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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.

 

Surprising Word Choice Proves Revealing

Regular readers know about my penchant for word play and finding lessons in unexpected places thanks to vocabulary, grammar, and translation issues.

If that kind of blog is up your alley, you should enjoy this one since there’s some of each of those on tap this week…

A few months back in Social Capital in the FamBiz World we looked at the human need for connection

Since then I’ve realized the importance that social interaction plays in my life, and I’ve also developed a new level of gratitude for the social capital that I enjoy.

 

Joining Yet Another Group

I’m a member of a number of groups, mostly with peers, that get together over Zoom from time to time for various forms of discussion and interaction.

Most of them actually pre-date this pandemic, so I feel like I had a head start on many people in learning to get the most out of this way of meeting.

I recently joined a new group, and one of the first meetings we had was the source of inspiration for this week’s post.

Unlike all my other groups, this one conducts its business in French, which is my second language, but being a lifelong Montrealer, I’m sufficiently fluent, and I speak it both professionally and socially on a daily basis.

 

Colleagues Learning from Colleagues

Our facilitator, Jessica, was setting up a discussion and at one point I thought I knew what she was about to say but then she went in a different direction and it threw me off a bit.

We were talking about choosing the kinds of things advisors might decide to specialize their practices in, and as she was listing ways to make such choices she began to mention “Dans quoi on est…” which translates literally to “In which one is…”

My mind jumped ahead and filled in “bon”, which is French for “good”.

Of course, we want to choose to do things that we are good at, right?

But then, instead of saying “bon”, she said “bien”, which means “well”.

 

There’s a Lesson (or Two) in There

Jessica was making the point that we should concentrate on doing things that we’re “well” at, or, as a better translator might say, things that make us feel well.

Could she be on to something, suggesting that things we can feel good about doing and that make us feel well and good is even more important than concentrating on things that we are good at, i.e that we execute well?

And although we were sharing ideas amongst advisors to family enterprises, what are the implications of such a “discovery” for the members of the families we work with?

Couple relaxing on bed

Doing Versus Being

This is all about the difference between “doing” and “being”, which are two really different yet related ways of looking at oneself. 

And, interestingly, the way they interrelate evolves over time. The more you practice doing something, the more it becomes part of who you are.

Of course this also brought back memories of a piece I wrote last year, Ikigai: a Four Circle Model of Human Capital

That was about finding the true sweet spot of things we do well, things we like to do, things the world needs, and things we can get paid to do.

 

Examples for Legacy Families

While reflecting on these questions is important for professionals who work with families, they can take on even more significance for members of those families.

And, they give rise to another aspect of belonging to such a family, as I noted earlier this year in Where Do You FIT in your Business Family?

I think it’s interesting that I noted at the beginning of this piece the importance of social interaction in my life, as I continue to figure out where I fit in this wonderful world of working with enterprising families.

 

Feeling Well and Doing Good

Being part of this evolving field and making whatever contributions I can makes me feel good and I think that I’m doing a decent job.

Members of legacy families can often minimize the importance of finding activities for which they get paid, by virtue of the fact that they may have other assets off which they can live.

When I work with families, part of what I’m hoping I can help them achieve is that each person can do some good for the family while also feeling good about their place within the group.

That’s often way more important than money.

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.

Since 2014, one of the highlights of my year has been a trip to the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute each October.

It recently wound down for this year, and for a change I didn’t have to fly anywhere or check into a hotel. Alas, it was held virtually for the first time, and I’d be lying if I said it was virtually the same.

Oh well, all we can do is do our best, and I was still able to consume a huge amount of content relevant to those who inhabit the family enterprise space like me.

 

Worldwide Leaders Coming to Share

This space can often feel like a real niche, and so in order to find a critical mass of others who do similar work, a global network is actually almost a requirement.

While family businesses dominate the economy of almost every country on the planet, the vast majority remain typically small enterprises, who don’t necessarily require much special attention.

At the larger end of the spectrum, however, where we look at multi-generational family dynasties, spanning several countries, held up by complex family groups, the needs of families do warrant special attention and specialized professionals.

Source: https://digital.ffi.org/ffi-global-conference/

The Rising Generation as a Focus

There were a couple dozen presentations over two days, and often two sessions running concurrently, so there was literally something for everyone present.

There were over 300 people registered, from dozens of countries and six continents, and while cultural variations in the family enterprise world exist, there are more common elements present, making global sharing worthwhile.

One theme I noted was a focus on the rising generation in families. There were sessions on family culture, family engagement and family learning, that all spoke to the importance of getting the younger family members interested and involved.

There was talk of “values based investing” that brought all generations to the table, and a focus on having younger family members get their “Operator’s Licence” to begin running things in the family business too.

 

Complex Family Dynamics Always at Play

Aside from the focus on a particular generation, there was also a good deal of discussion around complex family dynamics that never seem to be far away when talking about family owned and operated enterprises.

There were sessions on family meetings, ethical dilemmas in families, and mediation for families who have conflicts that are difficult to resolve.

There was even some reflection for advisors to consider how comfortable we are with conflict, so we can assess whether or not we are the best person to serve our clients in such cases.

There was a great session on mental incapacity that left me with some great take-aways.

 

Repeated Messaging for my Own Good

As part of a number of different organisations that serve parts of this field, I’m privileged to cross paths with a number of great leaders who tirelessly share their thoughts in various forums every year.

The messages can feel a bit repetitive at times, but I’ve learned that even though I’ve heard someone on a subject before, I still learn something by attending again, because surely I didn’t catch everything the first time through.

The first example was Jim Grubman on mental incapacity.  I’ve heard Jim discuss it before, but this time something really stuck with me.

We’ve all known people who’ve begun to lose their ability due to age-related mental decline, and it can cause enormous complexity for a family to deal with.

Grubman highlighted part of the reason for this, and it hit home for me.

 

Legal, Medical, Business, Emotional, and Ethical Views

The reason they are so complex is that they are viewed differently through a variety of different lenses.

A person whose mental decline has begun raises issues in law, medicine, business, family emotions and ethics.

No wonder these things are so hard to deal with!

 

Dennis Jaffe Delivers Again

A few weeks ago I wrote about Dennis Jaffe in Legacy Families Rely on a Generative Alliance. He was the closing speaker at FFI, and even though I’ve seen him present many times, I still got something new out of it.

I was also pleased to have been featured myself, as Dr. Mariana Martinez and I kicked things off during the first day’s early morning session with Bowen: From Theory to Practice. Thanks to all those who gave me great feedback!

Looking forward to FFI 2021 in London next year; fingers crossed that it will be in person!