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Admittedly a Little Bit Counter-Intuitive

In last week’s blog I talked about the latest super-spreader event that I attended in 2022, and enough time has passed that I can safely confirm that I emerged unscathed once again.

I did leave the latest RendezVous of the Purposeful Planning Institute with lots of good stuff, of course, as has been the case each time I’ve attended since 2014.

There was a small nugget in the opening keynote presentation that made me jot down one single word, and I’ve been reflecting on its importance ever since.

That word was “direction”, and even though I can’t recall the exact context in which it was shared, it resonated with me, and so now I need to share some of my thoughts about that.

 

Fundamental Human Connection

The theme for this year’s conference was “The Fundamentals of Human Connection”, and our opening keynote was wonderfully delivered by Akasha Saunders, from Cultivating Leadership.

When he noted the importance of direction it hit me like a lightning bolt, as if it were the missing link to a number of disparate ideas in my head.

I write about families who face the challenges of transitioning their wealth or their business from one generation to the next, which is never simple or easy work.

When I’m engaged by a family as a resource to them to guide them on that journey, they often ask me lots of questions about the destination we are trying to get to.

I don’t like to get into “destination” type talk, preferring to focus on the “journey” instead.

The idea of focusing on “direction” appeals to me, probably because it’s even simpler than the journey, and is in fact a small subset of it.

 

But Doesn’t the Destination Give You the Direction?

I wrote about this 4 years ago in There IS No Destination which was inspired by a great quote I’d read: 

                                          There Is No Destination.

                                                It’s ALL Journey.

                                                    All. Of. It. 

That remains one of my favourite posts, and now I’m please to be able to revisit it and add the importance of direction.

Just because it’s a journey, that doesn’t mean it needs to be random.

You have a general idea of where you want to go, and that helps you and your family to point yourself in the right direction.

 

In a Hurry to Get to the End

I recently ran a first in-person family meeting with a family I’ve been working with remotely in 1-on-1 calls over the past 6 months, and as we wound up our successful time together, we ended with a look ahead at what could be the next logical step on our journey together.

Some of the family members seemed in more of a hurry than others, as the idea of tackling formal governance appealed to them.

I discouraged them from trying to “jump ahead” too quickly, and we decided together that working on defining the family’s shared values made more sense.

I explained my penchant for attaching the adjective “evolving” to the term “governance”, and they agreed that this sounded prudent.

See The Evolution of Family Governance, among other posts.

 

Shared Values Help Provide Direction

Uncovering a family’s shared values provides a great foundation, and that helps inform the logical direction that the family members need to take.

Getting everyone pointed in the same direction, and then starting to slowly move the proverbial train down the track is how I like to explain it.

Are you heading west, or south? 

You don’t have to know exactly where you are trying to go to begin to overcome the inertia that keeps too many families stuck in neutral.

Sticking with the train metaphor, there are lots of places where a train can deviate from straight ahead and take on a new direction.

The flexibility component of not simply looking rigidly ahead to a specific destination should not be understated.

 

Engagement and Alignment – Redux

In Family Engagement and Family Alignment – Chicken and Egg we looked at these two key elements and how interdependent they are.

We can now add direction, and perhaps even momentum, as key areas for families to focus upon, as they work to overcome the many challenges involved in successful intergenerational wealth transitions.

Most families have a good general idea of what it could/should look like, but that doesn’t mean that the exact destination is known or even achievable.

Simply making sure you have the direction right is something worth thinking about from time to time

Coming Down from a Rocky Mountain High

Over the years since I’ve been sharing my thoughts in this space on a weekly basis, there is one particular source of inspiration upon which I have drawn far more ideas than any other.

Regular readers can likely guess that I’m referring to the Purposeful Planning Institute, whose members long ago became my “tribe”.

I first attended PPI’s annual RendezVous in Denver in 2014, where it became evident for me that this community was unlike any other group of professionals I’d ever encountered. (I’ve yet to come across anything else even close to it since either.)

Having just completed our first in-person RendezVous since 2019, I’m coming down from my Rocky Mountain high and will share my experience.


Highest Membership Numbers Yet

I should explain my role with this group a bit further before I expound upon the “humble brag” that I’ve already set up here.

I’ve been serving on the Wisdom Expedition for RendezVous for 5 years now, including the past two years as its leader. 

Wisdom, along with its sister expedition, Experience, both sit below the Vision Expedition, which is responsible for each annual RendezVous gathering. 

The result is that the organisation benefits from a leadership group numbering a couple dozen committed believers, and that breadth has always been a hallmark of PPI’s success.

So when John A. Warnick, PPI’s founder and our fearless leader, shared that PPI’s membership is now over 450 people, there were many people in the room who beamed with pride, as this is the highest number since PPI’s initial RendezVous in 2011.


Pent Up Demand for Connection

Reconvening with one’s tribe is always great because although we’ve remained connected virtually in the interim, this is a group of “huggers” and many were long overdue.

And, at the same time, there were so many new faces this year too, and that bodes well for the future.

Our theme was well selected, “The Fundamentals of Human Connection” and I’m quite sure we won’t stray too far from that in the future either, as it is what sets the PPI community apart.

What we all have in common is a desire to better serve the families we work for, and doing so requires that we go deeper, and connect not just with our heads but also with our hearts and souls.


A Community and Its Members

Between sessions over the three days, there are lots of long breaks built in, during which relationships can be built and or rekindled.

By the final day, I kept returning to the same comments in my discussions: 

The whole of our community is greater than the sum of its parts, for sure, AND, so many of those parts are really fantastic to begin with.

As I often remark, the way we think about our professional community also happens to have many parallels to the work we all do with families.

Not all families realize how important it is for them to work on developing all of the human capital they have at their disposal in their family.

As we have the privilege to work with such families, part of what we often need to do is to nudge them in this direction, and encourage them to consider every family member and their individual development, and not simply be satisfied that the family remains wealthy or that their business continues to succeed.


A Few Highlights for Good Measure

Following RendezVous each year I typically blog about some of the highlights, but I didn’t leave myself much room this time.

From our opening keynote from Akasha to the closing salvo from David York, there were many other great moments in between.

The Dream Building session featuring Amanda, Cathy and Marlis was off the charts, the FRED Talks that I was honoured to introduce were all home runs, and the two Purposeful Connections speeches were wonderfully touching.

I was looking forward to finally meeting my friend Cindy Radu in person, but thanks to a late Covid diagnosis, she was forced to submit hers on video, and she blew everyone away nonetheless.

I always go to RendezVous to refill my proverbial “pitcher”, from which I pour for the other 51 weeks of the year.

As usual, the many firehoses that were present made it overflow and I left all wet, and very fulfilled.

See you again next year.

A Key Question you NEED to Ask

Many of the professionals with whom I interact in my work with enterprising families are specialists in a particular domain, with decades of experience providing solutions for these families.

In many ways I admire these people because the work that they do is relatively easy to describe and ends up with a clear “deliverable” for the families for whom they toil.

When the result of that work actually ends up being useful to the family in question, it must be very validating for them.

Unfortunately, in many instances the output of those efforts never gets implemented into the family’s plans.


Ideas Are a Dime a Dozen

The question of “great ideas” recently hit me and had me searching for the quote that brought home the wisdom around how ideas are insufficient in themselves.

Google was quick to respond with the nugget I was searching for, courtesy of Mary Kay Ash, an ultra-successful U.S. entrepreneur in the last century.

 

                                    “Ideas are a Dime a Dozen

                                 People who Implement them

                                              Are Priceless”

 

Families who’ve accumulated a certain amount of wealth eventually face the challenge of transitioning that wealth to the rising generation of their family.

There are hundreds of ideas that can be useful to these families, and thousands of professionals who are expert in wielding them.

And yet the question of whether or not the family will actually implement them rarely gets asked in advance of the work being done.


MBA School Flashback

I’m now flashing back to my days in MBA school, a little over 30 years ago. 

It was one of the top business schools in the country, and they were quite sensitive to ensuring that the freshly-minted MBA’s they were shoving out into the workforce were actually delivering what their new employers were hoping for.

Lo and behold, they had discovered that in some ways, they were missing the mark.

The school had been great at producing experts who could analyze any business situation, produce alternative solutions, and recommend the best course of action.  There was no doubt about that aspect.

Where this school (and all others) was falling short, was in producing people who could actually implement the proposed solution.

You know, the priceless ones.


Bricks, Mortar, and a Mason

Regular readers recognize that metaphors and analogies are some of my favourite ways of communicating complex ideas.

I’ve borrowed the one about the difference between the bricks and the mortar from others, because it nicely illustrates the distinction between the two main physical components of a brick wall.

I also like to add in the part about the mason, or bricklayer, in whose absence no wall will be built.

The one who builds the wall actually “implements” the bricks and the mortar together to create the desired wall.


Stop with the “You Should Do This”

A few weeks ago, in Some Woulda Coulda Shoulda’s for Family Enterprises we looked at part of this question, and I suggested that instead of telling families what we think they should be doing, we might instead help them think about what they could accomplish together, and what the other family members would be up for trying to do together.

This gets right to the heart of what the family is actually interested and able to work on, as they think about the wall they want to build together, and hopefully has them working together to co-create something they will actually implement.

They will certainly need some special bricks supplied by experts along the way, and many of those will include important elements that they should be incorporating.

But the bricks are only a small part of the wall, and the experience gained by the family in building it together will have been priceless, as Mary Kay Ash suggested.


Another Flashback to a Different Analogy

Writing these missives every week is so useful to me because quite often I don’t know where they are going to take me before I begin writing each post.

For instance, I had no idea that I’d flash back to a blog from almost 4 years ago as I wrote this.

But Building a Bridge Versus Buying One instantly came back to me just now, and it’s the perfect place for this piece to land.

Going back to the title of this post, “Can the Family….”, I recognize that another verb, “Will the Family…” poses an equally valid question that should also be asked!

Please ask both!

Entering Uncharted Territory

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

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

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

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

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


1.  You Cannot Change Someone Else

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

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

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

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

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

2. Look to Provide Help, Not to Punish

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

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

Nobody sets out to become addicted to anything. 

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

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

3. Set Realistic Expectations

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

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

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

4. Work on Organizing the Rest of the Family

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

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

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

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

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

5. Bring in Outside Help to Manage It

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Usually a Slow Journey to the Top

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

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

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

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

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


Caring Enough to Understand

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

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

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

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

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

Some Random Nuggets to Share:

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

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


What Does the IRS Have to Do with This?

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

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

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

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

On Family Business Boards:

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

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

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


A G5 Keynote to Remember

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

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

        “Is your family office becoming a bigger problem than 

                      the problem it was designed to solve?”

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

More Nuggets:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So What Is It That’s Underrated?

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

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

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

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

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


Making Relationships Work Better

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

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

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

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

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

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


There Are Two Parties in Any Communication

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

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

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

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

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


Communication as a Weapon

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

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

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

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

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

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


It’s Never as Simple as It Appears

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

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

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

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

Some New Ways to Look at Conflict in Families

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

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

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


A Recent FFI Session on Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Good from Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

                         “Conflict Is a Leadership Opportunity”

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

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


One Plus One Equals Five

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

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

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

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


Willing Partners as a Starting Point

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

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

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


Or Maybe You Need the Teacher First

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

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

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

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

Expect the Best, Train for the Worst

Friends, colleagues, and regular readers of my newsletter (same $0 as this blog subscription) know that I recently participated in a training program that was off the beaten path for those in my field of practice.

It’s taken me over a month to reflect on the experience and share it here, because there was so much to absorb.

Everyone with whom I spoke about this opportunity, before I went and since I returned, has been intrigued by the fact that I attended, and curious about what I gleaned from the experience.

This week I’ll share the salient highlights, along with some surprises.

 

“Intro to Crisis/Hostage Negotiation for MHP’s”

Before diving in, the only reason this possibility came to me is thanks to my social capital, i.e. the relationships that I’ve built and maintained with the fantastic people in the community I’ve encountered, via PPI, FFI, and FEC.

Being involved in various capacities with these peer networks has resulted in many cherished relationships, and with relationships sometimes come unique invitations.

So it was when Amanda Koplin, founder of Koplin Consulting, reached out to me and asked if I’d like to fill one of the extra spots in the upcoming training program she was organizing for her team.

She’d mentioned this weeklong program during our work together on a PPI committee, and I guess I sounded intrigued enough for her to extend this generous offer to me.

I still recall her initial idea: “In a hostage situation they send the cops, because it’s a crime; but it’s actually a mental health crisis”.

 

Role Plays and Playing Roles

So there I was in Nashville, surrounded by mental health professionals – “MHP’s” — (which I’m NOT, but trying to fit in) all being trained by ex-FBI folks.

Meanwhile, we were all learning the material these trainers normally teach to law enforcement officers.

There were some official “role plays” along the way, but I was also quite pre-occupied in playing the role of not sticking out too much.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you step out of your comfort zone. And yet, it was not nearly as uncomfortable as expected.

 

Key Takeaway Message

As I’ve shared with many since then, the most important learnings were about the attitude and demeanor one needs to adopt when presented with a crisis situation.

Not surprisingly, the ability to remain calm is fundamental to becoming a resource to those in crisis. 

Their brains are filled with anxiety and therefore not functioning in an optimal way, so just by being there and remaining calm, you can already add lots of value.

Perhaps my lack of discomfort with this aspect stemmed from the fact that I’d been down this road in previous training programs, notably those in conflict resolution and Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST).

It was underscored once again, and should never be forgotten.

 

Connecting with Those in Crisis – Not with their Heads

The second take-away was the importance of connecting with anyone in a crisis, and not just with their head. As noted above, their brain isn’t fully functioning in a crisis, so they’ll respond better to those who connect with them in other ways.

Getting someone to trust you in such situations comes down to connection at a deeper level whether you call it heart-to-heart, at a gut level, or having your souls connect.

Please note that these are my interpretations of what we learned, and these words were nowhere in the course materials.

In fact, I attended in search of learning to better connect with members of families I work with, so don’t be surprised that my learnings fall here.

 

Surprises Since My Return

Since coming back home, many people have asked about the experience, and so many of them get hooked on the hostage aspect, and not the crisis angle.

Indeed, some family enterprise situations do feature folks who do feel like hostages, but that’s really a whole other subject, because those are usually more “chronic” as opposed to the “acute” situations we learned about.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that colleagues also seemed curious about the “what to do” in a crisis angle, whereas my experience was more about “how to be” in a crisis.

Like many life situations, much of it comes down to a negotiation of some sort, which isn’t rocket science by any stretch.

Keeping a cool head always helps.

Why Succession Planning Fails…… Despite Mostly Good Intentions

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Making Plans for People Without Involving Them

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

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

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

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

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

But maybe that’s just me.


Not Keeping Everyone Involved as Things Evolve

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

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

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

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


People & Relationships, Not Structures & Legal Documents

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

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

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

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

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

See Is Your Continuity PAL in Danger?

Very Important Words for Families to Understand

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

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

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

Let’s get on with the show.


Teaching Family Governance to Advisors

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Evolving Vocabulary and Using the Right Words

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

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

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

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

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


So What Do We Mean by Governance?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Regular, Repeating Meetings to Discuss and Agree

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

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

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

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

Because succession without governance does equal chaos.