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.

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.

 

This week we’re going to go over some old ground, and cover some things that are brand new to this space.

There’s an “A-Ha Moment” involved, as well as a new way to attack an old problem.  

One thing most regular readers will recognize is that we’re once again visiting the wonderful world of “family governance”.


Never Start with a Constitution

Let’s set up the family governance part off the top.  Back in 2018, in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution we talked about the fact that for some reason, having a “Family Constitution” had become a really cool thing that families thought they needed.

Or at least, there seemed to be renewed interest in such a deliverable, likely caused by some professionals who discovered the idea of possibly selling this idea to their family clients.

I’ve also since met with families who’ve come to believe that a family constitution could be an appropriate thing for their family, and I usually try to get them to back away from the idea, once I realize that they’re still very early in their family governance’s evolution.

 

Start Small, Let It Evolve

I’ve tried making this point in various ways over the years, with families as well as with other advisors who are a bit newer to the area of getting families they work with on a proper path to governance.

Then recently, form an unexpected place, I got the killer line I think I’ve been looking for to seal the deal.

I was watching a WBECS coaching webinar recently, where David Burkus was talking about working with teams in businesses and other organizations in work situations.

A big part of such teams’ success stems from getting to the point where they understand the value of teamwork. Then he said the magic words.

“I want them to make a Declaration of Interdependence”. 

It hit me right between the eyes.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

You see, back in 2015, I wrote a blog titled Independently Wealthy VS INTERdependently Wealthy, in which I first shared this notion about families being interdependent.

And, as most of you hopefully already know, in 2019, I published my second book, which happens to bear the title Interdependent Wealth.

But I had never thought about using it in an expression like “Declaration of Interdependence”.  But of course that ends now.  

And a little bit of knowledge of U.S. history also leads to a way to use it in the context of families, especially when they think they might want a family constitution.

 

A Time Lag of Measured in Years

Even though I’ve lived my whole life in Canada, it’s all been spent within an hour’s drive of the U.S. border, and there’s been a constant American cultural barrage, first over the TV airwaves and more recently over the internet, that most Canadians have become quite used to.

So I know that the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.  

I also hear about the U.S. Constitution on a regular basis, especially since I’m kind of a politics junkie.

I admit I had to Google the date of the Constitution, because it’s less well known. It was signed in 1787 and then had to be ratified by the 13 states, which took another few years.

 

The Family Governance Version

So now, whenever anyone talks about a family adopting a constitution, I’ll ask when they signed their declaration of interdependence.

Now, I need to clarify how I look at this, but it’s certainly not far fetched.

You see, while the U.S. was declaring itself independent from Great Britain in 1776, whether they admitted it to themselves at the time or not, they were simultaneously declaring themselves interdependent with each other.

And that’s the most important part for any family to realize.

 

Families and Wealth – Intention and Commitment

When I work with a family it’s usually understood that they have twin goals of keeping both their wealth and their family together through the generations.

That work takes some intention and commitment, because, as I love to remind them, that stuff doesn’t just happen all by itself.

This is where all the governance stuff comes in, along with working on engagement, alignment, and clarity.

And while some families will end up with a Family Constitution, eventually, there are more important things to take care of first.

Understanding and accepting that all family members, from all generations, are truly interdependent, is the first key step.

The Real Secret to Success for Families

As a child growing up in Montreal, home of the famous Montreal Canadiens hockey team, I heard the word “forum” hundreds of times before I had any idea what that word really meant.

You see, the arena where the Canadiens played their home games for the first 3 decades of my life was called the Montreal Forum.  

As a child, when my Dad managed to get tickets to a game, it was always a treat to go there, because the team was always very good and the games were always sold out, so tickets were tough to come by.

 

What Other Forums Are There?

It was a bit of an eye-opener when I later learned that there was also a Forum in Los Angeles. I recall thinking that they had “stolen” our name.

Of course this blog isn’t about arenas, it’s about families and the challenges they face in trying to transition their business or their wealth to the next generation.

And so you might be wondering what a forum has to do with that.

I hope that you’re intrigued and that you’ll always remember this idea, in part because of the way I’ve presented it here.

 

More Than Just a Meeting

Before we go much farther, let’s look at a definition that came up when I Googled “forum definition”.

“a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged”

Many people who work with business families profess that the single most important thing such families should do is to make sure that they have family meetings.

I agree that having family meetings is very important, and I want to go a step or two further.

What I’m suggesting is that more than just having meetings with family members, you should strive to have family forums.

Teams working on their devices

The Importance of Open Discussion

Looking at other definitions of “forum”, I came upon one that included the following:

a public meeting place for open discussion and a medium of open discussion or expression of ideas

When I talk to clients or potential clients about these meetings, or forums (fora?) I always stress the importance of making sure that all voices are heard.

The absolute worst way to have a family meeting is to have one person, typically a guy named Dad, telling the family what he expects.

Monologues of any kind are the best way to kill any family meeting.

 

Striving to be a Family of Affinity

The bottom line is that you want to make sure that any family meeting is something that all family members will look forward to attending.

The kinds of families who are successful at transitioning their wealth to the next generation are ones who enjoy being together.  Some refer to them as “tribal families”.

Jay Hughes sometimes uses the term Family of Affinity. Just for fun I Googled that term and found this:

People with or without blood ties or legal ties, feel they belong together and want to self define themselves as a family.

There’s a lot there and for many families this is a pretty high hurdle

 

Discussing Things That Matter

I want to share one other tidbit I found while looking at definitions, before closing with what may be the most important item.

Forum: a meeting in which people can talk about a problem or matter

There aren’t a lot of words there, but they say a lot.  

“Can talk about” makes me think about how important it is that everyone feel safe sharing their viewpoints, and things that matter means we need to discuss more than just the weather or last night’s game.

 

When Is the Next Forum?

Having teased something very important above and quickly running out of race track, here we go.

A Family Forum is NOT a “one and done” deal.

You need to continue to have them, over and over again. Maybe you do it once a year, maybe more often

But you need to make this a regular thing; it needs to become a habit.

Family members need to learn what kinds of things they can bring up at these meetings, and then as they learn about each other, they will need to revisit subjects again.

Always schedule the next forum before everyone leaves. And if you can get a few of them involved in planning the next one, that’s even better.

 

Who Can Work in the Business, and When

There are a number of subjects that come up again and again in the wonderful world of family business, and sometimes it feels like I’ve written about most of them here already.

Still, when there’s a confluence of happenings over a short space of time that puts one of them back on my blog radar again, I like to revisit them.

Such is the case this week, as the subject of rules for working in a family business has come up a few times, from different directions, in my interactions over the past few weeks.

So let’s take a fresh look at the subject of “rules of engagement”Rules book for FamBiz.

 

Let’s Start with a Flashback

It’s not as if I’ve written about this recently either. In the summer of 2018, I wrote Forced into the FamBiz, which was about the fact that I believe that it makes sense to “force” one’s offspring to work in your family business when they are young, as a summer and/or part-time job.

It also clearly states that I’m a proponent of making a rule that families should not hire their children for fulltime jobs in the business until they have successfully obtained and held a similar job elsewhere, for a certain number of years.

 

This was an idea my father had heard about, but had decided unilaterally didn’t apply to his family (and therefore me).

I’ve recounted this many times since beginning my work with other business families.

I was an undergraduate business student at McGill, and my Dad told me he’d listened to some consultants explain why there were many reasons to forbid hiring family members until they’d demonstrated the ability to get a job on their own, without using their last name as leverage.

 

“But We’re Not Gonna Do That”

After I looked at him with some hope in my eyes (as I recall it, anyway) he stated “But we’re not gonna do that”.

Having not had to live by such a rule is now one of the main reasons I now endorse it.

But let’s get to the occasions where this came up recently. The first was on an FEX webinar where some family business leaders were sharing stories about how they got through the worst of the pandemic.

One business leader from western Canada related that her son had joined their business recently, and that this went against their family’s rule against allowing family members to come on board until they had worked elsewhere for 10 years. (10 years seems excessive, but alas, that was their rule).

As it turned out, every department of the company was now fighting to have him join them, thereby signaling that he had proved his worth despite the shortened period of working elsewhere for very long.

 

Family Business Collaboration

I recently joined a nascent group that pulls together members of family businesses and consultants who work with them. Family Business Collaboration

On a Zoom call recently, someone noted that his FamBiz had a rule about working elsewhere for 3 years.

I asked how long that rule had been around in his third generation company, and I found his reply interesting.

He noted that he was the first person to be “the beneficiary of that rule”, since his grandfather had not applied it to his father at the time.

Isn’t in interesting that a father who didn’t have to live by a rule went on to implement it, and his son, who was subject to it, found he was a beneficiary of it.  I get it.

 

A “Lessons Learned” Video

So when a respected colleague and friend (and mentor) asked me if I could share a brief video of myself for a family business conference she will soon be giving, this all came in handy.

She’s now asking several people involved in the FamBiz space about lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Would you be at all surprised to learn that the lesson I shared was all about the idea that there are many reasons why demanding that young adults work elsewhere before joining their family’s business makes a lot of sense, and that I wish my Dad had instituted such a rule?

I hope not.

I have few if any “hard rules” that I recommend to my family clients, but if I did, this would be it.

What Are We FOR as a Family

Let’s Point in the Right Direction

It can often be way too easy to concentrate on things we don’t want, and some personality types are really good at finding fault and complaining.

While strictly speaking the negative and positive are simply two different sides of the same coin, I find that accentuating the positive can make a huge difference. 

This is true with individuals, but especially with groups of people.

Families who are trying to find ways to continue to work together over the long haul, i.e. into the next generation (and beyond) would do well to heed this advice.

 

Reframing to the Positive Angle 

Of course it’s fine to talk about what we don’t want, for a time, because sometimes that’s actually much more clear.

Eventually, as you work with someone who is looking to grow, improve, or change in some way, you need to focus on what they do want, and what they need to do to get that.

And as I mentioned, with a group, this takes on an even more important role.

Negativity can be contagious, and if a group of people are supposed to be working towards a common goal, one nay-sayer can quickly enroll others and creating positive momentum will become more of a challenge.

 

Start with One Person

The good news here is that it really can all start with one person.  

A family’s values or vision begins by asking each person to share their own values and vision, and then working with the group to try to shape some consensus on common vision and values that they can all agree on and get behind.

When things bog down, either in such exercises or other scenarios involving a family working towards some common goal, the way through is typically achieved when someone feels strongly enough to verbalize some strong feelings.

The leadership that such a family must exhibit almost always channels some positive view of what they see FOR the family, as opposed to what they don’t want.

 

Look for Exponential Magic

That leader can be the spark that the family needs to make progress. But, one person can only get so far all alone.

As I detailed in The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration, if that person can find another family member to see the light, they can really begin to make progress. 

And once they enroll a third, they can start to roll forward with some momentum.

Not that any of this necessarily moves quickly, but there is usually a certain natural progression involved.

 

Important Support Along the Way Too

Because this can be a frustrating and lonely time for that family leader, sometimes called the “Family Champion” (but typically only in retrospect), it can be important for that person to have some outside support.

As I wrote about a few months ago in Coaching for Current & Future Family Leaders, coaching is really made for situations like these.

Furthermore, coaching is also made for times like these, and by that I mean during a pandemic where so many things are up for discussion and the future is as uncertain as it’s been in a long time.

Coaching Only One Family Member Works Too

One of the things I’ve recently noticed, since doing my coaching certification last year, is that a coach can help a family make a lot of progress, without ever meeting them.

Okay, so as I re-read that sentence, I realized that it can actually be taken in a couple of different ways, so let me unpack it a bit.

What I set out to say was that by working with only one person from a family, a coach can increase the effectiveness of that family leader to effectuate change and make progress with the rest of the family system.

The second way one could take that previous sentence is to note that a coach can work with a client without ever meeting them in person

Indeed, I have several clients I’ve never been in the same room with.

 

What Am I FOR, What Are We FOR

Circling back to the topic of the week, the coach will concentrate on supporting the clients as they work towards getting their family aligned towards things that they can all be FOR.

That family leader will already usually have some ideas of what they are FOR, individually, and with their coach they can then work on ways of strengthening the family relationships so as to get the family ready to embark on the journey as well.

No Single Advisor Can Do It All

Thinking back to when I had my calling to this work with families, one of the first realizations I had was just how complex such work can be.

A family enterprise has lots of moving parts, especially as the family approaches an upcoming transition from one generation to the next.

Between the amount of wealth involved and the complexity of the family’s situation, there are important considerations that ultimately require the support and advice of a number of outside specialists who serve the family.

Getting these expert professionals to work together makes so much sense, at least in theory, so that the family client can get the best results.

 

The Theory Versus the Real World

Of course just because something makes perfect sense in theory, that doesn’t mean that it will work simply in the real world.

Thankfully, those who designed the FEA Program where I had that calling already knew about this “real world” challenge, and had purposefully included a team project into the curriculum.

For example, my project team included an insurance specialist, a CPA, a private banker, and me, who at the time was someone still trying to find his place in this field. 

I played the role of facilitator, and still very much enjoy that role today.

In fact, as my team came to learn, that role of coordinator and facilitator often turns out to me way more important than the other professionals ever imagined.

 

Many Challenges and Obstacles Remain

Such facilitators have a key role to play in how the actual collaboration will play out with the family. 

To many of the tactical specialists, we are often an “afterthought” because they haven’t necessarily been used to dealing with an entire family.

So many professionals have been accustomed to serving families more in theory than in practice, because they typically deal with only the head of the family or perhaps a couple.

Opening up the service offering to the entire family, which means at least two generations, means that there are many new considerations.

This poses certain challenges that can often be seen as more trouble than they are worth.

Rest assured though, that from the perspective of the family members from the rising generation, this difference is well worth the efforts in the end.

One Direction Only?

While the idea of collaboration is gaining wider acceptance and more advisors grasp the importance of working together, there is still much work to be done.

In fact, there seems to be a sort of “divide” that exists between the folks like me who specialize in the “family circle” and those whose practice involves the “business circle” and the “ownership circle”.

See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment (I’m referencing another blog from 2013, two weeks in a row!)

Whenever I have a client who needs something taken care of in those other circles, I always happily help them find the right resources and advisors so that they can be well served. 

Everyone else I know who works the family circle does the same.

There seems to be a general reluctance for those who specialize in the other two circles to return the favour.  Or maybe it’s just me.

 

Varying Degrees of Complexity Exist

Of course we aren’t talking rocket science here, and relatively simple family situations can obviously be handled by many advisors without the need to reach out for another person.

However, those whose entire career has been built on expertise in a particular domain aren’t expected to be adept and comfortable beyond a basic level of complexity and family conflict.

This is precisely where bringing in someone who has trained for this work make sense.

 

“Plays Well with Others”

Some professionals hesitate to bring in another advisor for fear of “losing the client”.

I can say with certainty that nobody is looking to “steal” your client. 

As children, we all got comments from our teachers that noted how we “play well with others”, and we get that the client family’s needs are what matter most.

 

What Do I Mean by “Win-Win-Win”?

And in case it isn’t clear what I mean with my “Triple Win”, the first one is the client family and the second is the advisor with the wisdom and courage to bring in another resource to deal with the family circle.

The third and final win is for that family circle expert who helps tie it all together.

Subtle Differences Can Be Huge

Some subjects are complex by their very nature

For example, when you take a business that already has its own complexities and overlay a family system, the overall complexity necessarily increases.

But does that mean that everything also needs to be complicated?

Regular readers will recognize that I’ve re-entered the fun world of discussing vocabulary, and looking at the meanings of similar words, to see what we can discern from their subtle differences.

The world of family business, along with all its variations like “enterprising families”, “families in business”, “dynastic families”, “legacy families”, (I could go on) is complex enough already, simply by virtue of all the interdependent relationships they contain.

So how do you make sure things don’t get too complicated?

 

Complexity Without Complications?

Please recall that these are top of mind thoughts in a blog, not scientific research in a thesis. Thanks. Here goes.

Complexity is used to describe things that happen automatically or naturally, while complications are man-made and result from a person or people intervening for some reason.

So if the complexity that comes from family members working together in a business, or owning assets together, or managing property as a group, is innate or natural, then there isn’t anything we can do about that.

We need to come to the realisation that things are complex and learn to live with that reality, and deal with it accordingly.

 

What Can We Control?

Yes, things could be simpler, i.e. less complex, if we weren’t in a situation where we were managing the family relationships along with the business/financial/ownership responsibilities. 

Many families eventually get to a stage where this becomes too big of a burden and then decide to separate who owns what or how things are managed, because the complexity outweighs the benefits.

Those situations are especially unfortunate when that result comes from the fact that the people involved were simply unable to avoid some of the complications that they somehow added to the situation.

 

Man-Made Complications

My “A-Ha” moment as I considered how to write about these two words came when I realized, while in the shower, that complexity is a reality that we need to accept and live with, while complications are things that we can and should work to minimize.

By my logic here, you can’t even truly simplify complexity, since it “is what it is”.

What we can do is to try to make sense of the inherent complexity of a situation by using models to map out what’s going on, so that everyone can get a better understanding of what the complex systems are, and how they’re inter-related.

Tagiuri and Davis’s Three Circle Model does this extremely well, and has been successfully used for this for over 40 years now. 

See Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Families who’ve managed to stay together through the complexity inherent in co-owning assets together over generations have succeeded because they managed to keep things as simple as possible, since they’re already complex enough.

See Stopping the Disintegration of Family Wealth

Those who cannot manage to keep the wealth of the family together often fail because someone introduced some extra complicating factors into the situation.

Ironically, this is often done with the best of intentions by someone, but thanks to the law of unintended consequences, these moves sow the seeds of the family’s ultimate demise.

 

Two Main Instigators Come Up

One of the ways the complications show up is when one family member has what I playfully refer to as a “superiority complex”.

You know the type, I’m sure. They feel like they have earned or simply deserve an outsized portion of the wealth or their say over it

This can lead to actions designed to allow them to benefit from this, and when other family members react negatively, things go south in a hurry.

The situation was already complex enough, but now it’s too complicated.

The other major way to overcomplicate things is to focus way too much time and effort on the financial wealth, at the expense of the human, intellectual, and social capital of the family.

Well-meaning professionals propose complicated structures designed to minimize taxes and/or limit people’s control over things, and the additional complications this introduces is enough to kibosh everything within a few years.

Enterprising families are already complex enough. Don’t make things even more complicated.

 

As we continue to move through these unprecedented times, some things are beginning to get a little bit clearer. 

There are still so many unknowns, of course, but for many family enterprises, they’ve succeeded in “putting out the fire”, and now a different kind of work is needed.

During this preliminary stage of the current transition to the “next normal”, most families have begun to learn a lot more about each other. 

Sometimes they’ve learned positive things, and other times they may have been disappointed.

 


People and Relationships

As much as they’ve discovered about other people in their family, what some families may have also started to notice is that the way they had their relationships set up before just might not be optimal anymore.

Let me give you the background and proper credit for this idea and how it came to me. 

If you’re like me, you’ve never received more invitations to webinars than you have in the past few weeks.  Some of them are actually worthwhile.

The idea for this blog came from one of those, sponsored by Family Enterprise Xchange (FEX), of which I am a proud member, as their FEA Program was what made me discover the world of working with business families in the way I now do.

 

A Friend and Mentor

In light of the new reality we’re all now living in, FEX recently hosted a webinar featuring guest thought leader Jim Grubman, who I consider a friend and definitely kind of a mentor to me, as he always has time for me, and I definitely look up to him.

Towards the end of the Zoom call, during the Q & A if I’m not mistaken, Jim noted that this current crisis is serving as a test of family governance for many families.  

He kept going for a bit, but as far as I was concerned, he could have dropped the mic right there.

Bang, it was so clear to me all of a sudden.  

Families who work together or manage assets together are feeling the shockwaves of the pandemic and its associated economic and societal fallout in interesting ways.

 

Are They Passing the Test?

At a time when everything is getting shaken up, systems and their limits get tested.  

When a system is well prepared, and is able to adapt quickly, the relationships between the people in the system will likely survive relatively unscathed.

But what about systems (families) where things don’t go so well, adapting doesn’t happen as some expected, people second guess each other, and contingencies that some assumed were in place don’t operate in the way they were expected to?

Jim is correct that underneath all of these relationships lies the family’s governance, whether they know it or not, whether they see it or not, and whether their governance is formalized or not.

That family governance is being tested these days, and some families are realizing that they’ve got work to do.

Students sitting in class and stressed

Character Building Events

Any crisis can act as a character-building event, and this one is no exception.  Things that were going “okay” just a couple of months ago are suddenly no longer okay.

For families who are working together, a crisis like the one the world is seeing now can be seen as a test of family character.  

Any shortcomings, that may have been hidden by the “good times” we were in, are now suddenly exposed.

If you’re having trouble picturing what I’m getting at, imagine any business being run by siblings or members of different generations of a family (or both). 

Now, throw in some new kinds of decisions that need to be made as a result of the new reality.

 

Decisions, communication, problem-solving

Family governance is all about how family members make decisions together, how they communicate, and how they solve problems together.

There’s nothing like a crisis, caused by a pandemic, to bring these into a sudden sharp focus, largely because some new kinds of decisions need to be made.

Ideally, everyone agrees not only on the right decision, but on who gets to make the call!  See: Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide

The answers aren’t always obvious, and situations can get complex pretty quickly.

 

Self-Reflection Question

So, how’s your family governance doing? 

Is it passing the test?

If the answer is “No”, you’ve got work to do….

These days there are many uncertainties surrounding the potential outcomes we’re all facing, along with lots of people in leadership roles being put on the spot for unknowable answers to questions that were inconceivable a few weeks ago.

At times like these we can learn a lot about leaders by how they address these questions, and whether they’re more inclined to skew their answers to one direction or another, depending on both their understanding of the situation and their propensity to lean either towards more optimistic or pessimistic outcomes.


A Huge Learning Opportunity

The current situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as scary as it is, will also be great opportunities for all of us to learn, if we are so inclined.

We’re already learning a lot about viruses and how they spread, as well as how some rather simple hygiene measures go a long way toward curtailing that spread.

But we’re also learning a lot about society, how different groups react to news depending on their culture, and how political leaders react under pressure, and whether or not they properly rely on the experts who advise them.

There are also plenty of things we can tie in to the world of enterprising families, which I normally cover here, and some lessons that family members will also hopefully learn as we work our way through this global crisis.

 

“Don’t Set Yourself Up to Be a Loser”

If my Dad were still alive today, he’d be proud that I haven’t forgotten this mantra of his, which I heard him say over a hundred times in various situations.

Many of our political leaders have been guilty of putting their heads in the sand, hoping this would simply go away, making statements to that effect, and being wildly optimistic, because in the short term, that plays better politically.

In the long run, any trust that people had in such leaders is bound to be diminished as the truth comes out and reality sets in. 

This happens in society with politicians, and occurs in family situations too, where one family member makes overly optimistic claims about the family’s wealth, or their personal abilities, to siblings, cousins, or others.

 

Delayed Gratification

I often state that many family business problems are simply parenting problems that manifest themselves a few decades later, and this often comes down to whether or not parents tried to instill the value of delayed gratification in their children.

I wrote about this in Marshmallows and Filet Mignon about a year and a half ago, and I think it’s clear that some of our political leaders did learn these lessons early on and continue to reap the benefits, while others, well, not so much.

Last week I used a song as a blog title, and this week the song “Teach your Children” comes to mind as I think about this.

Many of us our now suddenly surrounded by children in our homes and there are plenty of lessons to be learned under the subject of “current events”

I hope that you’re benefiting from the opportunities to teach them important lessons based on the news.

 

Not Overpromising as a Coach

One thing I like about being a coach to families is that it’s actually difficult for me to overpromise what I can deliver.

You see, any well-trained coach will not only realize but will also share with their clients that the coach is not the one who does the work in such a relationship, it is the client (or clients).

The coach is there to provide some structure, process help, guidance, and accountability, but not to “do the work”; that is ultimately up to the clients.

This is a big part of why the “deliverables” are not easy to discuss or promise, because they’re out of the coach’s hands. See: Intangible Deliverables and the Family Circle

 

Promises to Family Members

Let’s finish off by tying in the idea of promises to the family, since many of us are suddenly in close quarters with family members, and may be for a while still.

Are there any promises that you made in the past that need to be reviewed? Maybe they were implied, or not defined well enough?

This may be an opportune time to clear those up. Maybe some assumptions around wealth need to be revised and updated too.

It’s safer to under-promise and over-deliver than the reverse.