Posts

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”.

 

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.

Five Key Considerations

Once a family has accumulated a good deal of financial wealth, at some point, it becomes wise for them to shift their focus from making their proverbial pie bigger, to figuring out how to preserve the pie and transition it to future generations.

This is typically a bigger challenge than expected, and despite having access to high-caliber experts to assist them, families often stumble here.

Many speak of family legacy (including me), but this week I’m pivoting to a related concept, to answer another question, i.e. “How do you build a family dynasty?”

Here are five important things to consider when thinking about this complex subject.


1. Families Grow Exponentially

As soon you mention the word “dynasty”, my mind quickly goes into “multi-generation” mode as a basic assumption.

We’re usually talking about wealth creation that began with one generation and then continued through at least one or two more generations.

Something that creeps up on families trying to stay on top of this is simple math. 

As you add each generation of offspring, you’re adding people (or households, sometimes a simpler way to count) at an exponential or geometric rate.

If you take an example of three children per family, you go from one household to four, as the three leave the nest, and then if each of the three have three offspring, that’s already nine more.

I’ll stop the math there, but once you add that next generation, it quickly skyrockets.


2. Will the financial wealth grow at the same pace? 

That takes some work, and usually lots of luck too!

  • What Got You Rich Won’t Keep You Rich

Wealth is often created via an entrepreneurial venture that becomes a family business, or more recently by success in entertainment or sports, or having shares in a unicorn business that goes public.

Those occurrences do not typically happen or repeat often, and so the odds of them showing up in the same family again within another generation or two are low.

My point is, the skills that got you rich are not the same ones that will keep you rich

That realization doesn’t always come quickly to the one who caught lightning in a bottle and then believes they have some special power and invincibility.


3. It’s More About People Than Money

I know that almost everyone thinks it’s mostly about the money, but that isn’t typically where things go sour.

Having lots of money and then staying rich isn’t that difficult if you’re only trying to satisfy one person, or one household.

When you consider a family that’s growing exponentially (see #1, above), making sure there isn’t a revolution, as they work to stay wealthy and become a dynasty family, you begin to realize it’s the people that you need to pay attention to, even more so than the dollars.

4. Family Governance Is Key

Long time readers of my work won’t be surprised that this post is now pivoting towards a pontification about family governance, because that’s a hobby horse I ride quite regularly.

Every dynasty family will continually need to work on answering three main questions:

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

When people hear the term governance, in relation to family issues, they typically make an unpleasant face, and I get that. 

That’s when I share those three questions as my definition, which is easier for most to grasp.

5. The Work Is Never Done

Family governance itself has a few key characteristics that make it special.

  • It’s less about formal agreements, structures, and mechanisms
  • It’s more about informal agreements and ways of being together
  • You cannot simply buy it off the shelf from an expert
  • You need to co-create it as a family
  • It needs to evolve as the family and its needs evolve

For those reasons, plus the fact that each of the growing numbers of people also continues to evolve, this is never a “one and done” or “set it and forget it” situation.

Yes, there are some family dynasties around, but not that many.

If you look at them closely, you’ll probably see that they fully understand the points I’ve shared here.

Can it be done? Yes.  

Will it be easy? No. 

Is this for your family?

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?

On Rules, Relationships, Rebellion, and Respect

Connecting the Dots on all these “R-words”

Regular readers (thanks!) know that my inspirations for these weekly musings are varied and eclectic. I’ve had a number that’ve come from listening to the radio while driving, and this is another of those.

This week I’m delving into something I heard that made me look for a place to pull my car over, so that I could jot down the exact words I heard before I could forget them.

I didn’t have to go that far, because thankfully I hit a long enough red light to grab a pen and piece of paper to get the key words down.

I think you’ll like what I heard, because although the words were relayed in a sports context, they also apply to the world of family enterprises and the relationships therein.

 

Who Makes the Rules?

There’s a search feature on my website that I’m certain I use more than everyone else combined, because after writing hundreds of blogs over the past 8 years or so, there are few topics I haven’t touched on, at least tangentially.

So I searched “rules”, and noted that I had used that word in a blog title just a few months back, see On Rules of Engagement for FamBiz

The rules we’re going to be talking about here are slightly different, because they refer more to how people relate to each other over the years as they work on the details of how they govern the business of owning and managing assets together.

See Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide for more.

 

A Basketball Coaching Relationship

Back to the radio quote. Jack Armstrong is a TV broadcaster on NBA games in Canada, covering mostly the Toronto Raptors.

He also does radio hits a few times a week on various sports radio stations, where he chats with the local radio hosts about goings-on in the world of basketball.

On this day a few weeks ago, he was talking about a team that had recently gone through some turmoil due to a coach who was probably acting a bit too “old school” with some of his key players.

This prompted the quote that I rushed to jot down:

 

Rules without Relationships = Rebellion

 

Rules with Relationships = Respect + Results

 

So that means that the key to making rules work for you, as opposed to against you, is the existence of quality relationships with those you are trying to “rule over”, or even “rule with”.

 

Making Rules for Working with Family

When thinking about rules in a family context, we normally imagine scenarios where parents make the rules for their children.

This is natural and works well enough as long as the children are young enough to accept being “ruled over”, and quickly loses effectiveness as they begin to want to assert more control over their choices.

That life stage rarely lasts as long as the parents would like, forcing them to change how they interact with their offspring as they mature.

When you think about it, it’s all about adapting your relationships to the situation, which need to evolve over time.

When my kids were young teens, it was much easier for me to “make them” do something or “forbid them” from doing something else.

Now that they are young adults, if I would like them to do something, my approach needs to be much different. I have also learned to adjust my expectations accordingly, but that’s a whole other topic!

 

The Need for Self-Control and Autonomy

Family business contexts by their very nature typically involve plenty of situations that have some rules inherent in them, due to the hierarchy in the business.

When you look at other family situations where there is a certain level of financial wealth present, with or without a current operating business, the family rules can be a bit trickier to impose.

As the rising generation family members mature, they have a natural desire and need to exert as much control over their lives as possible.

Too often, their parents resist this and unfortunately tend to revert to ways to use their financial resources as a way to enforce their preferred outcomes.

 

Respect Over Rebellion

If you are a parent who wants to have the respect of your offspring, and you want to avoid the pitfalls of rebellion, the secret is to work on your relationships.

Easier said than done, of course, but therein lies the key.

 

I just attended the 4th Annual Conference of the Institute for Family Governance (IFG) in NYC, and once again, it was a great experience worth sharing here.

Having attended the previous three as well, I noted to the organizers that I thought this was the best one yet, because it featured the most real live examples of families who have instituted governance in their families.

As I reflected on the stories we heard from and about these families, it also struck me that they all got where they are now by taking it one step at a time, i.e., incrementally.

 

Welcome to this “Whole New World”

The IFG annual conference has been a great place for people to be introduced to what for many is a “whole new world”, one where multigenerational families have made the significant efforts necessary to create systems, methods, structures and procedures to make sure that the wealth that they’ve created will continue to serve their families for generations.

Over the years, I’ve met many people who advise such families, but who often only get to see one aspect of how this all works for their clients, i.e. the part affected by their professional specialty (eg. law, tax, trusts, etc.)

This year I shared information about the conference with a colleague I had recently met at a coaching training workshop, who, after learning of my family business focus, had mentioned to me that she was working on her family’s first attempt at a family charter.

I’m so glad that she attended, because she got to see this “whole new world” that she was now entering with her family, but did so surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are already so comfortable in this world.

 

Each Family Is Unique, So Is Their Governance

Every story we heard about a family was different from every other one, because each family has their own history, composition, priorities, and desires.

The beauty of such a conference is that we got to see glimpses of different aspects of what some families have done, and we can learn so much from others, even when circumstances are very different from ones that we are faced with.

Even though each family is unique, there were some things that they all had in common.

 

Intentionality, Commitment, and Outside Help

We heard from a number of professionals who work with families on governance matters, who related stories about the process and all of the hard work that families need to put in to make governance work.

We also heard from a number of family members from such families, and it became clear that this work requires a lot of commitment from a large number of people in order to function.

And when we heard from family members themselves, they typically had high praise for the professionals that they worked with from outside the family, without whom they would not have come so far.

 

A Resilient Rising Generation

During the lunch break, attendees had a choice of roundtable discussions that they could attend, each lead by one or two facilitators selected by the organisers.

I co-lead the table about “Communication and Resilient Beneficiaries” with colleague Rebecca Meyer of Relative Solutions.  Some of the discussions we had are worth sharing, as we had some great input form advisors and family members alike.

Allowing your offspring to make their own mistakes, and resisting the urge to go and fix things for them was a common theme.

There was also lots of talk about normalizing failure, by having the leading generation share stories about their own mistakes and challenges that they faced, with which their children are not always familiar.

 

Lots of Effort, But Well Worth It

In the end, governance is mostly about communication, and families should be looking for more opportunities to talk and share experiences.

As a family’s wealth moves from the control of one generation to the next, they’ll all need to learn how to work together for the greater good of the whole family.

This doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all families, so starting small and learning together is usually a good idea.

All the families mentioned at the conference have been at it for at least a few years and they’re all continuing to improve and refine what they’re doing together, incrementally, but surely.

Is it time for your family to get started?