I teased about the fourth dimension? Well, so many of the people I’ve met working in this field during the past decade are more than just colleagues, they have become true friends.

And like many friends, when I see them for the first time in a while, hugs are exchanged.

It’s tough to replicate a hug in an online meeting.

Thanks to Covid, we now need to make sure a hug is welcome, and most were.

I’m looking forward to more 4-D encounters later this year, at the PPI Rendez-Vous in Denver in July, and FFI in Boston in October.

We All Know What Happens When We Assume

For me it was Mr. McGee, a High School teacher, who first shared the dangers of making assumptions. I cannot recall the context of this lesson from circa 1980, but I distinctly remember him writing the word “ASSUME” on the chalkboard.

He then said, “You know what happens when you assume?”

The class waited for the punchline. He then drew two short vertical lines, before and after the “U”, leaving three distinct words:

A  S  S   U  ]   M  E

“You make an ASS out of U and ME

That was over 40 years ago and it’s still with me, so let’s just say the message stuck.


And We Are ALL Guilty of It

I’m pretty sure most readers will have heard some version of this tale somewhere along the way, and if not, feel free to borrow the one from Mr. McGee.

And, not surprisingly, all of us are also certainly guilty of making assumptions, because, well, you can’t not make them sometimes!

But what if there were an antidote that we could dream up that could help us minimize those occasions where we risk making an ass out of each other, especially with important people in our lives, like our family members?

Well I’ve got good news, there is one. And we all have some of it in us, and we can improve with practice.

My title has already given it away, but for those of you who already got lost in my prose (and I don’t want to assume that you recall the title of this blog) it’s curiosity.


A Coaching Webinar as Source

The idea for this post came a while back when I was watching a webinar about coaching, and presenter said, “The greatest resistance to curiosity is assumptions”.

I jotted that down because I felt like there was some juice to be squeezed from it.

But as I thought about it from many family business contexts with which I am familiar, I decided to turn it around and focus on the assumptions that too many people make about family members.

Rather than looking at “resistance to curiosity”, I want to concentrate on using curiosity to overcome the many problems that come from not having enough curious conversations.


It Comes Down to Attitude

My guess is that senior generation family members are typically guilty of this a bit more often, but I’m sure it happens in every generation.

It typically stems from an attitude of believing you know things you just never bothered to verify.

“Of course the kids will want to work in the family business” comes to mind for me, personally.  In my case it also came along with a healthy dose of not leaving me any choice.

My Dad knew what was best for me, or so he surely believed. Of course his plans for me also happened to be what he thought was best for him.

He could have been much more curious about what I wanted, but he never allowed himself to go there, just in case he’d learn something he didn’t really want to know.


Someone from Outside the Family as a Spark

So how might one go about sparking the kind of curiosity that I’m talking about here?

When the group of people is always exactly the same, it’s easy to get into a rut, and there isn’t much room for curiosity.

But what happens when an outsider shows up with the group, and that person is curious and begins to ask questions to satisfy their curiosity?

This could be just the right way for some new subjects and ideas to land on the table for consideration.

There are many things I should have pushed back on with my Dad, but I did not, for all kinds of reasons, many of which are more clear to me now than they were decades ago.

Could a well-placed and well-meaning outsider have helped spark certain discussions that could have been started, so that I could shine a spotlight on some of the many assumptions he had made about me?


Recognizing That Something’s Amiss

Sometimes you know that something is amiss and if you take the time to ask what you’re assuming, you’ll likely be onto something.

If you can then get curious and actually ask questions so that you can learn, you’ll be going in the right direction.

Entering Uncharted Territory

This week we’re entering some new territory, in a number of ways. First off, I took up this topic based on a suggestion from a reader I’ve never met.

I received a LinkedIn message a while back asking me to talk about addiction and the role it plays, and was intrigued.

I also realized that this potentially huge topic can be a pretty big deal for some families who are trying to create and pass down a legacy, and yet I’ve yet to discuss it here, despite having written over 400 posts.

That all changes now, as I want to share my thoughts on what is also “uncharted territory” for many families, who are often unprepared for how they should respond when a family member has an addiction.

I decided to revisit a version of the “5 Things” blogs I’ve done over the years, much to the dismay of my wife, who wonders aloud why it’s always five things, and never four or six…


1.  You Cannot Change Someone Else

As much as we’d all like this to be different, you cannot change someone else. You can try, and many do, but true change really only occurs when the “changee” does the work.

This can be the most difficult realisation of your life, especially as a parent. 

When they have young children, parents can and do manage to create many of the changes they hope to with their offspring. 

Unfortunately, at some point, this ends. Then, the more a parent wants something, the less likely their children are to acquiesce.

If your instinct is to simply insist more forcefully, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

2. Look to Provide Help, Not to Punish

An initial reaction to a family member’s addiction might be to use some form of punishment to try to curb the unwanted behaviour.

Punishment, whether simply threatened or actually enacted, will often backfire and make matters more difficult to fix.

Nobody sets out to become addicted to anything. 

Yes, there’s often some behaviour involved that’s less than desirable, but by the time they reach the stage of addiction, it’s no longer an easily-solvable problem.

Offering help, in the form of support and understanding, will go much further, and hopefully get the addicted person to cooperate, as opposed to rebel, which is what punishment will often engender.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

There’s no magic wand that will make an addiction disappear overnight. 

These situations all vary, of course, based on what the addiction is, how long it’s been going on and how deeply affected the person is, and whether this is the first time or not.

Giving the whole situation the time required to be satisfactorily resolved is what I suggest, and it’s better to err on the side of planning for things to take more time (months/years) than less (days/weeks).

4. Work on Organizing the Rest of the Family

While the addicted family member seems to take up a lot of time and focus, you shouldn’t neglect the rest of the family.

In fact, I think it makes sense for most families to organize themselves to survive for the long term as if the addicted person will never get over whatever their particular affliction may be.

This is a variation on “plan for the worst” but also hope for the best.

If the addicted family member is putting the enterprise at risk, finding ways to minimize and eliminate those risks should quickly become the focus, and that means having different people assume certain key roles.

Making a plan that you can all work on together to get through this makes sense and should be a priority.

5. Bring in Outside Help to Manage It

Few families are well equipped to deal with such issues on their own.

Bringing in outside expertise makes sense for dealing with the addicted person, of course, but may also make lots of sense for the rest of the family as they deal with things in a new way.

I hold himself out as such a resource for families, so this suggestion shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone reading this, of course.

But an addicted family member creates emotional reactions that need to be managed.

You need to reduce the “reactions” and instead focus on a constructive “response”.

Ignoring the issue and hoping it will disappear rarely works out well.

It’s Usually a Slow Journey to the Top

As the world returns to more in-person events, I’ve been playing catch up with occasions to be with like-minded colleagues. I’ve just returned from New York where I took part once again in the Institute for Family Governance’s annual conference.

I also got in some family time with my sister, my nephew, and my son, so that was a nice bonus.

Since family governance is about improving relationships among family stakeholders, this opportunity of combining the conference with personal family catch-ups was a big plus.

When thinking about a subject like family governance, I normally like to look at it from each individual family’s perspective, since no two families should approach it the same way.

However, meeting with colleagues who all work somewhere in this space allows me to also take the pulse of the professional community to see how the subject is understood and received in general, and I’m left with mixed feelings on that score.


Caring Enough to Understand

Some of those who showed up didn’t seem to care enough to try to understand the family relationship aspects that actually create most families’ governance challenges.

Perhaps I was jaded by some interactions at my lunch roundtable, but the subject of the families and their challenges in establishing some sort of governance seemed far from the radar of many colleagues.

Having self-selected to come to this conference and sign up for a table to discuss “Family Considerations when Designing your Family Office”, I had assumed that they’d care enough about it to try to understand better.

Or maybe they didn’t understand enough to care; maybe some of each (?).

Enough about the negative, because as usual, the presentations contained many positive nuggets worth remembering and sharing.

Some Random Nuggets to Share:

Josh Baron kicked off the morning discussing Owner Strategy for Family Enterprises, and he reminded us all how important the owners of any business are and the roles that they can and should play as owners.

The group of owners is much more than whatever it happens to say in their shareholder’s agreement, and he was encouraging them to work together with intentionality.


What Does the IRS Have to Do with This?

A panel after that shared a couple of nice take-aways, notably that it’s important not to let the IRS decide things for you. 

This underscores the need to make plans in advance of anyone’s death, although I suspect that for many, those plans are actually precisely about making decisions that are very much driven by the desire to deprive the IRS of any of the family’s dollars!

They also noted that there’s a serious lack of role models for generational stewardship for families to learn from. 

I think this is largely true, and hopefully changing for the better.

On Family Business Boards:

Brendan Wall then shared his lived experience in his eponymous family enterprise, discussing How to Design and Implement an Effective Family Business Board.

Keeping the Board fresh by rotating directors on and off was noted, as was the need to put the right people on the Board in the first place.

He also mentioned that the qualities of who should be on a Board differ widely when looking at outside independent directors versus family members who sit on the same Board.


A G5 Keynote to Remember

Matthew Fleming’s keynote on the Importance of Family Values was fantastic, as he shared stories from the heart about his family, who are now in G5 (the fifth generation of his family), and how their multi-family office maintains their family’s values at the center of the work they do with all the families they serve.

He shared their model of the Four Pillars of Capital, and also left us with an existential question:

        “Is your family office becoming a bigger problem than 

                      the problem it was designed to solve?”

Hmmmm, as any family office heading towards a generational transition knows, this is an important thing to consider, as a need to evolve to serve the rising generation will emerge at some point.

More Nuggets:

After lunch we were treated to some wonderful examples of families who Use their Family Fortune to Serve their Community, as well as trip down memory lane for sailing fans, featuring a member of a three-generation family who repeatedly won the America’s Cup.

Next years IFG Conference in NYC is set for May 3, 2023, and I’m looking forward to being there once again.

I hope we’ll all be a few steps closer to the top of the family governance mountain then.

Aren’t the Three Rules “Communicate, communicate, communicate”?

This week I want to touch on one of the sacred cows of the family business space, and that’s the constant harping on the fact that improving communication is THE number one step that families need to work on.

Regular readers know that I fully acknowledge that most family enterprises are quite complex, and therefore the way that they communicate with each other can almost always be improved for the benefit of all.

This remains true, and almost surely will for as long as families choose to work together or share the ownership of assets as a group.

So I’m not planning on throwing communication “under the bus”, but I do want to shine a light on the way some people treat the subject, and simultaneously ignore a much less popular aspect of what it takes for relationships to be at their best.


So What Is It That’s Underrated?

Before I get to the underrated element, I need to give a shout out and a tip of the hat to the man who put this on my radar a couple of months back.

I discovered the Vermont Center for Family Studies almost a decade ago, when I was trying to figure out why people who work with business families should go through the trouble of learning about Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST).

At the time, the head of VCFS, Erik Thompson, just happened to be launching a training program for people curious about BFST, so I jumped at the opportunity to dive into the Bowen pool.

I soon discovered that this pool doesn’t have a shallow end, which I suppose is a good thing, since I did dive in.

So perhaps you think that understanding family systems is underrated, vis-à-vis communication, and I guess you’d be partly correct, but that’s way deeper than where I’m going.


Making Relationships Work Better

Families who continue to work together from one generation to the next need to constantly work on their relationships, because those relationships are crucial to being able to continue to make decisions together for the benefit of the family group.

Good communication will of course contribute to such relationships, but there’s a lot more to it than simply more and clearer communication.

Thompson now holds regular free online events on Zoom where he shares ideas that come from his BFST training that he now uses with his leadership coaching clients.

It was during one of these recent calls that he said the magic words that inspired this post:

       “Communication is Overrated.  Self-Regulation is Underrated!”

Okay, so any regular reader will know that at this point I jotted those words down with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I had just landed myself a blog topic.


There Are Two Parties in Any Communication

Whenever there’s any communication, there are (at least) two parties, one who’s attempting to deliver the communication, and someone else, who’s the intended recipient.

On which end do you suppose the self-regulation comes into focus?

This is a bit of a trick question, I’ll admit.

Your first inclination might be to consider the receiver of the communication, and the importance of not overreacting to what was said (or written). And that makes plenty of sense.

But, and this is where Thompson was actually pointing, too often it is the people who are delivering the communication who could benefit from working on their self-regulation.


Communication as a Weapon

He then related a scenario that came from the “couple’s therapy” realm that some may be familiar with.

Two spouses are encouraged to work on the ways that they communicate. One dives in head first and begins reading up and studying and taking communication courses, so as to be better armed for the task.

However, lacking the requisite self-regulation, they now use this “one-up” position to lord this over their partner.

I’m communicating properly, you’re not!”

Can you see how the communication “silver bullet” clearly missed the mark?

Can you imagine a similar scenario with family members who work together?


It’s Never as Simple as It Appears

This is yet another example where “how you are” (i.e. being) is more important that “what you do” (i.e. doing).

Self-regulation is the “being” part, while communication is the “doing” part.

Yes, continue to work on how you “do” communicate.

And, also focus on how you regulate yourself when you’re doing it.

Some New Ways to Look at Conflict in Families

Anyone who’s ever been involved in a family enterprise knows that the potential for conflict is never far away. 

Those of us who work in an advisory capacity for such families have seen every sort of denial and attempt to pretend that “our family is different”, yet those are actually quite rare.

There isn’t necessarily anything new under the sun for me to share here, but I did come across a couple of new angles on this question recently, and I thought they were worth writing about, if only to spur more discussion on the topic.


A Recent FFI Session on Conflict

The Family Firm Institute hosted a recent half-day webinar on the subject of conflict, and since two friends and colleagues of mine were among those presenting, I thought I’d check it out.

They did a nice job of covering the territory and the feedback was great. My take-away tidbit, though, came from a comment from another experienced practitioner in one of the break-out rooms.

She’s someone who not only works with business families, but has also lived the family business experience, having followed her father into this work.

She recalled a quote of his, which was the initial inspiration for this post:

           “We don’t run from conflict. We dance with conflict”

“Ooooh, I like that”, I thought, as I jotted it down. “This will turn into a blog post”.  (Thanks KSM)

Something Good from Social Media

The second different angle that came my way followed in short order, when I wasn’t expecting it, from social media.

I love LinkedIn and have found many treasures there, initiated plenty of relationships there, and swear that there’s nothing else like it for business.

But my go-to “regular” social media is Twitter, which I use mostly for news, sports, and politics, because I’m a bit of a junkie for those subjects.

But every once in a while, I get a great nugget there too, and this was once such case.

I follow Dan Rockwell, a.k.a. LeadershipFreak, and he shared a tweet about conflict that included this magic line:

                         “Conflict Is a Leadership Opportunity”

If you go to stevelegler.com and use the “search” function and type in “conflict”, you’ll find blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. that discuss conflict in various ways.

But I’ve never, ever, heard it put this way, and it struck me.


One Plus One Equals Five

So now we have a couple of elements to work with, and you may already see where I’m going.

We’re talking about dancing and leadership, and when people dance together, ideally, in most cases, someone takes the lead, and it helps when their partner is a good follower.

This metaphor actually has some legs, and the feet at the end of them are wearing their dancing shoes!

And we haven’t even brought in the dance teacher yet, who, if they’re any good at their job, will always play the appropriate level and speed of music so the dancers can succeed.


Willing Partners as a Starting Point

In order for any family to deal with their conflict, they need to acknowledge that it exists, and then someone needs to have the courage to take the lead and put it on the table and insist that it’s high time that the family face it and manage it.

Notice I did not say “make it go away”, because that’s usually not a very realistic expectation and can be a bridge too far.

It’s rare for conflict to completely disappear, but acknowledging it can usually allow people to discuss it in ways that they can learn to make some changes in order to be able to manage it.


Or Maybe You Need the Teacher First

It’s great when the participants are ready to discuss the conflict and try to dance with it by themselves, but sometimes there’s an unwillingness to engage from someone, usually caused by a fear of making things worse.

In such cases, it can help if you find yourself a “dance instructor”, who can then convince the other party that you can learn how to dance with conflict together.

Or even if the parties aren’t all ready for the dance lessons, the motivated party might begin searching for someone who can hopefully lead them to some agreement down the road. 

There are opportunities for leadership whenever there’s conflict. Who will step up in your family?

Why Succession Planning Fails…… Despite Mostly Good Intentions

We’re all familiar with expressions like “failing to plan is planning to fail”, which might lead one to believe that families experience poor outcomes because they never got around to planning anything.

While there certainly are plenty of those examples one could point to, that view is actually pretty simplistic, because there are in fact many professionals who are kept quite busy working with and for families in these important endeavours.

Yet despite the amount of time and expense that goes into these activities, the results are often sub-optimal.

This week I want to dig into some of the main reasons that continues to be the case.


“We’ve Already Done It – It’s Taken Care of”

For people like me who toil in the world of the “family circle”, where the relationships and human capital are key success factors, a common refrain we get when we speak to people from family enterprises about succession planning is “Oh, we’ve already done it; It’s done!”.

These well-meaning family members truly believe that because they’ve taken some structural and legal steps to address legal ownership and tax issues, that there’s no more work left to be done.

And because that work itself was long, costly, boring, and took them away from other important activities, the last thing they want is to revisit any part of it.

The professional advisors they worked with to get that important stuff done likely also led them to believe that they were now finished with this “unpleasant” work.


Making Plans for People Without Involving Them

So we’ve seen that thinking the work is all done is a common pitfall, but it’s often combined with an ever bigger misstep, which is not having all the right people at the table from the outset.

See: “Continuity Planning: Who’s at the Table?”

I know that this can sound like heresy to some, but when you’re making plans that will directly affect the next generation of your family, and in a very significant way, after all, it’s kind of crazy to me that so much of this work is being done without even so much as a discussion with those whom it will affect the most.

I wish that these situations could be the exceptions, but they are very much the rule.

Having the professional advisors of the parents draw up all the plans and agreements for the rising generation without even asking them what they want (or do not want) or telling them what they can expect, is very much the tail wagging the proverbial dog

But maybe that’s just me.


Not Keeping Everyone Involved as Things Evolve

Another reason that succession planning fails is again a variation of those noted above. This is where some plans were made, long ago, and even though many things have changed and evolved, those old plans remain on the shelf and are deemed “still good enough for now”.

Revisiting what was done way back then sounds like it makes sense, but we’ve got more important things to do now, and we will get to updating those plans when we get around to it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The business enterprise whose succession you planned for years ago is quite likely a very different business today.

Even more importantly, those heirs to whom you were leaving things when they were teenagers have also (hopefully!) evolved and grown into much more prepared adults, and their abilities, potential roles and expectations have also surely changed.


People & Relationships, Not Structures & Legal Documents

If you’ve noticed, there is a thread that runs through the problems I’ve outlined above, and that’s the fact that structures and legal documents, although important components of succession planning, are insufficient by themselves.

The people and the relationships between them, are a far bigger part of the picture, and always will be.

I know the subject can be delicate and having conversations about it can seem scary, and so most people want to avoid them.

But not having the discussions is even scarier. Making assumptions about your offspring and how they’ll handle what you leave them is fraught with potential traps and situations that can be avoided.

Family leaders who’ve achieved a lot of success expect to leave some sort of legacy, but too often they forget that this involves the people more than the financial wealth.

See Is Your Continuity PAL in Danger?

Notice We Don’t Start with “Go”

The “Blog Ideas” folder of my inbox is typically pretty current, as things I put there are either written about or else discarded within a few months of their arrival there.

This week I’m finally getting to one that stands out due to the dust it has gathered for over a year now.

A friend and colleague, Michael Palumbos, who I got to know through the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI) had sent out an email to many of our brethren in March ’21, with “Research Question” as his subject line.

He was polling a few dozen people who work with families on the “three things to do as a foundation” when beginning to work with them as a “family business coach”, as he labelled us.

I sent my ideas to him, he collated over 20 responses from colleagues, and he shared his distillation with us all as a thank you.

I don’t know why it’s taken me a year to write about this.


And the “Top 3” Is:

I’ve paraphrased the exchange between Michael and our PPI colleagues above.

Below is his version of what the responses boiled down to, verbatim:

  • Determine if the family is ready and willing to do the work.
  • Assess where the family is today and where they’d like to go.
  • Utilize family meetings to increase unity and education

Allow me to share my thinking around these three key pillars of working with any family.

1. Start with the Foundation – Are We Ready?

This seems pretty benign and simple on its surface. I can assure you that it’s anything but.

Some families will never be ready to do the work necessary to try to increase the chances of having a successful intergenerational transition.

One of the trickiest parts stems from the simple fact that a family isn’t one unitary entity, but a system composed of a number of different individuals.

Just getting to the starting blocks of working with a family on such a long-term project can be an accomplishment in itself.

The idea of hiring an outside person to work with the family can be scary for many, and is often a bridge too far.

It can be helpful if the person in the family who reaches out for assistance is from the current leading generation, but that’s not a guarantee that it will work either.

 

2. Where Are We, Where Do We Wanna Go

Once a family does agree to get started, because they believe they’re ready, it’s important to take the time to evaluate where they are, how they got there, and where they are hoping to go together.

When laying out the plan for an upcoming generational transition of leadership and ownership of family assets, those family members who are part of the system are all different, both in terms of their abilities and their wants and needs.

That’s why having an unrelated person there to help guide them and lead their discussions is key. 

Let’s just say that when I tell “Dad” something he might not want to hear, he will at least hear it better than if it came from one of his offspring. And that works with other generations too.

In terms of where the family wants to go, some have a multi-generational view, while others just want to get through the next transition, and either of those can work.

It’s usually simpler and easier to get consensus for the shorter timeframe projects.

 

3. Initiating a Series of Regular Family Meetings

Assuming that the family is ready and that they’ve done some preliminary work to have an idea of where they’re hoping to go together, the way to actually make it happen is centered on instituting regular family meetings.

These can be once a year, quarterly, or something in between. It might make sense to have them in quick succession when starting out and then changing the calendar later.

But you need to create a repeating process where family members will come together to discuss how the family is going to govern itself as they all relate to the business or the assets that they own together.

You need to schedule the next meeting before everyone leaves, and you need to know who’s expected to do what in the interim.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, which is why so few families actually make it work.

Very Important Words for Families to Understand

This week I’ll cover some ground that will feel quite familiar to regular readers, but will combine some elements in new ways.

I often spend time considering the specific words we use when we talk about ideas around working with families, and there will be some of that too.

And of course, the genesis of the idea for this blog will also be part of the scene too, because this week it comes from some folks I consider both friends and mentors.

Let’s get on with the show.


Teaching Family Governance to Advisors

I’ve been a proud member of the faculty of the Family Firm Institute for a few years now, where I was brought in as one of the instructors for the course on Family Governance. It’s something close to my heart and has long been the subject of my writings here.

When I joined the faculty, there were already some great folks teaching the many courses that are part of FFI’s Global Education Network (GEN) program.

Included among them are Kirby Rosplock and Dennis Jaffe, both of whom taught me when I was a student, and whose industry experience cast way longer shadows than mine.

It truly has been a humbling honour to work with them, especially as we were recently tasked with updating the course materials

It was during one of those meetings that the line from the title of this post was uttered, and then repeated.

That’s when I knew this would become a blog post.


An Evolving Vocabulary and Using the Right Words

The members of FFI are mostly advisors who work with enterprising families, and they enroll in the GEN program to learn from others, so using the right terminology is part of the deal.

Personally, I’ve tried to shy away from using the term “succession”, in favour of “continuity”, but most people still use succession, especially with the popularity of the TV series Succession these days.

So when Kirby blurted out “Succession without governance equals chaos”, who was I to debate her words?

And then later when Dennis reprised her words, verbatim, that was it, I had my money quote.

It does kind of summarize a lot, especially in only five words.


So What Do We Mean by Governance?

I’ve long known that the term “governance”, especially when related to a family, can elicit groans, skepticism, and a general “allergic reaction” from many, if not most.

I normally try to soften things by adding that family governance essentially boils down to 3 questions:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

I still talk about those, but today I want to add some meat to those, because they sound just a bit too simple and theoretical when you get right down to it.

Those “how” questions lead to a need for further clarification, around other questions that start with “who”, “when”, and “where” that typically get lost in the shuffle until it comes time to implement the governance.


What About the Chaos, and How Do You Avoid It?

Now the idea that “chaos” results from ignoring governance as an intergenerational succession approaches is one that some may doubt.

Well, if you want to tempt fate, “stick around and find out”, to borrow from a recent meme (a cleaner version of FAFO – see Urban Dictionary).

The basic questions posed above won’t answer themselves, and are best discussed:

  • well in advance of any issues, 
  • in as collegial an environment as possible, and 
  • with as many members of both generations as you are able to involve

Regular, Repeating Meetings to Discuss and Agree

The secret, if there is one, is to begin having a series of regular meetings, where, slowly but surely, you begin to learn to work together to find the answers to those questions.

You can’t be in a hurry to finish, because you will never finish. You’re playing the infinite game, it’s all journey, with no destination.

This can be hard for many to grasp, but that attitude is necessary to develop, and it can be contagious.

There won’t likely be any single memorable meeting, just many small decisions, made together, over time, that’ll enable your family to succeed with your succession, without the chaos.

Because succession without governance does equal chaos.

The Order is So Important

This week we’ll be looking at some ideas that are a bit different from those I’ve been sharing lately, so please join me as I “freestyle” a bit, while still trying to keep it real, too.

As is sometimes the case here, there’s kind of a convoluted story to how I got here, and I’m so glad to have a place to share these musings with others who appreciate my missives.

Contrasting a couple of words that exhibit some similarities is nothing new here (see On Observing and Absorbing in Enterprising Families and SFTU Versus STFU) for a couple of examples.

This week, we’re going to deconstruct “striving” and “thriving” to see what we can learn.

My first conclusion, which I hint at in the title, is that doing them in the right order is key. 

A second take-away involves the fact that family members from different generations should probably experience them at different times.


What Does It Mean to Strive?

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the verb “to strive”. 

Here are some Google results I like:

  • make great efforts to achieve or obtain something
  • struggle or fight vigorously.

I like those because the words “effort”, “obtain” and “struggle” really resonate with me when I think about striving.

They feel to me like they are all about what you put into something.


What Does It Mean to Thrive?

Now let’s move over to the verb “to thrive”. 

Here’s some of what Google comes back with:

  • grow or develop well or vigorously.
  • prosper; flourish.

Now when I look at words like “grow”, “develop” and “prosper”, what I see are the results of some of those same efforts that one has “put into”.

This exercise has already borne fruit for me, as the “input vs. result of the input” angle is an unexpected bonus for me.

Now let me get to the convoluted story to set up the bigger picture for enterprising families.


Beginning with the End in Mind

With a tip of the cap to Stephen Covey, let’s begin with the end in mind, which is how this topic landed in my lap to begin with.

I was on a Zoom call where a recently retired executive was talking about her exit from her prominent role in her organisation, and she smiled as she shared how it was all going.

“It feels like I’m thriving without striving”, she related.

I quickly jotted those words down, believing that that would be the blog post subject.

Lately I keep hearing about the fact that everyone in my field talks about preparing the rising generation of the family, while the senior, “NowGen”, who are expected to exit, aren’t considered enough.

“I’ll write about how important it is to find opportunities for them to thrive without striving”, was my idea.

Well, not so fast.


Where Else Does This Apply? (Everywhere!)

As I considered that after having strived for so many years during one’s career, later on it would be good to simply thrive, based upon all the hard work one had already put in, I then thought about the entry, as opposed to the exit.

Imagine my “A-Ha Moment” when I realized that sometimes, especially in very successful families, the rising generation show up and are already thriving thanks to the family’s success, while many of them have not been forced to strive for themselves.

Thriving without having strived seems like a bit of a disconnect.

If you know anything about the challenges that such families face, you will instantly recognize how relevant this can be.


Stumbling Upon a Fundamental Truism

Success means more when it is connected to one’s own struggles to achieve it. 

This reminded me of one of my favourite Zig Ziglar sayings about putting in the hard work early in your career:

If, early on, you do:                   what you’re supposed to do 

                                                      when you’re supposed to do it, 

Later, you’ll be able to do:       what you want to do 

                                                      when you want to do it.

In a family enterprise, there is a time for striving, which hopefully leads to thriving. There can then be many years of striving and thriving at the same time.

Eventually, the leaders become elders and can continue to thrive, but without necessarily having to strive as much anymore.

After all, there are younger family members who are there for that, and presumably they’ve been well groomed for that.