Collaborating for Co-Creation as the Goal

Working with members of a family and trying to keep them engaged and aligned towards common goals can be both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

While many family situations can already seem complex on the surface, when you go just a little bit deeper, they often seem even more complicated.

It can take a lot of work, or labor, to make progress, and this week we’re going to look at a couple of take-offs from the “labor” aspect to help us see some ideas in new ways.

 

Things Don’t Just Happen by Themselves

Regular readers may have noticed that I like to harp on the fact that important things do not simply occur, they take effort and intention

Now, if you wanted to summarize “effort and intention” in one word, you could do worse than arriving at the word “work”.

We’re back in the land of “labor” again, which happens to be a key root word of the verb “collaborate”, where the “co” brings in the concept of working together with at least one other person.

When talking about the challenges of working with members of a family for the common good of that family, collaboration is typically at the top of my list of good ideas to help surmount such challenges.

Allow me to elaborate on this.

 

Wait, There’s “Labor” Again!

Yes, indeed, I snuck in another word with “labor” smack dab in the middle of it again; seems like work is never far away.

In fact, the similarities in the words “elaborate” and “collaborate” are what launched me into this blog idea in the first place. 

And, as has occurred in the past, a meditation recording is at the root of this idea.

I’m not sure if my hearing is going, but while listening to a session one morning, the speaker said “elaborate” and for some reason “collaborate” bounced around my head before I realized that that wasn’t the word I’d heard.

 

The Verb Versus the Adjective

Now my mind started jumping around (this is NOT how an ideal meditation session goes) and I ruminated about the verb elaborate (“elabo-RATE”) versus the adjective (“elabo-RUT”).

But it eventually calmed down again and I got to wondering how these words, elaborate and collaborate, might be useful in examining how families can do a better job of making sure that they’re engaged and aligned around how to best transition their business, or their wealth, from one generation to the next.

The fact that they both have “labor” as their root, and that I harp on the fact that this requires work, had me thinking I might be on to something.

 

What About the “E” Versus the “Co”

Let’s look at the difference the prefixes make, maybe that can give us some clues. 

Elaborate can be both a transitive or intransitive verb, and explaining that is beyond my pay grade and a perfect chance to remind readers that my elementary schooling was all in French.

But Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions:

  • To expand something in detail
  • To work out in detail
  • To produce by labor

I like the way that “work” and “labor” both show up, and I’ll come back to the inclusion of “expand” later too.

Collaborate, on the other hand, is all about:

  • To work jointly with others or together
  • To cooperate with….

 

Co-Creating, Elaborately

So because it is important that decisions affecting a family’s wealth transition be made while including those family members, a spirit of collaboration makes plenty of sense.

That is sometimes easier said than done, though. But how about adding in an element of elaboration to it?

Allow me to elaborate on that, so I can model this a bit.

If you ask for someone’s ideas and opinions, don’t just stop them or interrupt them after a few words.  Ask them to continue, to elaborate and expand for you, so that you can truly understand not just what they are saying, but also why. Hear them out.

 

Everyone’s Ideas    >    Anyone’s Ideas

When collaboration results in co-creation, you will discover that everyone’s ideas are better than anyone’s ideas.

And a key to doing that properly is to take the time to actually hear and understand those ideas, from everyone, by asking them to elaborate on them.

You may even discover some simple solutions, that aren’t necessarily very elaborate!

“What for” Isn’t the Same as “Why”

Be Careful How You Ask Your Questions

In this space I deal with all sorts of topics that all converge around how families can do a better job transitioning their wealth and/or business to the following generations of their family.

So “communication” naturally comes up often, in a variety of different ways.  One of the most important subsets of the whole communication topic is the area of “conversations” that people have.

While written communication is more easily copied, widely disseminated, and preserved, so much of what transpires verbally between people is forever lost into the ether.

But even though spoken words seemingly disappear after they’re spoken, they can leave lasting marks on one’s psyche.

 

“What Questions Should I Ask?”

A big part of our conversations comes down to asking questions, and that makes this area ripe for great discussion for people like me, who like to share our ideas on family topics.

But there are always plenty of subtleties involved in using questions properly, and the quality and content of the response you get will have a lot to do with how you ask your questions.

Some people think this family work is easy, and are under the mistaken belief that having a list of “the right questions” will allow them to effectively facilitate a meeting with a client’s family.

If only it were so easy.  It’s not, but, there are a few things I do want to share that could prove useful.

 

French : “Pourquoi” versus “Pour Quoi”

The idea for this topic actually came from a LinkedIn post from a French-speaking colleague who was sharing thoughts on a recent event for business families that she had attended.

She noted something about asking 3 questions, “Pourquoi, pour quoi, and pour qui” (Why, for what, and for whom).

I’m guessing that some readers can already see where my “A-Ha” came from, noticing the fact that by simply adding a space between the “pour” and the “quoi” of the French version of “Why” gives you a very different question.

I did mention something about “subtleties earlier, didn’t I?

 

Back Down the Same Road Once Again

If some of this is sounding vaguely familiar, we went down some of this same path a couple of months ago in Questioning Someone vs Asking Questions, which delved into a situation where a friend and colleague realized that she needed to readjust her attitude in her own family business, and stop “questioning” people, and begin to “ask questions” instead.

The idea behind looking at the subtle differences between “why” and “what for” (or “for what”) isn’t too dissimilar.

It comes down to emphasis, and in situations where emotions may be running high, tiny tweaks in word choice and tone can make a huge difference to how your question will land with the recipient.

Some people go so far as suggesting that you never use questions that start with “why”.  Let’s look at that for a moment.

 

Why Not Start with Why?

The simplest way for me to relate my feelings on this topic is for me to share one of the biggest keys I learned very early on in my coach training.

It was there that I was taught the importance of listening, but it wasn’t the simple and typical “let people finish, nod along with them, etc.” stuff.  It was listening with an important added qualifier.

The key to being a great coach is the ability to listen without judgement.

Now think about a situation where you are speaking to someone, explaining something that you did.

When the first word coming back is “why”, that often feels like it is carrying at least a small amount of judgement, and sometimes a full load of it.

 

Small Changes Can Become Habits with Practice

So if you simply learn to start your questions with “what” instead of “why”, you may find you get better results.

Personally I’m not all the way there yet myself, but well on my way.

I’ve also taught myself to bite my tongue when the word “help” comes to mind, and replace it with “be a resource” whenever possible. See “The 3 R’s: Finding a ‘Responsive Reliable Resource’” 

And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention one of the first such modifications I made years ago, switching from “Yes, but…!” to “Yes, AND…!”

In retrospect, that was a great place to start, and the cumulative effect of these changes has been beneficial in many of my relationships.

On Rules, Relationships, Rebellion, and Respect

Connecting the Dots on all these “R-words”

Regular readers (thanks!) know that my inspirations for these weekly musings are varied and eclectic. I’ve had a number that’ve come from listening to the radio while driving, and this is another of those.

This week I’m delving into something I heard that made me look for a place to pull my car over, so that I could jot down the exact words I heard before I could forget them.

I didn’t have to go that far, because thankfully I hit a long enough red light to grab a pen and piece of paper to get the key words down.

I think you’ll like what I heard, because although the words were relayed in a sports context, they also apply to the world of family enterprises and the relationships therein.

 

Who Makes the Rules?

There’s a search feature on my website that I’m certain I use more than everyone else combined, because after writing hundreds of blogs over the past 8 years or so, there are few topics I haven’t touched on, at least tangentially.

So I searched “rules”, and noted that I had used that word in a blog title just a few months back, see On Rules of Engagement for FamBiz

The rules we’re going to be talking about here are slightly different, because they refer more to how people relate to each other over the years as they work on the details of how they govern the business of owning and managing assets together.

See Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide for more.

 

A Basketball Coaching Relationship

Back to the radio quote. Jack Armstrong is a TV broadcaster on NBA games in Canada, covering mostly the Toronto Raptors.

He also does radio hits a few times a week on various sports radio stations, where he chats with the local radio hosts about goings-on in the world of basketball.

On this day a few weeks ago, he was talking about a team that had recently gone through some turmoil due to a coach who was probably acting a bit too “old school” with some of his key players.

This prompted the quote that I rushed to jot down:

 

Rules without Relationships = Rebellion

 

Rules with Relationships = Respect + Results

 

So that means that the key to making rules work for you, as opposed to against you, is the existence of quality relationships with those you are trying to “rule over”, or even “rule with”.

 

Making Rules for Working with Family

When thinking about rules in a family context, we normally imagine scenarios where parents make the rules for their children.

This is natural and works well enough as long as the children are young enough to accept being “ruled over”, and quickly loses effectiveness as they begin to want to assert more control over their choices.

That life stage rarely lasts as long as the parents would like, forcing them to change how they interact with their offspring as they mature.

When you think about it, it’s all about adapting your relationships to the situation, which need to evolve over time.

When my kids were young teens, it was much easier for me to “make them” do something or “forbid them” from doing something else.

Now that they are young adults, if I would like them to do something, my approach needs to be much different. I have also learned to adjust my expectations accordingly, but that’s a whole other topic!

 

The Need for Self-Control and Autonomy

Family business contexts by their very nature typically involve plenty of situations that have some rules inherent in them, due to the hierarchy in the business.

When you look at other family situations where there is a certain level of financial wealth present, with or without a current operating business, the family rules can be a bit trickier to impose.

As the rising generation family members mature, they have a natural desire and need to exert as much control over their lives as possible.

Too often, their parents resist this and unfortunately tend to revert to ways to use their financial resources as a way to enforce their preferred outcomes.

 

Respect Over Rebellion

If you are a parent who wants to have the respect of your offspring, and you want to avoid the pitfalls of rebellion, the secret is to work on your relationships.

Easier said than done, of course, but therein lies the key.

 

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

One place I turn for information and inspiration in my professional world is LinkedIn.  I find so much useful content and plenty of blog ideas there every week.

I’ve also “met” some great new colleagues there over the years, many of whom I’ve yet to actually meet in person, but most of whom I have met over Zoom.

Recently I saw a video by a local family business leader who, along with his daughter, shared some ways they were adapting to the reality of this pandemic-stricken world.

One of the take-away messages they shared was around the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, resulting in an A-Ha moment for me, and the impetus for this post.

 

There It Is, Again

The Kintsugi angle was already on my radar, but due to sloppy note-taking on my part, I don’t recall where I was first exposed to it.

When I saw that video, I quickly made a note this time, to properly contextualize my blog about it. I also took it as a sign that this post was now due to be created.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been inspired by something from Japan before, having shared Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital in 2019.

So what is Kintsugi?

You’ve likely seen some version of it before without realizing that it’s a style of art, from Japan, where a pot, dish, or bowl is broken into pieces and then reassembled.

The art is in the way it’s put back together, with glue-like substances, enhanced with gold or some other “fancy” elements.

The result is a reassembled piece, which is now more beautiful and special than the original.

 

And the Family Business Angle Is…?

Of course there’s also a resilience angle here, which is quite topical thanks to the lingering pandemic.

Almost everyone has faced, or continues to face, some sort of breakdown, and it’s important to normalize that.

Additionally, we need to realize that after a challenge, it is possible to emerge stronger and more beautiful than before.

There are also some other business family angles I’ve thought of that could fit into the Kintsugi metaphor.

Some may seem to be a stretch, and that’s OK too; I’ll just use a bit more of that “golden glue” on those to make them work.

 

Family Members Aren’t All Equal

We all know that family members are not equal, as each person has their own strengths and desires, making each one’s contributions unique.

There are often some who experience challenges in life, which may be completely involuntary or for which they are mostly to blame.

Regardless, they remain members of the family, even if they might be slightly “broken”.

One of the strengths of some business families is that they have an uncanny ability to help those “broken” family members, and even put them back together and make them stronger, finding ways to make them contributing members of the group.

 

Family Narrative with All the Warts

Another place where I think Kintsugi might apply is in the family narrative.

Story-telling seems to be all the rage now, and creating and sharing the “family narrative” has become a valuable exercise for many families.

It’s crucial to share the failures and recoveries, not just the successes, when sharing the story of the family’s path to their current status.

For more on this, please have a listen to this podcast I recently hosted. The Family Business Myth and the Hero’s Journey

 

The FamBiz Wind-Down or Wind-Up

I’ve got one more possible business family Kintsugi metaphor to share, and it involves situations where the family business that created the wealth is no longer part of the picture.

When a family business is sold, and there’s a “liquidity event”, the family can sometimes struggle to define reasons for them to stay together to continue to manage their wealth and assets.

I’m picturing the business as the pot or vase that was broken, and the family’s work to create ways and reasons to stay together as the gluing things back together in a stronger and more beautiful way.

 

Kintsugi as a Team Sport?

I used the word “create” above, and perhaps I should have used “co-create” instead.

Business family continuity is truly a team sport, and it must involve a number of people if there is any chance of it “sticking” on an intergenerational basis.

The more people involved in piecing it together, the better it will work, and look. It truly is an art.

Different Things Drive Different People

It’s fascinating the things one can learn by listening to “real people” talking about their lived experiences.  Too often our learning comes from reading more theoretical ideas that, even though they come from smart people, can lack in true substance.

In some other instances we may spend time with colleagues or other peers, exchanging stories, ideas, and learnings, but those too sometimes lack the “oomph” that we can get when we have the chance to hear from those who are actually in the middle of living through an experience.

So when I recently had the opportunity to listen to a panel of rising generation members of local family enterprises share their stories, I was all ears.


Sharing Viewpoints On What We Heard

Of course I absolutely love opportunities to share with peers too, and when that sharing follows a panel of real-world experience sharing, it’s the best of both worlds.

And therein lies the genesis of this week’s post: comments about this panel of young people assuming important roles in businesses owned and run by earlier generations of their families.

One member of our group marvelled at the “thirst for knowledge” that all the panelists shared.  “Hmmm… she’s right”, I thought, as I reflected on what I’d heard.

It was true that each of the three panelists did seem to share that part of their journey involved wanting to always learn more and more and finding a variety of ways to continue that path.

But is a thirst for learning enough, I wondered.

Thirst for Knowledge VS. Hunger for Growth

Just a couple of weeks ago, in Sibling Compatibility Is Not Sufficient, we looked at how important it is that those expecting to take over the reins of any family business be competent, and not simply know how to get along well with each other.

Inherent in that competence, at least in my mind, is a willingness to take risks in order to continue to grow the business.

And another way to express that could be to talk about one’s hunger.

So when my colleague noted the thirst for knowledge that we had witnessed during the panel, my mind went to hunger. (Okay, it was also getting close to lunch time).

One Without the Other Is Asking for Trouble

So when we think about the attributes we’d like to see in rising generation family members who will someday take on key roles in the family enterprise, ideally they will have both a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for growth.

Let’s look at what you’d have if you only had one, without the other.

If you have the thirst for knowledge, you’ll have people who are curious and always wanting to learn more. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But, without at least some hunger to drive them to take risks, they could easily succumb to “analysis paralysis” that could certainly lead to stagnation.

On the other hand, if all you have is someone willing to take risks, but without the curiosity and desire to inform themselves in advance, you could have a lot of reckless behaviour that could quickly sink the business too.

A Look in the Mirror for Me

When I do some self-reflection, I realize that one of those situations I just described actually fits me pretty well.

Whenever I do any kind of assessment like Strengthfinder, I always score very high on “learning”.  I’m constantly looking for any opportunity to learn more.

But if I were to assess my willingness to bear risk, I’d score at the other end of the scale.

I’m guessing that deep down inside, when my father decided to sell the operations of our family business, that he had started before I was born, he also realized that handing the reins to me might not work out as well as he might have originally hoped.

No Regrets and Back in the Family Business Game

As his only son, I recall from my earliest days being told that my duty was to eventually take over the business from him.

And for the first four and a half decades of my life, that was the direction I took.

Now that I am back in the family business game, working with other families, my goal is to not have any family members need to take so long to find their rightful place.

There is room for the thirsty and the hungry, and both, in every family.

Family Harmony Is Very Important, But…

One subject that I harp on a lot is family harmony and making sure that everyone gets along together.  

This is important for families who want to ensure that the business they built, or the wealth they’ve accumulated, will be able to continue after the next intergenerational transition.

And while harmony really is something that families need to work on if they don’t already have it, in many cases it will not be sufficient.

I came across something recently that made me think about this and how I may not have been doing justice to some other key considerations in this space.

This week, I want to address a couple of them here.

 

If You Aren’t Growing, You’re Shrinking

The first thing many families ignore at their peril is the importance of competence.  

Of course this can take many forms, but bottom line, if no family members are competent in managing the business or the wealth, dissipation will often be the result.

I’ve noticed a lot more being written in this field about the importance of having an entrepreneurial spirit in families, so that with each generation, there is some renewal of activity to maintain and hopefully grow the family wealth.

In cases where there isn’t anyone with the inspiration and ability to at the very least maintain the family wealth level, some choices around how to manage things and what the next generation family members can expect to pass on to their offspring will need to be made.

If you just take a look at how many households are being supported by a business in the first generation, and then extend that down even two generations further, the geometric expansion in that number will be difficult to match without an equally rapid progression of the family’s wealth.

So if all you have is “one big happy family”, but nobody willing and able to drive the amount of wealth forward, it becomes a matter of time before dissipation will kick in.

 

Complementary Roles for Family Members

Besides competence, another area that becomes important in many families is the existence of complementary skills in the sibling or cousin group who will be taking on leadership roles after the next generational transition.

If everyone is good at the same thing, and there are areas where nobody has any skill or desire to take on leadership, there could problems.

Having too many cooks can cause unneeded conflicts, and having skill gaps can lead to being blindsided in certain areas.

Of course when a family attains a certain wealth level there are some benefits that are easy to see, such as having an ability to find roles for just about any interested and motivated family member.

And when they have skill gaps, a family with enough resources can typically hire outsiders to fill such roles.

 

Competent + Compatible = Complementary

As I was writing this I got to thinking that maybe complementarity is the intersection of competence and compatibility. Let’s work through this and see if it holds up.

If you have people who are competent, i.e. good at something, and then you get to the point where the group of people get along, i.e. are compatible, can you not then ascertain that they are complementary?

It feels almost like this fits with one of my favourite ways of pointing out synergy, which is to say that “One Plus One Equals Three”.

Earlier I mentioned the geometric growth of the family and now I just opined on synergy, I guess this is a good place to link to The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration.

 

So Strive for a Complementary Team

This may be a stretch, but perhaps either competence or compatibility are scalar, while putting them together gives you complementarity, which is a vector quantity.

I just flashed back to my High School Physics class there, and since that was over 40 years ago, I admit that I needed to Google this to get the terms right.

As Mr. Henry used to say, “velocity is speed with a direction”.

So if you strive for a complementary team in your sibling or cousin group, you’ll be able to combine everyone’s ability to get along with a direction and a purpose.

This isn’t to be confused with complimentary, although if they also develop the habit of saying nice things to each other, that’s OK too!

When Two Words Arrive in the Same Sentence

This week we’re going to do a bit of “freestyling” in this space, and see where it goes.

Regular readers are likely familiar with my penchant for taking some seemingly arbitrary topics or words and trying to weave them together into something useful and entertaining for those interested in the family enterprise space.

I’m writing this during the Christmas holidays, so it feels right to just reflect a bit and see what comes out. Thanks for joining me.

 

A Coaching Session as an Inspiration

As a coach, I think it’s important to also work with my own coach too, because it really helps to underscore how much one can gain from this kind of relationship.

It would feel pretty disingenuous if one of my clients asked me about my coach and my reply was “Who?”.

A few weeks ago during one of my sessions with Melissa, I uttered a sentence that contained “observe” and “absorb”.

Now you may not think that that’s noteworthy and I wouldn’t blame you. But as someone who writes 52 blogs every year, I need to find my inspirations wherever I can.

 

Observation is an Obvious One

When I work with members of a business family, one of the biggest things that I bring to them is an outsider’s perspective on what they’re living.

Lately I’ve been using an aquarium example to illustrate this, and I think it works pretty well.

I have a 90-gallon aquarium at home and a 55-gallon tank in my office, so this inspiration is never far away.

I know that the way I observe the fish in my aquariums is quite different from the way they observe each other.

The fact that I’m outside the system gives me an ability to see the bigger picture, and it allows me to have a much wider perspective of what’s going on within the system.

I need to constantly remind myself, though, that I need to work at staying out of the system, or else I’d quickly lose much of the objectivity that my outsider status affords me

 

And What About the Absorbing Part?

The part about absorbing might be a bit less obvious, but let’s see if we can make it make sense here. Whereas the observation part was more about the space aspect (i.e. big picture, outsider) the absorbing is more about time.

This is where thinking about a sponge can be helpful. When a sponge is completely dry, it has a lot of potential to absorb liquid, but it can’t do it instantaneously. It takes a few seconds to be able to take everything in.

And whereas the observing is typically something done with the eyes, the absorbing involves the heart and your emotions, and is more of a full-body experience.

Absorbing Anxiety from the Emotional Field

As an outsider to a family system, a great deal of my focus is on observing the emotional field of the family when they’re together.  It’s amazing to note the difference in baseline anxiety levels from one family to another.

Some families have a “modus vivendi” of being together that’s very easygoing and free, while with others you can almost feel the tension. See Family Governance, More than a Modus Operandi

You can guess which families are more fun to work with, and they also seem to have more success in transitioning their business and wealth to the next generation.

When working with a family where there’s some tension, part of my role is to absorb some of it, almost like taking a sponge and soaking up some of the extra and trying to keep things tidy.

 

Family Members Assuming Their Roles

Naturally the observing and absorbing are not limited to the outside coach or facilitator, as each family member is also doing some of each.

Families with whom I work have typically already recognized a certain level of interdependence that they have with each other, and they are therefore part of a system where there’s a good deal of focus on all of their one-to-one relationships as well.

When the family members are able to make factual observations about each other, that’s usually a sign of progress.

At the same time, they’re hopefully acting in ways where there is less “absorbing” going on.

When all family members have adult-to-adult relationships and everyone becomes a resource to everyone else, you’re really in business. I love to observe that.

 

Communicating and Making Decisions Together

One of the topics I return to most frequently in this space is family governance. 

There are a few reasons for that, including the fact that it’s a really important part of why some families have been successful at transitioning their wealth through generations, as well as the fact that it remains pretty much a misunderstood area for families who simply aren’t there yet.

As I look back at how I’ve treated this subject in the past, I was happy to come across this blog from 2017, Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O).

Those vowels from the children’s song happened to line up nicely with some adjectives I’d been thinking about when considering family governance.

 

Things a Family Needs to DO Together

So much talk about family governance surrounds the things that the family needs to do together. In a sense, they’re about creating a “modus operandi” for the family.

I need to give a tip of the hat to Walid Chiniara for this idea, as his recent book, Dynastic Planning is where the seed for this blog post was planted a few weeks ago.

Of course there is much that any family needs to learn to do together that becomes the foundation of their governance.

From communicating and decision-making to creating forums and learning to solve problems together, there’s always more that needs to be done.

 

Method, protocol 

When I went to Shutterstock to search for an image to accompany this post and I entered “modus operandi”, I got a couple of hits with those exact words, but also some other suggestions that made me think.

The two that stood out to me were “method” and “protocol”, which might be some ways to keep in mind as your family (or your client family) works to establish the ways that they are going to do things together, as they prepare for the family’s wealth to eventually transition to the next generation.

But of course the title of this post promised that there’s much more to family governance than a modus operandi, and so this is where I want to turn to now.

And this is where Chiniara’s inspiration from that book truly kicks in.

 

The Way a Family Needs to BE Together

I feel like I’ve been over this territory a lot, but it’s so important that it bears repeating nonetheless.

This “territory” is the distinction between “doing” and “being”.

It’s as basic as the difference between asking a child “what do you want to be when you grow up” as opposed to “what to do you want to do”.

And yes, I do realize that the two are very much intertwined, so for many people it may be a distinction without much difference.

But in the family governance realm, the way a family learns to be together is something that’s always worth working on.

 

Informal Family Governance

So much of what ends up driving a family’s governance is actually very informal, especially when a family is still figuring all this stuff out.

Before the “protocols” and the “methods” actually get formalized, most families more or less fly by the seat of their pants for a while, and that’s perfectly fine in the early stages.

And whereas the formal part becomes a “modus operandi”, the informal part is much more of a “modus vivendi”.  (Thanks Walid)

Vivendi translates to “of living”, and it’s all about how the family members learn how to live together and be together, when working on their governance.

Of course when you Google “modus vivendi” the top hits will direct you to an underwear brand that uses that name; I guess it is a pretty clever name for that intimate layer of clothing.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

To reprise the punchline from the joke about “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the answer here is also “Practice, practice, practice”.

Family members who will be expected to work together to make decisions for the good of the family in the future need to practice working together and making decisions together before they get thrust into situations of real importance.

The longer the runway, the better.  Let the elders step aside and watch how their offspring actually act and behave as they plan and execute on events and ideas together.

The modus vivendi they co-create will become the foundation required to support the eventual wealth transition you’re striving for.

Most family businesses actually start out with one major contributor who builds something large enough to eventually employ many people, including other family members.

As any parent with children who want to help out around the kitchen knows, even when they’re really too young to contribute, it can sometimes feel like a step back as you need to actually take a bit more time to include some of these helpers.

This week we’re looking at the idea of sharing the load with family members, as the family matures and there actually are others who should be able to contribute to the family’s success.

Bringing them in isn’t always as simple as we hoped at the outset.

“Many Hands Make Light Work”

In theory at least, sharing the work among many people makes things easier for everyone.  Many hands make light work, the saying goes.

But what if we’re talking about more than simple “work”.

I’m trying to get at some of the things that underlie the complex nature of enterprising families, who are working towards an intergenerational wealth transition.person holding another person

There’s a lot of work to do there, in many cases. And if it were just a lot of work, it might be simple to divvy up.

But what if it feels more like a load?

“It’s Not the Load that Breaks You Down …”

The idea for this post came from a recent webinar I attended, by the Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX).  The presenter happened to be a friend and colleague, Thomasina Williams, with whom I once presented at the Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

She was presenting on Stress, Health and Well-Being as a result of the pandemic, and one of her slides featured a quote that I loved.

It was from Lena Horne, and it read: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it”.  

According to Google, it also seems to be attributed to C.S. Lewis and Lou Holtz. It seems like great quotes get recycled a lot.


When Does Work Become a Load?

When we think about work, we’re typically pondering things that go on in what I like to call the “business circle”. 

If you aren’t yet familiar with the Three Circle Model of family business, you may want to start here: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

The place where things can start to feel more like a load often come up in the “family circle” and even the “ownership circle”.

Part of the difficulty in the family circle comes from the fact that there are often some members of the family who do work in the business, while others do not.

The “information asymmetry” that this creates can become a big issue for the family to address.  When someone is a family member and perhaps even an owner but isn’t involved in the day-to-day dealings of the company, they can feel like they’re flying blind at times.


Sharing the Load

Keeping all family members current with what’s happening in the business becomes important when there’s an upcoming generational transition.  

And by “upcoming”, I mean within a decade or so. In fact, it’s really hard to start this process too early.

One way to make the load easier to carry is to share it among different people. Of course the onus of sharing the info should fall on the ones who work in the business, but that doesn’t mean that all the work is theirs alone.

All family members who are currently owners, or those who expect to be in the future, also share in this task.

Ideally, the information flow should have both a “push” and a “pull” component.


Lightening the Load

As we think about ways to lessen a load, apart from sharing it, there is also the possibility of making it lighter.

This may seem like a bit more of a stretch, but here’s one way to look at it that might be useful.

Last week in Live from the Forum – Success Transitions we were looking at regular family forums, I don’t think I spent enough time talking about the importance of having fun together as a family.

Everyone should be looking forward to such meetings, knowing that there will be plenty of opportunities to share some laughs along the way.

In my book, spending time with people you love, and having fun together, always makes things much lighter.

Yet Another Label for Generations

This week we’re looking at the challenges faced by one particular generation in many families. 

While we’ve previously discussed topics related to the “rising generation” in a family (a.k.a. NextGen) and on the leading or senior generation (a.k.a. NowGen), we’re going for something a bit different this time.

Most people are familiar with the term “Sandwich Generation”, based on the everyday challenges people in this position face no matter which socio-economic strata they inhabit.

I want to examine some of the special aspects of being in such a situation in an enterprising (a.k.a. affluent) family.

 

The Meat in the Sandwich

The term “sandwich generation” comes from being caught in between two other generations, much like the meat in a sandwich.

With increasing life expectancy, combined with couples having children later, more and more people in their 40’s and 50’s find themselves in this unenviable position.

Their offspring still rely on them and they’re rightly concerned with that following generation properly launching into independent adulthood.

Meanwhile, their parents have reached a stage in their lives where they also require care and attention.

This segment of the lives of the sandwich folks also happens to overlap with the most important years in their careers, and thus their work responsibilities, only adding to the challenges.

 

Patience Has Its Limits

A few months back, in On Patience and Impatience in Family Transitions, I wrote the following:

“The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.  

 

That might sound like a very simple thing to do, but in reality it’s quite difficult.

This came home to me recently when my social media team put a podcast interview I’d done a while ago back into circulation.

On a 2018 episode of The True Wealth Project Podcast, which I recently re-listened to, I was personally stumped by a question about my own personal legacy planning vis-à-vis my children.

 

One Generation at a Time

The host asking me about my own family brought home the realization that I myself was one of these sandwich dwellers, and I knew that I was not alone.

In fact, when I wrote “The two (or three) generations” in that previous post, it should have been clear already.

Perhaps when I had written that, where the context was a family who were actively working on clarifying their legacy so that it would be successfully passed down, I was assuming that the generation in the middle would see themselves as part of the process and therefore not an afterthought.

But as I reflect on this, I can’t help but think that people in this position really need complete clarity of what is coming to them before they can think about how they’re going to eventually leave it to their offspring.

 

When Will Things Be Clear?

As I write these words and process them at the same time, it’s dawning on me that I’ve been confounding two separate issues: timing and clarity.

Last week, when I wrote How to ACE your FamBiz Succession Planning the “C” in ACE stood for “Clarity”, so I was unintentionally foreshadowing this point a week in advance.

But things don’t necessarily have to have already happened for them to be clear.

Perhaps the fact that I married into a family with little clarity has affected my view on this topic.

Don’t Wait for the Triggering Event to Ask Questions

Some families just never talk about things that are in fact inevitable, such as the eventual death of one of the family elders. 

They don’t want to talk about such subjects because they don’t want to be disrespectful or seem like they are rooting for something to occur in the near term.

Meantime, any planning for the future gets put on the back burner, because of the lack of clarity mentioned above.

Somewhere in a legal document lie the answers to many of the questions that are on the minds of many family members.

But nobody wants to ask the questions.

 

Coach, Coach Thyself

Every family is different, and some members are more comfortable in rocking the boat and bringing up uncomfortable subjects.

The expression “physician, heal thyself” comes to mind now, for me.

I’m not a doctor, but I am a coach, and maybe I need to think of myself as a coaching client and see if there are any ideas I might want to be pursuing myself, as I search for some clarity. 

Or maybe not.