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It’s not often that I go out on a limb right off the top of these posts, but I suppose coming out against the importance of efficiency could certainly qualify as going against the tide when talking about business.

Of course I don’t typically deal in true business subjects, since my preferred domain is that of family business, where my emphasis is on the family aspects.

Getting things done quickly and efficiently seems like a laudable goal of course, with some notable exceptions.

The main exceptions I’d like to note here are those where you need to bring in the entire wisdom of a group of people, and where it’s important for everyone to feel heard.

Such situations abound in the family circle part of family enterprises, or, said better, enterprising families.


When Finishing Faster Isn’t the Key

I’ve dealt with certain examples of this before, notably in Going FAR? Go TOGETHER, which deals with a scenario involving a group of siblings in the rising generation of their family, preparing to eventually take on leadership roles, both in the business and in the family.

In recent months I’ve been involved in two group processes where I’ve truly embraced the idea of throwing efficiency and speed out the window, with positive results (so far).

The first example took place in a professional organisation I’ve been involved with as a volunteer for the past few years, as part of a committee charged with an important role in putting on our annual conference event.

The second example is ongoing, and has me playing a facilitation and mediation role with a sibling group who share ownership of some legacy assets together.

 

Professional Development “Live Case” Opportunity

In the first case, my role had recently changed from simply being a member of the committee to now leading it. I had the benefit of following in the footsteps of someone who had done a great job before me, but that also gave me big shoes to fill.

There are always challenges in putting on an annual event in the summer but having to make most of the planning decisions months ahead of time, and these are only magnified by the pandemic’s uncertainty as to what will even be possible regarding large groups six months out.

So we definitely had a number of considerations, lots of moving parts, and a general lack of clarity around much of the information we needed to base our decisions upon.

We also on-boarded three new volunteers to the committee, and the admin person from the organisation was also new, and had never been part of our annual event.

 

Learning About How to Be with the Group

There was plenty of pressure on us to come to some final decisions but I resisted the temptation to push for some closure on some items that I knew could and should wait.

It was way more important to make sure we took the time to consider all our options, evaluate a number of ideas, and take advantage of the wisdom of all the members of the committee.

As the head of the group, an important part of my role was to set the right tone and pace for our deliberations. 

Weighing many interdependent considerations and allowing everyone to share their inputs was more important than the somewhat arbitrary deadlines that could have distracted us.

 

Getting a Family to Take Their Time

The practice I got from working with that group set me up nicely for a new client situation where I’ve used some of those lessons to good effect.

This sibling group is getting used to some new realities and are learning to work under a more democratic decision-making framework than they were used to.

That kind of adjustment takes time, not only in terms of minutes and hours spent together, but in the days and weeks that are needed for new realities and understandings to sink in to each person’s thinking.

When you combine that with a severe “information asymmetry” between insiders who’ve always played key roles, and those who have spent their lives on the outside looking in, it’s key to set a pace that allows everyone not only to be a part of the process, but to feel like they’re part of the process, on relatively equal footing.

 

That methodology isn’t the most efficient, but wasn’t it the tortoise who won the race?

Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference

The ideas for these posts come from all over the place and from people who hail from many different locations

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the past year or so, a bunch of them have come from webinars or other virtual settings.

This one comes from a webinar hosted by someone I never met, but whose two guests are both friends of mine, even though I’ve only actually met one of them in person.

It was yet another instance where upon hearing a certain sentence, I immediately jotted it down so that I could properly recall it for use as inspiration here.


Not an African Proverb

One of my favourite posts here over the years, which I also recorded as a video, was If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone; If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.

The lengthy title there is also an African proverb, which served as my inspiration. This week my inspiration comes from Africa once again, but it was from a story told by Nike Anani, a friend I’ve yet to meet in person, from Nigeria.

Nike was a webinar guest, along with Mitzi Perdue, who I have met, and she was relating an early experience of hers as a member of her family business.

Nike had recently returned home to join the business, after working in the corporate world in the UK.  Her return to a smaller, less professional work environment required some adjustment.

 

Questioning Everything

As she put it, soon after arriving, she began “Questioning everything”.  She elaborated, making it clear that her attitude in those early days was less than ideal, and she was not simply asking questions.

While noticing the self-awareness required to recognize this in retrospect, I also made sure to capture the spirit she was conveying about her feeling of superiority based on her corporate experience, and how she was dismayed by how things were being done in the FamBiz.

With the benefit of some hindsight and added maturity, she now realizes how important it is to ask questions, grounded in genuine curiosity, rather than “questioning” how everything was being done.

 

Different Kinds of Questions

Courtroom drama fans and politics junkies are familiar with many techniques of asking questions that are really more about getting their point across.

When thinking about this I also flash back to days when my own kids were much younger and also employed dubious questioning techniques of each other.

I distinctly recall exchanges including, “What? I was only asking a question!”, to which I’d reply “Yes, I know, but ‘why do you always have to be such an A-hole’ is also ‘Just a question’ too”.

I suppose that in many ways that was in fact a rhetorical question on my part, but I digress.

 

Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement

I’m pretty sure that if pressed, Nike would admit that most of her “questioning” in those early days was also accompanied by a whole lot of prejudgement, where she had already assumed that she knew better than the person to whom she was addressing her comments.

The best questions, as she now realizes, are founded in true curiosity, and in fact include a complete absence of judgement.

Here I’m addressing not only “prejudgement”, but also any judgement when one hears the answer.  See Judgement, Not Judgement.

One of the first big takeaways from my coaching training is that “listening without judgement” is the first thing you need to practice and train yourself to do to be successful.

 

The Family Governance Angle

As we move to wrap this up, I want to look at this topic from the other angle, i.e. the ones who are on the receiving end of the questions, or the questioning, as the case may be.

Most families have what I call an “information asymmetry”, where there are certain members who are in the know and who control much of the day-to-day activity, and others who act as “interested bystanders” much of the time.

The “bystanders” will often have questions, and the insiders do typically “owe” them answers, in many respects.

Insofar as the insiders are able to provide coherent answers, they will also minimize and forestall the potential for questioning from these other stakeholders.

If the attitude of “how dare you question me” is replaced by one resembling “of course you can ask”, that is a recipe for more harmonious relationships going forward.

No question about it!

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.

Amphibious Guidance for Members of your FamBiz

The Old Family Business / Business Family Debate

Defining the kind of work that I do with members of business families is always a bit tricky for me, so sometimes I like to dive straight into the topic here, hoping I can either enlighten readers, or discover something new for myself.

My clients are either business families or members of such families, and I really don’t do much work with “family businesses”.

I know that may seem almost contradictory, but my focus is on the people and their family above all else, including whatever business they happen to own and run.

 

Not Really a Business Coach

It’s also taken me a while to truly embrace the term “coach” as a descriptor for what I do, but when I finally got my CPCC certification in 2019, it finally seemed to resonate with me and feel real.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m no longer an “advisor” or even a “consultant” to enterprising families and their members, although the former suits me much better than the latter.

The only exception is when I’m asked what I do while going through customs, where “family business consultant” has been my standard reply and it has never elicited much response, which is the ideal result in that situation.

 

So What’s with the Amphibious Stuff?

The idea for labelling the kind of advice and coaching I do as “amphibious” comes from thinking about the origins of many of the people I’ve encountered in this field.

Off the top I’ll admit that the term amphibious here is far from a fantastic metaphor, but I want to explore it anyways, because I think it might be instructive.

A quick search of the word amphibious brings back:

               “relating to, living in, or suited for both land and water”

What I was really going for was the “suited for”, which in my head would also include “at home in”, or even “native to” but instead of “land and water”, my version is “business and family”.

 

The Ambidextrous Triathlete?

Some other ideas that came up while considering this include the term “ambidextrous”, as in “able to use the right and left hands equally well”, which gets at a lot of what I want to convey, but still misses out on part of it.

Many of you know of my love for the Three Circle Model, and since the blog linked here dates back to 2013, you know that this is more than just a recent fling.

So if there are three circles, maybe my two-way amphibian isn’t capturing everything either.  Admittedly, it isn’t.

Maybe there’s something there to be explored later, where Ownership could be the swimming portion of the race, the biking part could be the Business, and the running at the end could represent the Family.

Those who know me will quickly recognize that all of this is quite far from my comfort zone.

 

And the Comfort Zone IS Key

But all kidding aside, the idea of a comfort zone is pretty important, and that’s where the amphibious part resonates.

People who grow up as part of a business family experience life differently form those whose parents have “regular” jobs.

Having grown up in such a family, I’m always comfortable sharing those experiences with clients as I coach them, and they frequently nod as they reflect on similarities to their own context.

We’re all more comfortable relating to realities of families similar to our own.

 

What About “Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone”?

But when working with folks who are part of a legacy family, in order to be part of a process where they make progress, they typically need to get out of their comfort zones, don’t they?

Yes, of course.

In order to do that, it’s always best to recognize all the realities that they’re living within that zone, which is precisely what their amphibious coach will be well placed to do, because they aren’t only comfortable there, they’re also natives.

 

Guidance and “Walking with” my Clients

The ability to “walk with” someone and to “accompany” them on their journey is something I expounded on in Work with Me, Walk with Me.

Yes, they’d typically be able to benefit from working with any skilled coach, no matter the type of family of origin of said coach.

However, if given the opportunity to work with a skilled coach who has a similar lived experience, the potential for a rich relationship goes up tremendously. And I’ll always say “ribbit” to that!

Which One Is More Appropriate in a FamBiz?

During a recent board meeting for a local charity, the Executive Director asked us for guidance around a situation that was troubling her. The answer I gave her reminded me of advice my Dad shared with me decades ago.

Since Dad was the first Family Business owner I ever knew, and still the one upon whose wisdom I typically rely most, this incident provided a nice opportunity to share it here.

While Dad didn’t have a specific FamBiz application, because he concentrated on his own business, I do think about other people’s businesses, so I will adapt it to that situation.

 

Pandemic Safety or Easy Cash

The non-profit on whose board I serve has a large hall we rent out on occasion. Since our province has been on “essential services only” lockdown, that rental income really dried up.

Our government has allowed TV and Film production to qualify as essential, which, while being a bit of a headscratcher, became and opportunity for us.

We were approached by production crews to rent our hall for their people to take breaks and have their meals.

“Should we accept these rentals?”, was the question from our E.D.  “With so many government regulations because of our food bank, maybe we should ask first.

“How much do these rentals pay?”, came the first question.

 

Some Things Are “No-Brainers”

When I heard the answer, which was a decent sum, I replied that it was better to go ahead and do it, and ask for forgiveness later, if we got into trouble.

It seemed inadvisable to me to wait and ask for permission first. And that brought back memories from my father.

With Dad, it was typically when he wanted to build something that might require a permit.  He would “play dumb” and go ahead and build, figuring that asking for permission would cause undue delay and possible extra costs.

In our charity example, it was a no-brainer.

But what about in a family business, when you’re a rising generation “future leader”, does this advice also work?

 

All About Seizing Opportunities to Lead

There’s a plethora of potential examples that cover a wide swath of situations where this could apply, and the answer will of course vary depending on the context.

The message I want share here is that when there’s a doubt, oftentimes making the leap, and taking action, will be perceived as the better option.

When I work with different generations of a business family, I notice that some rising generation family members will defer to their elders on too many decisions, for far too long.

Yes, I understand the attitude of “But if I screw up, Dad will be mad”; been there, done that.

 

Act as If I Weren’t Here; What Would You Do?

As I wrote those words, I actually had a flashback to the 1980’s, when I once asked for Dad’s direction on a decision.  I don’t recall any details, but I do distinctly remember his words.

                     “What would you do if I wasn’t here?”

Interesting, I thought. And from that point on, for issues and decisions that were not critical, and for which a timely response was important, I began to make more of the decisions in my sphere of influence than previously.

Naturally it was better for both of us that way.

And, importantly, this began an ever-increasing responsibility load that I was able to successfully take on for myself. Another Win-Win.

 

They’re Probably Secretly Waiting for It

There are certainly some exceptions, but for the most part, parents are actually pleased, relieved, and proud when their offspring are able to take on more important roles, responsibilities, and decisions.

They’ll usually forgive you if you make a mistake, too.

Asking for permission on too many minor questions, for too long, is only going to delay the important transitions of knowledge, experience, and decision-making that are key to making a family business succession successful.

 

A Gradual, Iterative Process (Like So Many Others)

These transitions are a long time in the making, and tend to evolve gradually. They’re also iterative, meaning that you do something, learn from it, maybe take a step back, evaluate, and try again.

Over time, you make progress in the desired direction

Eventually, because a family is truly interdependent, especially over the long term, you may get to the point where you resemble a family discussed in Asking for Permission in a Family Business.

Eventually, the shoe gets to be on the other foot!

 

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.

University of Vermont Case Competition

Every January for the last several years, the college town of Burlington Vermont has become the center of attention for people from around the globe.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t (yet) a worldwide phenomenon, but, for students learning about Family Enterprise, this is the one place that hosts the annual Schlesinger Global Family Enterprise Case Competition (SG-FECC).

The University of Vermont (UVM) has been doing this for a few years (this was the 8th edition) and they have it down to a science.

This year it was held virtually, for reasons that don’t require much explanation, and that could have caused all sorts of challenges (and likely did) but you never would’ve noticed.

 

An Impressive Bunch of Young Leaders

The second part of my title references a movie featuring one of my favourite rock bands of my childhood, The Who, so perhaps I’m dating myself here.

But I really wanted to properly frame the “A-Ha moment” that I had this year, similar to the one I’ve had every time I’ve participated as a judge. If I’m not mistaken, this was my 6th time.

You may think that I’m talking about the competitors, who come from schools all over the world, every year.  And you’d be right, the students who compete in the Case Competition have impressed me every year.

 

It’s really nice to see the social aspect of the competition when it’s done in person, noticing that some of these undergraduate and graduate students are seeing snow for the first time in their lives.

 

A Huge Volunteer Undertaking by UVM Students

But it’s much bigger than just the competitors, it’s the entire organizing committee, which is composed of a few dozen students, who take care of everything from A to Z.

Yes, they are led by a few paid “adults” who work for UVM in various capacities, all of whom fall under the watchful eye of the brainchild and fearless leader of this project since Day 1, Pramodita Sharma.

But what impresses me every year is just how mature, competent, professional and diligent these young people are, and what they’re able to pull off, with only minimal supervision.

What they do have is structure and people who have done the job in previous years.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like many family businesses, and that’s where we’ll turn now.

 

Motivated and Aligned Young People

The young people of today, who many label as Generation Z, are so impressive to me, in so many ways.

I know that many business families can be hesitant to incorporate these youngsters into important roles, but from my vantage point, many of them are way more ready than the young 20-somethings of decades past.

They also benefit from having grown up with the latest technology, and with school systems that do a much better job of giving them practice at working together on projects from a young age.

Many also seem to be much better than their elders at harnessing the collective wisdom of the groups to which they belong.

They typically have plenty of motivation, so if you already have some structure and some vision, they can often handle way more than you might expect. 

 

Great Examples Abound

The recent Presidential Inauguration gave us another great display, as Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Poet Laureate knocked my socks off with her poem.

My own kids are 19 and 21, and I see so much promise in them and their friends too.  I see it in my clients’ rising generations and at SG-FECC every year too.

With the recent passing of Hank Aaron, I happened to hear his Baseball Hall of Fame speech, in which he said “A man’s ability is limited only by his lack of opportunity”

Amen.

 

Many Winners, Especially Wilfrid-Laurier and ESADE

There were many winners at SG-FECC this year, especially those from Wilfrid-Laurier University (Canada), who won the undergraduate competition, and ESADE (Spain) who took top spot in the graduate category.

I look forward to being back in Burlington for the next “in person” version, whenever that is possible.

Meantime, like so many other areas of life these past few months, we’re all adapting and realizing how much we can all still accomplish even in these sub-optimal conditions.

And with these promising young people taking on bigger roles all the time, the future is bright.

 

 

 

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.

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.