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My Favourite High School Subject Is Irrelevant Now

It’s amazing how fresh certain memories from over 40 years ago can seem when you allow yourself a trip down memory lane as you reflect back on your past.

The two main words that this week’s blog subject hang on, chemistry and geography, just happen to be two of the more memorable courses that I think about when I flash back to my days at St-Thomas High in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Just a couple of weeks ago in Curiosity as the Antidote to Assumptions in Families I also harkened back to those days, but there I’d noted a favourite teacher, without referencing the subject he taught.

Back in those days, I was expecting to eventually succeed my father in the business he had founded, and so any idea that I might someday be advising other business families was far from my radar.


Looking Forward to Geography Class

There was something about geography class that I really gravitated towards, and I guess Mr. Dunning and his quirky style had a lot to do with it.

I really don’t recall anything specific that we learned, but the memories of my time in that class are mostly positive ones.

I suppose that having a person at the front of the room who has the right attitude helps a lot, and now that I am often the person who leads a group, I appreciate what goes into that.


Never Expecting to Need to Understand Chemistry

Chemistry class with Mr. Legros was less fun.. I recall only a couple of things about my time spent in those classes.

The first was that I could never imagine any scenario where the subject I was being forced to learn would ever serve me later in life in any way whatsoever.

Four decades later, I’ve still not figured it out.

The other thing I recall was that our teacher would be speaking to the class while writing something on the blackboard, that was completely different from what he was saying.


The Geography Angle – Inspired by Jay Hughes

Some of you are wondering where I’m going with this, so here’s where I’ll throw the venerable Jay Hughes under the bus.

A few years ago at the RendezVous of the Purposeful Planning Institute, it was Hughes who was the first person to name the issue of distance pre-empting people from spending quality time together as an problem of “geography”.

He’d begun to have regular Zoom calls with certain colleagues and was fascinated by how little drop off in quality there is compared to being face-to-face.

This was before the pandemic, so it was actually kind of new to many of us in attendance.

I’ve since commented that what you lose in effectiveness when meeting virtually is more than made up for in efficiency.

The geography “problem” in getting together to meet with people has almost completely disappeared.


We All “Get” the Part About Chemistry – In Theory

When it comes to working with the members of an enterprising family, however, there is no way to work around for the question of “chemistry”.

We all know what I’m talking about, and it’s easy enough to understand. “Let’s meet and see what the chemistry is like.”

While the chemistry we studied in school could be used to predict what will happen when you combined two things, combining people together and knowing in advance what’ll happen is another matter.

As someone who often works with all the members of the same family, it’s crucial that I have “good chemistry” with every single one of them, or else I really won’t be able to do what I need to do for them and with them.


Chemistry Can Be Tricky in Practice

In practice, this can get very tricky at times, and I always need to tread carefully.

I need everyone to believe that I am there for them and that I get them, and I need to have their respect and earn their trust.

At the same time, they’re typically trying to get me to take their side in matters, so I need to walk a fine line because the person on the “other side” is also doing that. See Choosing Sides in a Family Business

I need to be wary of any sparks that might set the laboratory ablaze!


My New Stock Answer 

When people ask me if I work with families who aren’t located near me, my new stock answer is:

 “Of course, chemistry is much more important than geography”.

 

So Many Questions, So Little Time

As much as I enjoy speaking with people who are part of a family business, some of the discussions I have with colleagues who also work with such families are even more stimulating.

These can involve general topics that affect many families, or, on occasion, a specific family situation that one of us happens to be dealing with concerning a particular client family.

Some of the most energizing dialogues meander all over the place, from general to specific and back again.

This blog stems from some notes I jotted down after one such meeting a while back, with two friendly colleagues who happen to work for a multi-family office, where the subject matter bounced all over the place, much to my delight.

Needless to say, together we raised way more questions than we answered, but all were related to how families can get their needs served as they prepare for the future.


Handling a Family’s Concerns

The questions also rotated around what a family could do, should do, and would do, depending on a number of different factors.

For example, what should a family be concerned about, as they begin to prepare for an upcoming generational transition?

What could they do about things, assuming that they even properly comprehended what challenges they were actually going to be facing together?

What would they be ready to undertake as first steps to move in the right direction together as they begin to understand the importance of doing this work as a family?


Finding Resources and Getting Help

What kind of work could they be doing together, assuming they knew that some help was available to them?

When it comes to what a family should be doing, as advisors that’s really tough to assess up front, until we’ve done the work and spent enough time getting to know them, so that we can have some ideas to suggest to them.

Assuming that we have some ideas, we also need to consider what the family would be able to handle right now, so that we can get some small early wins and develop momentum with them.


Preparing for the Family’s Future

An interesting way to learn more about a family can involve asking them what they would like the future to look like for their family.  You can expect different answers from different family members, so you also need to decide whether you’re asking them as a group or one-on-one.

After that you might want to ask them what they think they could be doing to achieve that kind of future.  A follow-up to that one might be to ask what they think they should start with.

It’s one thing to have these kinds of conversations with people who are part of a business family, but it’s even more important to make sure that they are also having such discussions amongst themselves, as a family.


Encouraging Families to Have Dialogues

As much as you might think that most families regularly talk about things together, you’d be surprised how often you find out that the really important subjects just don’t seem to come up very often.

Family enterprises result in some complex relationships between people where the family and the business overlap, and maybe because people spend lots of time together, they assume that they know how the others feel.  See: Curiosity as the Antidote to Assumptions in Families

As advisors we can and should encourage families to have dialogues about important subjects that involve their futures together, but that might not be sufficient.

Often what families really need is someone to guide such discussions so that they feel like a safe space for everyone to share, which is not always the case.


Moving Away from Should to Could and Would

Often families who are looking for advice will ask what should we do.

Even when we have some good ideas, it’s better not to jump in with an answer right away, as noted above, because we really need to get to know them first.

Helping them see what they could achieve and become together can go a long way.  But there’s usually lots of work involved in hitting their full potential, so it’s best to also share with them everything that would be involved in getting there.

What we want to avoid is having any of our family clients someday having regrets about what they woulda, coulda or shoulda done.

 

Overdue 4-D Connections at FEC Symposium

So Refreshing after Years of 2-D

Far be it for me to declare an end to the Covid pandemic, but it sure feels like we’ve entered back into the land of face-to-face connections with colleagues and clients, both new and old.

I’ve just spent a few great days in Vancouver at the Family Enterprise Canada (FEC) Symposium, and I’m more energized than I’ve been in a long time.

The reasons for my positivity are varied, but mostly stem from so much pent up demand within me and others to actually spend time with other like-minded people, in each others’ physical company.

I can’t tell you how many times I shared face-to-face conversations with familiar people who I had only ever seen on Zoom, in two dimensions (2-D).

I even got so tired of my own joke about this, “So nice to see you in 3-D” that I decided I needed to go a dimension further, but you’ll need to stick around to the end for that punchline.

 

Let Me Count the Ways

FEC brings together two major constituencies, members of enterprising families, and advisors to such families who’ve completed FEC’s family enterprise advisor (FEA) designation. There are now over 400 FEA designates, and our numbers at this sold-out Symposium were well into triple digits.

I got reacquainted with several colleagues whose hands I’d already shaken in years past, and also to finally size up some people I’ve known for a while but whose height I’d been unable to assess thus far.

Not that that’s crucial, but more than one person told me that I’m taller than they expected from our online encounters, where Zoom is the great height equalizer.

I even had a chance to meet a former client in attendance, who brought me up to speed on their family’s progress since I last saw them a few years back.

I also slipped out of the hotel briefly to meet with a current BC-based coaching client who happened to be in Vancouver at the same time.

Thanks to CC who alerted me to his presence and for inviting me to their work meeting; it was so cool to see a group of advisors in the same room together working to develop solutions for a complex family situation.

 

Fun Being Back Up Onstage

By far the key element of my time there that created the most lasting memories was the fact that I had been recruited to co-MC the event over the two main days.

Getting mic’ed up and going up onto the stage to introduce all the wonderful session facilitators was an honour and a pleasure.

Getting to know my co-host, Keita Demming, and developing the rapport required to pull that off relatively seamlessly is a testament to his flexibility in dealing with my “Costello” to his “Abbott”.

The kind feedback I received from so many people, friends and strangers alike, will keep me pumped for months to come.

Something about being in a room full of family business types makes me feel like I’m in my element and that I’ve found “my people”.

 

True and Authentic Sharing of Experiences

The format of Symposium included a few breakout sessions where the family members and advisors went to separate sessions, but the majority of the time was spent together in plenary sessions.

There was lots of magic in those, because of they way they’d been ingeniously set up, which was quite well received.

The main room sessions were mostly panels moderated by seasoned family business advisors, where the panelists came from family enterprises.

The result was so much valuable sharing of true, lived family business experiences, which benefits both family attendees and the many FEA’s in the room.

 

So, What About that “4th” Dimension?

Alright, so what did I mean earlier when I teased about the fourth dimension? Well, so many of the people I’ve met working in this field during the past decade are more than just colleagues, they have become true friends.

And like many friends, when I see them for the first time in a while, hugs are exchanged.

It’s tough to replicate a hug in an online meeting.

Thanks to Covid, we now need to make sure a hug is welcome, and most were.

I’m looking forward to more 4-D encounters later this year, at the PPI Rendez-Vous in Denver in July, and FFI in Boston in October.

We All Know What Happens When We Assume

For me it was Mr. McGee, a High School teacher, who first shared the dangers of making assumptions. I cannot recall the context of this lesson from circa 1980, but I distinctly remember him writing the word “ASSUME” on the chalkboard.

He then said, “You know what happens when you assume?”

The class waited for the punchline. He then drew two short vertical lines, before and after the “U”, leaving three distinct words:

A  S  S   U  ]   M  E

“You make an ASS out of U and ME

That was over 40 years ago and it’s still with me, so let’s just say the message stuck.


And We Are ALL Guilty of It

I’m pretty sure most readers will have heard some version of this tale somewhere along the way, and if not, feel free to borrow the one from Mr. McGee.

And, not surprisingly, all of us are also certainly guilty of making assumptions, because, well, you can’t not make them sometimes!

But what if there were an antidote that we could dream up that could help us minimize those occasions where we risk making an ass out of each other, especially with important people in our lives, like our family members?

Well I’ve got good news, there is one. And we all have some of it in us, and we can improve with practice.

My title has already given it away, but for those of you who already got lost in my prose (and I don’t want to assume that you recall the title of this blog) it’s curiosity.


A Coaching Webinar as Source

The idea for this post came a while back when I was watching a webinar about coaching, and presenter said, “The greatest resistance to curiosity is assumptions”.

I jotted that down because I felt like there was some juice to be squeezed from it.

But as I thought about it from many family business contexts with which I am familiar, I decided to turn it around and focus on the assumptions that too many people make about family members.

Rather than looking at “resistance to curiosity”, I want to concentrate on using curiosity to overcome the many problems that come from not having enough curious conversations.


It Comes Down to Attitude

My guess is that senior generation family members are typically guilty of this a bit more often, but I’m sure it happens in every generation.

It typically stems from an attitude of believing you know things you just never bothered to verify.

“Of course the kids will want to work in the family business” comes to mind for me, personally.  In my case it also came along with a healthy dose of not leaving me any choice.

My Dad knew what was best for me, or so he surely believed. Of course his plans for me also happened to be what he thought was best for him.

He could have been much more curious about what I wanted, but he never allowed himself to go there, just in case he’d learn something he didn’t really want to know.


Someone from Outside the Family as a Spark

So how might one go about sparking the kind of curiosity that I’m talking about here?

When the group of people is always exactly the same, it’s easy to get into a rut, and there isn’t much room for curiosity.

But what happens when an outsider shows up with the group, and that person is curious and begins to ask questions to satisfy their curiosity?

This could be just the right way for some new subjects and ideas to land on the table for consideration.

There are many things I should have pushed back on with my Dad, but I did not, for all kinds of reasons, many of which are more clear to me now than they were decades ago.

Could a well-placed and well-meaning outsider have helped spark certain discussions that could have been started, so that I could shine a spotlight on some of the many assumptions he had made about me?


Recognizing That Something’s Amiss

Sometimes you know that something is amiss and if you take the time to ask what you’re assuming, you’ll likely be onto something.

If you can then get curious and actually ask questions so that you can learn, you’ll be going in the right direction.

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.

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.

Plenty of Sophisticated Sellers Out There

The family enterprise world continues to evolve and mature, and it feels like the supply side is way ahead of the demand side in most cases, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

There really is no single reason for this, nor anyone at whom we need to point the finger of blame, it just seems to be that way.

With time and a bit of effort, and a bit more evolution and focus on what’s right for each particular family client, this is already beginning to change, albeit ever so slowly.

Let’s jump in and look at the problem I’ve dubbed “solutions in search of families”.


The “I Have a Hammer” Syndrome

The simplest version of the issue is that many solution providers are pretty much a “one-trick pony”.

If I go to the barber shop and ask them if I need a haircut, unless I got one there the day before, I can already guess the answer I’ll get.

Likewise, if a family leader who knows that they need to do “something” goes to see a lawyer, they’ll be offered a legal solution; if they start with an accountant, they’ll be offered an accounting solution, and so on.

For the simplest family cases, this is all “plenty good enough”.

For families with more complex situations, though, this is where we can end up with the tail wagging the proverbial dog.


Interdisciplinary Work Towards Custom Solutions

I have long been a fan of families working with a variety of different specialist experts in order to come up with a custom solution for their particular needs.

While it might seem expensive to involve so many highly compensated experts in such planning, the synergies the family gets almost always far outweigh the additional time and cost they absorb on the front end.

The field of such experts continues to evolve in this direction, as professionals learn to work together in the best interests of the families they serve.

As the pendulum continues to swing in this direction, I recently had lunch with a colleague, after which I had a bit of an “A-Ha” moment.

And it had little to do with the fact that I had just eaten the most expensive soup I’ve ever had. (Yes, it was delicious.)


Everything Is Available; Everything is Affordable

I’d been invited to lunch by a colleague from a large multi-family office (MFO) to discuss ways that I might be a resource to them and to the families they serve.

My original title for this post was “Beware Solutions in Search of Families”, because I had the “I have a hammer, so everything looks like a nail” idea in my head.

But the lunch with my MFO friend revealed another version of the challenge, so I rejigged the title to “Matching Solutions to Each Client Family”, because our discussion revealed a different challenge.

I heard about clients who could afford any and every possible “solution”, but for whom the “problem” to be solved had yet to be clearly identified.

I also heard about a firm that was positioned to be the resource to supply and/or coordinate each solution as needed, but, despite having their shelves fully stocked with great stuff, felt at a loss to figure out where to begin.


Crawl Before You Walk, Walk Before You Run

It became clear to me as I digested my soup and my seabass that both the supply side and the demand side of this equation, despite having met and decided that they were a good fit, were still at a bit of a loss to figure out the first steps.

Admittedly, I was hearing about some relatively new potential clients of this MFO, which for me is always the most interesting time, because there’s so much to discover.

My mind works on a much slower timeframe than most (thanks, Dad).

My advice was to proceed slowly, one step at a time.

You want to run with it, but you should walk first, and perhaps even crawl before that.


Taking Time to Properly Connect, First

If this has a familiar ring to something you read here recently, kudos for paying close attention.

Just last week, in Relationships Support Structure, What Supports Relationships, I wrote:

 

            “If you are privileged to work with families,

      and you want to solidify your relationships with them,

             it is well worth spending time and effort 

                on your deeper connection with them.”

 

I recognize that many advisors don’t feel like they have that luxury of time to build this connection.

My suggestion is to find the time, because it’s usually worth it.

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?

What Could Go Wrong?

Metaphors have always been one of my favourite ways to explain things, but sometimes, admittedly, I can twist things a bit too far.

I hope this won’t be one of those occasions; apologies in advance if it is.

So be forewarned that this is not actually a story about a young blonde girl who advises a family business (or a family of bears).

 

Insiders, Outsiders, Goldilocks?

The genesis of this post is actually an introduction I heard on TV about an upcoming guest on a show I happened to be watching.

It was an American show, and the guest was an Irishman who spends half his time in the USA, and half his time in Ireland.

The host proclaimed that this gives the man, 

   “The knowledge of an insider, and the perspective of an outsider”

Bang, there it was. I actually paused the TV, rewound, and made sure I had the quote right.

 

Finding the Right Balance

I instantly thought about situations where a family business, or more specifically, a business family, calls in someone from outside the family to work with them.

Of course that’s because this is exactly the kind of work I love to do, when I’m not writing about fairy tales.

Many families are loath to bring in anyone from the outside, preferring to keep everything in-house, within the family, for fear that outsiders cannot be trusted, or believing that nobody else could ever understand “our family”.

They’re wrong on both counts, and we’ll get to the reasons why, but for now, let’s look at this “insider / outsider” dynamic.

Perspective of an Outsider

We’ll start with the perspective piece, because this is truly the biggest reason to enlist the services of an outside family business consultant.

Any person who is not a part of the family is also not part of the “family system” as those who use a systems theory lens would say.

The family system is called that because of the interdependent nature of the relationships that the different members have on one another, thanks their many common goals, and to the way that they interact on a long-term, repetitive basis.

An outsider, especially one trained in this kind of work, can instantly offer that family system the benefit of their outsider’s perspective, precisely because of what they are able to see, thanks to the fact that they are not part of the system.

When I peer into my aquarium, I see that the fish are all swimming in the tank.  I’m pretty sure that the fish don’t see things the same way.

 

Knowledge of an Insider

Naturally the person who isn’t a part of the family won’t have the knowledge of an insider who’s been a part of the family their whole life.

But that doesn’t mean that, with time, they can’t come to know the individual members of the family, and how they work together, pretty well, all the while maintaining their outsider’s perspective, which is so valuable.

In fact, a good outsider knows the limits of how far inside they want to go, knowing that if they ever lose their outsider’s perspective, they suddenly become a less valuable resource to the family.

Special Case: In-Laws!

We’ll get back to this Insider / Outsider stuff next week in Part II, but we need to acknowledge a special category of people who happen to exist somewhere in most business families, and who somehow live long periods of their lives in this “twilight zone”, in between insiders and outsiders.

Often the in-laws try desperately to be included among the insiders of the family, with varying degrees of success.  Somehow many of them are never truly accepted as insiders, and sometimes for good reason.

It also occurs that the efforts made to become insiders can negate any outsider advantages they might have had to begin with!

In-laws each have their own reality to face, and some learn to live with the cards they’ve been dealt better than others. 

 

Looking Ahead

Next week, in Part II, we’ll look at what percentage of business families actually hire outside consultants, as well as things that outside advisors need to be aware of, as they are welcomed into the sacred world of a business family’s inside workings.

As Goldilocks taught us, not all situations are “just right”.

Every now and then, I hear an expression that hits me between the eyes, and I know I’ve got to think more about it, and eventually write about it here. Such was the case recently during one of the weekly Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI) webinars I like to attend.

And once again, the quote that became a take-away had little to do with the main subject at hand.

I decided to make the quote the title of this blog post. It comes from Dwight Eisenhower, whose term as US President ended before I was born, but based solely on that quote, I like Ike!

 

So Many Contrasts, So Little Time

When I think about the differences between the plans we make and the process of making those plans, especially when considering my favourite subjects (business families), so many possibilities come up.

I’ll probably have to cut this short before I cover them all, so let’s get right into it.

Regular readers may notice that this post will have me repeating things that I’ve said many times before in this space, and that’s usually a good thing.

Someone recently complimented me on the fact that things I told him verbally and facts in my book were consistent.  I’m still shaking my head as to why he seemed to think that was special.

 

The “Journey” Versus the “Destination”

One way to think about the planning process being more important than the end result is the old “the journey is more important than the destination” idea.

As I wrote in There Is No Destination last year, when you get right down to it, we only live in the present, so it literally is all journey.

In fact, too many people have it wrong and focus so much on completing the plan, thinking that having a completed plan will actually provide some magic power.

The value in taking the time to work with others to make plans, and the shared experience that creates, should not be underestimated.

 

Process versus Content

This segues nicely into the next way I want to look at the planning versus plans question.  The whole idea fits so perfectly with the “process versus content” contrast.

The “plan” is the finished product, the content, or the “deliverable”. 

It makes me think of what a consultant would produce, and that then conjures up the image of a report that then sits on a shelf, gathering dust, i.e. useless.

Compare that with what a process consultant, like a facilitator or coach would be involved in.  It’s the entire process of working with a group of people, who together co-create that plan.

More often than not, the activity of working together as a team becomes a more important result than the plan itself.

 

Outdated Before It’s Even Finished

Yet another way to think about the reason plans themselves are overrated is that they are often outdated before the final version is even completed.

When the focus is on completing a beautiful plan, there comes a time when the planning itself needs to end, so that the final report can be crafted.

But once the planning stops so that the report can be written, life goes on, and the final version of the report may already be out of date.

Maybe it would have been better to just continue the planning, to stay on top of the changes going on?

 

Active versus Passive

Next, the activity of planning is by its nature, “active”.  It’s something that people “do”. A plan is something stagnant and inanimate, it’s something that’s been “done”, and it’s now passive.

I like the way that “activity” meshes so well with “journey” and “process”, and the whole “co-creation experience”.

 

The WHO

The unspoken element that I’ve had in mind now needs to be spoken.  A plan may well have been written by one person, perhaps a family leader or a hired consultant.

My bias, as I think I made clear in Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s is that very little good can come out of one person’s ideas and work, if the work is supposed to be for the benefit of a group of people.

The people for whom the planning is being done, MUST be involved in it if it’s expected to work

So please keep on planning as a team, and forget about the final plan.