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

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

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

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

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


When Finishing Faster Isn’t the Key

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

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

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

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

 

Professional Development “Live Case” Opportunity

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

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

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

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

 

Learning About How to Be with the Group

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

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

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

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

 

Getting a Family to Take Their Time

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

 

Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference

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

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

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

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


Not an African Proverb

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

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

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

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

 

Questioning Everything

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

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

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

 

Different Kinds of Questions

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

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

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

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

 

Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement

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

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

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

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

 

The Family Governance Angle

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

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

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

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

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

No question about it!

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

One place I turn for information and inspiration in my professional world is LinkedIn.  I find so much useful content and plenty of blog ideas there every week.

I’ve also “met” some great new colleagues there over the years, many of whom I’ve yet to actually meet in person, but most of whom I have met over Zoom.

Recently I saw a video by a local family business leader who, along with his daughter, shared some ways they were adapting to the reality of this pandemic-stricken world.

One of the take-away messages they shared was around the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, resulting in an A-Ha moment for me, and the impetus for this post.

 

There It Is, Again

The Kintsugi angle was already on my radar, but due to sloppy note-taking on my part, I don’t recall where I was first exposed to it.

When I saw that video, I quickly made a note this time, to properly contextualize my blog about it. I also took it as a sign that this post was now due to be created.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been inspired by something from Japan before, having shared Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital in 2019.

So what is Kintsugi?

You’ve likely seen some version of it before without realizing that it’s a style of art, from Japan, where a pot, dish, or bowl is broken into pieces and then reassembled.

The art is in the way it’s put back together, with glue-like substances, enhanced with gold or some other “fancy” elements.

The result is a reassembled piece, which is now more beautiful and special than the original.

 

And the Family Business Angle Is…?

Of course there’s also a resilience angle here, which is quite topical thanks to the lingering pandemic.

Almost everyone has faced, or continues to face, some sort of breakdown, and it’s important to normalize that.

Additionally, we need to realize that after a challenge, it is possible to emerge stronger and more beautiful than before.

There are also some other business family angles I’ve thought of that could fit into the Kintsugi metaphor.

Some may seem to be a stretch, and that’s OK too; I’ll just use a bit more of that “golden glue” on those to make them work.

 

Family Members Aren’t All Equal

We all know that family members are not equal, as each person has their own strengths and desires, making each one’s contributions unique.

There are often some who experience challenges in life, which may be completely involuntary or for which they are mostly to blame.

Regardless, they remain members of the family, even if they might be slightly “broken”.

One of the strengths of some business families is that they have an uncanny ability to help those “broken” family members, and even put them back together and make them stronger, finding ways to make them contributing members of the group.

 

Family Narrative with All the Warts

Another place where I think Kintsugi might apply is in the family narrative.

Story-telling seems to be all the rage now, and creating and sharing the “family narrative” has become a valuable exercise for many families.

It’s crucial to share the failures and recoveries, not just the successes, when sharing the story of the family’s path to their current status.

For more on this, please have a listen to this podcast I recently hosted. The Family Business Myth and the Hero’s Journey

 

The FamBiz Wind-Down or Wind-Up

I’ve got one more possible business family Kintsugi metaphor to share, and it involves situations where the family business that created the wealth is no longer part of the picture.

When a family business is sold, and there’s a “liquidity event”, the family can sometimes struggle to define reasons for them to stay together to continue to manage their wealth and assets.

I’m picturing the business as the pot or vase that was broken, and the family’s work to create ways and reasons to stay together as the gluing things back together in a stronger and more beautiful way.

 

Kintsugi as a Team Sport?

I used the word “create” above, and perhaps I should have used “co-create” instead.

Business family continuity is truly a team sport, and it must involve a number of people if there is any chance of it “sticking” on an intergenerational basis.

The more people involved in piecing it together, the better it will work, and look. It truly is an art.

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.

What Are We FOR as a Family

Let’s Point in the Right Direction

It can often be way too easy to concentrate on things we don’t want, and some personality types are really good at finding fault and complaining.

While strictly speaking the negative and positive are simply two different sides of the same coin, I find that accentuating the positive can make a huge difference. 

This is true with individuals, but especially with groups of people.

Families who are trying to find ways to continue to work together over the long haul, i.e. into the next generation (and beyond) would do well to heed this advice.

 

Reframing to the Positive Angle 

Of course it’s fine to talk about what we don’t want, for a time, because sometimes that’s actually much more clear.

Eventually, as you work with someone who is looking to grow, improve, or change in some way, you need to focus on what they do want, and what they need to do to get that.

And as I mentioned, with a group, this takes on an even more important role.

Negativity can be contagious, and if a group of people are supposed to be working towards a common goal, one nay-sayer can quickly enroll others and creating positive momentum will become more of a challenge.

 

Start with One Person

The good news here is that it really can all start with one person.  

A family’s values or vision begins by asking each person to share their own values and vision, and then working with the group to try to shape some consensus on common vision and values that they can all agree on and get behind.

When things bog down, either in such exercises or other scenarios involving a family working towards some common goal, the way through is typically achieved when someone feels strongly enough to verbalize some strong feelings.

The leadership that such a family must exhibit almost always channels some positive view of what they see FOR the family, as opposed to what they don’t want.

 

Look for Exponential Magic

That leader can be the spark that the family needs to make progress. But, one person can only get so far all alone.

As I detailed in The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration, if that person can find another family member to see the light, they can really begin to make progress. 

And once they enroll a third, they can start to roll forward with some momentum.

Not that any of this necessarily moves quickly, but there is usually a certain natural progression involved.

 

Important Support Along the Way Too

Because this can be a frustrating and lonely time for that family leader, sometimes called the “Family Champion” (but typically only in retrospect), it can be important for that person to have some outside support.

As I wrote about a few months ago in Coaching for Current & Future Family Leaders, coaching is really made for situations like these.

Furthermore, coaching is also made for times like these, and by that I mean during a pandemic where so many things are up for discussion and the future is as uncertain as it’s been in a long time.

Coaching Only One Family Member Works Too

One of the things I’ve recently noticed, since doing my coaching certification last year, is that a coach can help a family make a lot of progress, without ever meeting them.

Okay, so as I re-read that sentence, I realized that it can actually be taken in a couple of different ways, so let me unpack it a bit.

What I set out to say was that by working with only one person from a family, a coach can increase the effectiveness of that family leader to effectuate change and make progress with the rest of the family system.

The second way one could take that previous sentence is to note that a coach can work with a client without ever meeting them in person

Indeed, I have several clients I’ve never been in the same room with.

 

What Am I FOR, What Are We FOR

Circling back to the topic of the week, the coach will concentrate on supporting the clients as they work towards getting their family aligned towards things that they can all be FOR.

That family leader will already usually have some ideas of what they are FOR, individually, and with their coach they can then work on ways of strengthening the family relationships so as to get the family ready to embark on the journey as well.

From the Backyard to Twitter

In our backyard we’ve had a rather elaborate set-up of four bird feeders for the past few years, and my wife has assumed the role of the “bird queen”, regularly keeping them filled all summer.

We’re treated to almost daily sightings of cardinals and blue jays, among others.

Thanks to “spillage” the visitors make a big mess below, allowing some local rabbits from the neighbouring golf course to also feed on the seeds, which is a nice bonus.

Of course there are also other, less welcome, rodents.

 

Acrobatic Squirrels

Witnessing the efforts that squirrels go through to get their share of the bird food, you can only be amazed at their creativity.

They’re also cute enough, and certainly prove themselves worthy of the food they steal from the birds thanks to their work ethic. 

It’s been pointed out that without their fluffy tails they’re just rats that know how to climb, but they do have those cute tails.

So many people make the effort to feed only birds and not squirrels that there are literally hundreds of designs of feeders available that have been conceived specifically to thwart the squirrels’ efforts.

 

The Twitter Cartoon

Being a witness to the heroic efforts put out by both the squirrels and my wife to keep the feeders full for our avian friends, my antennae are attuned to stimuli relating to this constant battle.

Lo and behold while scrolling my Twitter feed recently I noticed a little cartoon that hit home.

The drawing featured a squirrel in a precarious position getting his fill from one of those feeders designed to keep him at bay, much like the one in this photo:

 

 

And the Thought Bubble Said…

The punch line was in the thought bubble, which let us in on what the little rodent was thinking as he feasted on the seeds:

     “This squirrel feeder sure wasn’t designed very well”

I had not seen that coming, and enjoyed the chuckle. 

And then I thought about how this lesson could be tied into the wonderful world of families who are preparing for an eventual transition of their business or wealth to the next generation.

 

Isn’t That a Bit of a Leap?

I mentioned my antennae earlier, and they’re attuned to this world 24/7/365, so it wasn’t much of a leap for me.

There are certainly some analogies and metaphors that I can derive from this cartoon, but I’m not sure that any are conclusive.

But we can have some fun kicking them around, so I hope you’ll join me here.

 

Your Family of Birds

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the birds that you want to feed are the family members.  You want them to have food so that they survive and thrive and keep coming back.

So who are the squirrels? This is where it gets more confusing, or maybe just more fun.

The squirrels could be all the other forces of nature that work against families who are trying to avoid the fate of families who succumb to the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”.

 

What About the Cartoon Squirrel?

We can’t hold anything against squirrels in general, because they’re just doing what their instincts are telling them to do, and they also need to eat.

But what about the particular squirrel from the cartoon, who actually thought that the food was being set out there for him?

I have an idea about who he represents and I need to be careful how I put this.

In my role guiding families through their intergenerational transitions, those families invariably work with other professionals who take care of the legal, structural and tax minimization details.

On occasion, some of those experts can take on a bit of a squirrelly attitude.

 

Don’t Do It “Bass Ackwards”

I suppose they’re also only doing what their instincts tell them to.  When families approach such experts not knowing what’s most important to them, priorities may get skewed and tax avoidance or limiting what heirs can do may end up driving things.

To me when the structures are put in place before the family has figured out what their legacy should look like, it’s kind of “bass ackwards”.

You really should figure out the family part first and then get the pros to draft the perfect structures to fit that.  

The priority needs to be the birds, not the squirrels.

Both Are Needed, But Not in the Same Places

So many issues that families face in transitioning their wealth from one generation to the next come down to questions around timing.

You’ve got people from different generations, so you automatically have different realities relating to their current life cycles, which naturally make them feel certain urgencies that others might not appreciate.

Somehow things often go better after everyone has had a chance to share their viewpoints in ways that others can suddenly understand, but that doesn’t happen often enough, so let’s talk about that here.

 

The Bigger Picture: An Upstream View

Most of my blogs are “evergreen”, meaning that they can be consumed at any point in time, because they don’t depend on current events or seasons.

I’ve diverged a bit this year, thanks to the pandemic that had me refocusing topics this past Spring, and lately there’s been lots of focus on my summer weeks at my cottage.

One advantage to a nine-hour drive to my cottage is the time it affords me to listen to audiobooks, which are my favourite way to make the drive productive and enlightening.

On my last drive there, I listened to Upstream, The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath.

It was great and I recommend it, because it actually gives some great perspective on Systems Theory, and an appreciation for how important it is to look at how things are connected.

 

The Time Element in Systems Theory

If this is feeling a bit like a déjà vu it might be because I wrote From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz a couple of months back, and there are only so many “stream” blogs one can write.

That blog concluded with my suggestion to get moving early on eventual transitions, and that segues nicely with this week’s message.

Towards the end of Upstream, Heath has a great line about where to be patient, and where to be impatient, which bring us right back to our timing issues.

He tells us to be:

 

       Patient for Outcomes, and Impatient for Actions

 

If you’re like me, you’ll want to pause the recording for a minute and make sure you got all of that.

Pre-Digested Wisdom

Well, this isn’t a recording, it’s a blog, so you don’t have to stop listening, rewind, grab a pen, and make sure you got it all, because I already did that work for you.

Plus, now I’m going to spell out the key take-away, which I’ll gladly do because Heath, who’s written and sold quite a few more books than I have, is saying something really important, and it also happens to fit right along with stuff I’ve been saying too.

Here’s the simplest reworking of this advice into my own words:

     “Hurry up and get started, but don’t be in a hurry to finish”

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, There Is No Destination, which was inspired by a quote I had recently read, “There is no destination, it’s ALL journey”.

 

Being Impatient for Actions

Procrastination is probably the biggest enemy of successful wealth transitions in families. Put simply, people wait too long to begin the work.

It’s funny because work itself is not usually something that families who’ve been successful in building a business are “allergic” to; they’ve typically got a strong work ethic, which is how they got to the point where they’ve accumulated enough wealth to make a difference in the lives of all family members.

I’ve stated this plenty of times, going back to my first book in 2014, SHIFT your Family Business, in which the word SHIFT is an acronym, where the “S” stands for Start!

It’s impossible to start too early.

 

Being Patient for Outcomes

Transitioning wealth is not an event, it’s a process.  And while some processes are better to rush through, this is one that is better when it takes longer.

The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.

When you’ve started early, you give yourself time to change course, slow down as needed, and be flexible, (the F in SHIFT) without having to start from scratch.

 

Adjusting your Timing and Re-Calibrating

This is truly a process with no real end, because even after the elders have left this earth, their wisdom will remain, to be passed to successive generations.

And we should never be in hurry to finish that job.

From Paddling Hard to Going with the Flow

Summer is in full swing and with it come some activities that we look forward to because we haven’t been able to do them for a while.

For me, one of those is kayaking on the tidal river at my cottage in New Brunswick, where I get in touch with nature while lazily paddling around looking at the sky in search of the occasional bald eagle.

Having recently arrived here, I received a text message from a friend asking me if I was enjoying myself, “floating downstream” on my kayak.

Regular readers won’t be surprised that something so simple would become the inspiration for a blog post.

 

Tidal Rivers and Delayed Gratification

While I’m no expert in tidal rivers, I can tell you that sometimes this river flows towards the ocean about a kilometer away, and then a few hours later it will flow in the other direction.

When heading out from the dock for a kayaking excursion, I always make sure to go into the flow of the current, so that I can coast back home, going “downstream”.

My wife and I learned this lesson the hard way years ago, when we went rollerblading, not realizing that we had the wind at our backs, only to turn around to go back home and quickly realize our misfortune of having a strong headwind to deal with.

It’s a simple example of delayed gratification, which I love to preach. See Marshmallows and Filet Mignon

 

Climbing the Hill and Coasting Back Down

The flowing river metaphor is similar to the uphill / downhill one that we hear about when talking about where people are in their life cycle.

Older people are described as “over the hill” while the younger ones are continually “climbing” towards the top.  Getting to the top and remaining there are the goal, we’re led to believe, and in many ways that makes sense.

But in the same way that I like to save the coasting part of my kayak trips to the end, why don’t we look at life the same way?

And if we’re part of a business family, isn’t there a way that one generation’s trip down the other side of the hill can serve as a boost to the next generation’s rise?

 

Capitalizing on the Strengths of Each Generation

The “rising generation”, as people like me have been referring to them for some time now, typically have more energy to devote to building their lives and careers, while their elders will normally have more experience.

Similarly, the younger members of a family will be more comfortable with technology, while the senior family members will often have a lot more contacts and long-standing important relationships that they can leverage.

Smart families figure out how to make the most of these complementary strengths, which takes a certain amount of self-knowledge and understanding, along with the ability to set egos aside for the common good of the family.

 

Stepping Away from the Top Spot

The ego component varies from one family to the next, but seems to be rather prevalent in cases where it’s the business founder who wants to remain in charge well past the point where their leadership is what’s best for the business.

Somehow once we get past that first generation transitioning to the second, it’s less of an issue when going from G2 to G3, and then G3 to G4 and so on.

Playing with this hill metaphor in my head, I’m picturing someone stepping off the top of the hill while pulling on a rope, which in turn is helping someone make their way to the top.

I guess there’d need to be some sort of pulley or rappelling device at the top for this to make sense.

 

Many Years in the Making

I don’t want to give the impression that generational transitions should take place quickly.  In fact, properly planned and executed changes in leadership will often take years.

That’s because while we think of these situations as singular events, there are actually transitions happening at several different levels.

There needs to be a lot of coordination to properly transfer all of the knowledge of the retiring leader, as well as the authority, which all takes time, and we haven’t even begun to talk about ownership.

So it’s best to get started early, and be sure to check which way the water’s flowing before you take off.

Capacity vs. Capability

Sometimes when two words start with the same few letters, people get them mixed up, not noticing the nuances in their meanings.

A couple of words that certainly fall into that category are “capability” and “capacity”.

This week I want to explore them a bit, from a business family perspective.

 

From Ability to Capability

Before we even get to “capability”, we should probably back up a bit and start with “ability”, to make sure we grasp that simpler concept first.

Ability is about what you can do, which you know that you can do because you’ve already done it, at least once. 

Capability is more about potential to do something, and as we all know, even though you once were able to do something, that doesn’t mean that you’re still capable of doing it again now.

 

Ready, Willing, and Able

In some ways, capability can be summed up by the expression, “ready, willing, and able”. If I’m ready and willing to do something, plus I feel like I can muster the ability, then I at least believe that I have the capability to do that something now.

So if you know how to do something and you add some effort to that ability you’re now essentially ready to test out your capability, and can hopefully demonstrate that you can accomplish a task with a certain regularity.

With practice, you can hopefully get pretty good at it, to the point where others recognize that capability in you.  You’re off to the races, right?

 

What About Capacity?

I think that there’s another level that you’ll want to get to that’s higher than simply developing capability, and that’s to increase your capacity to do important things.

The part of the definition of the word “capacity” that I think we should concentrate on when thinking about this is the “volume” aspect.

When talking about a container, whether it’s an aquarium, an airplane, or a football stadium, we can ask about what its capacity is, when we want to know how much it can hold when full.

 

From Capability to Capacity

So if we go back to the capability discussion, we were getting good at doing something over and over, and now we want to see how much of it we can do.

But we don’t want to do this for everything, we really need to pick our spots and develop our capacity for doing things that are truly important.

And when we’re talking about business families, what’s more important than everyone knowing how to get along and work together?

Families who have succeeded in growing their businesses and wealth AND in transitioning them to the next generation have almost always developed that capacity to work together somewhere along the line, whether they realized that that was what they were doing or not.

 

Contagious Capability Grows to Family Capacity

The great thing about a family is that every member has different skills and abilities. 

It might not always be obvious how some family members can contribute to the business family, but if there are family members who are ready and willing, there should always be some effort made into finding a place for their abilities to contribute.

When you take the individual abilities, work on them so they become true capabilities, and then bring the people together with the right attitude to collaborate, you can develop the capacity for long term success.

The overall capacity of a family comes from the combination of all of its members’ capabilities, and that capacity can be way more than the sum of its parts.

 

Practice, Resilience, Guidance

Families who have succeeded at this almost never just stumble into that success.  Working together with family members can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating too.

It takes effort, and plenty of practice to get it all right.

There will be plenty of trial and error along the way, so the family will need to develop its resilience.

And, importantly, few families get this right all by themselves; they will almost always have someone from outside the family to guide them, especially at key stages.

Whether it’s a family business consultant, a facilitator or coach, it really doesn’t matter, and ideally it’s someone who combines these skills.

Successful multigenerational families have all developed their capacity to work together over time.

Can you?