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Searching for the “Goldilocks Zone”

These weekly missives have been inspired by a variety of sparks over the years, and this one is sort of a “mish-mash” because it comes from a number of places.

I’ve long wanted to incorporate a great quote from a colleague into a blog, and I’ll finally do it in this post.

I love it when some social media interaction on one of my posts creates a new spark, and that’s also the case here.

And, when I speak with potential clients about situations that concern them, that also makes me want to share my ideas here too.

So let’s dive into the deep end and look at some liquidity issues for families (see what I did there?).


An Old LinkedIn Post Gets a “Yeah-But!”

My social media folks schedule regular posts from my accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter, which weave in both my new weekly posts along with plenty of “recycled” content from days gone by.

I continuously create regular content, which I enjoy, but if you only post and repost the same piece several times over and over each week, it may not be as well received as when you share more variety.

Recently, a post about liquidity from a few years ago sparked a comment that seemed to take an opposite view to one of the points I made. See Liquidity Events in a FamBiz – Pros & Cons.

They took issue with the fact that I suggested that it can make sense to not share too much liquidity right after a business is sold, for a variety of reasons.

The alternate viewpoint is also quite valid, of course, as there are cases where a family has plenty of wealth and yet most family members will wait years or even decades before they will see any direct benefit from it.


“It’s Great That We’re Wealthy, But…”

This made me recall that great quote from my friend and colleague Travis Harms, another guy who regularly creates great content for this field.

He shared with me the way one family member put it to him: 

                    “Yes, thanks, it’s great that we’re wealthy. 

                         But, can we also have some money?”

Bang! Drop the mic! What a great way to summarize the way so many rising generation family members feel.

Imagine living in a town where everyone knows that you are part of the family that owns an extra-large enterprise.

Everyone knows that you’re wealthy, and yet they look down on you because you appear “cheap” more often than not.

Little do they know, you may own a portion of a large asset base, but you’re still working your butt off each week just to pay the mortgage on your modest house.


An Apple a Day – And Then the Orchard!

That brings me to a family I recently heard about, where the parents were quite wealthy yet were successful in keeping secret the extent of their wealth from their sons.

One son was being modestly supported to a certain extent due to some personal difficulties, yet he would eventually stand to inherit way more than he could reasonably spend in his remaining lifetime.

As I thought about a metaphor for this, I landed on getting an apple a day from your parents, because they didn’t want to spoil you.

You ate that apple every day, kept the doctor away, and then after the parent’s funeral, you discovered that you now own an orchard!

All along, you knew they had a few apple trees in the backyard, and assumed that was the extent of it.


Lots of Planning, Lots of Sharing, Lots of Transparency

The “answers”, if there are any, to these situations are never simple.

However, when there is a lot of planning, a lot of sharing, and a lot of transparency around what the leading generation is hoping to accomplish with the decisions they make, things generally go better than when the opposite track is taken.

When there’s no planning, no sharing, and no transparency, it’s a recipe for disappointment, mistrust, confusion, and conflict.


Taking Advice Versus Co-Creation

Too often, such parents blindly rely on the advice of certain professionals whose viewpoint is conflicted by their desire to remain part of the picture in managing the wealth of the senior generation.

Once the offspring are mature enough to understand what will eventually be coming their way, I recommend they also become involved in co-creating their future as stewards of the family wealth.

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.

Entering Uncharted Territory

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

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

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

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

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


1.  You Cannot Change Someone Else

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

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

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

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

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

2. Look to Provide Help, Not to Punish

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

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

Nobody sets out to become addicted to anything. 

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

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

3. Set Realistic Expectations

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

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

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

4. Work on Organizing the Rest of the Family

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

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

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

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

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

5. Bring in Outside Help to Manage It

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m writing this blog on US Thanksgiving weekend, and it strikes me that one of the things I’m most thankful for is this weekly project of mine, which has forced me to keep my antennae up, so that I can share fresh thoughts every seven days.

I began this habit in 2012 and while many of the early posts have been dropped as my website moved from one place to the next, this process has been nothing but beneficial for me.

I can selfishly say that even if nobody ever read a single one of these posts, I know that simply writing them has been a useful exercise for me, because it has been essential to the way I integrate everything that I’m learning, reading, and thinking about.

It’s also nice to be my own editor and publisher, giving me free reign over all subjects and how I present them.

 

 

Just One Word as Inspiration

As I’ve done at times in the past, today I’m writing a post that was inspired by one word.

Well, actually, it’s a pair of related words, and it’s the juxtaposition of the two words that created the A-Ha moment that became the spark for this blog.

Those words are:

Disintegrate and Integrate

A few weeks ago I was on a long drive, listening to an audiobook to make sure that I stayed awake, and there it was.

I’m not even sure which book it was anymore, and I don’t know if it was the way the author wrote it or simply the way the reader pronounced the words, but I was struck.

 

 

Cartoonish Disintegration

Something about the word “disintegrate” that had never ever registered in my head was the fact that it is the opposite of the word “integrate”.

Hunh…

I had always had a mental image of disintegration that probably came from watching cartoons.  Picture someone with a ray gun, pointing it at an enemy and pulling the trigger, and they’re reduced to a pile of dust.

If you wanted to put them back together, presumably you’d need to integrate them, or maybe re-intergrate them (?)

 

Family Wealth Disintegration

I typically write about family business and family wealth, and the issues that come with transitions from one generation of a family to the next.

One of the biggest concerns of the Now Generation is always that the Next Generation will not be able to grow or maintain the wealth sufficiently, and that the wealth will eventually disintegrate.

They may not use those words, but that’s a common thread that runs through just about every family whose concern is wealth continuity.

Their top concern may lie in the lack of ability of rising generation family members, it may be that the family is growing faster than the wealth, it could be a stagnating business, entitlement or family discord.

 

 

The Opposite of Disintegration

Back in 2014 I wrote Solid Wealth vs. Liquid Wealth, where I talked about wealth that was “locked in” to an operating business and contrasted that to a post-liquidity event and the challenges around managing liquid wealth.

While I still like that analogy, I think that disintegration vs integration can give us a bit more to sink our teeth into.

So:

If we’re worried about disintegration, why don’t we 

consider ways that we can use integration to counter it?

 

A boat in the water

FOR the Family, BY the Family

A favourite saying of mine is “FOR the Family, BY the Family”.  Let me explain the context of that.

If a family is going to have any chance of having their wealth continue for generations, then they can substantially increase their odds of success by involving as many family members as possible in the plans for how that is going to happen.

In short, the family members need to be integrated into the planning.  That means having conversations with them, which includes more listening than talking.

 

 

Co-Creation Makes Better Plans

I’m not saying that this path is easier than simply dictating all the terms and conditions to them.  I’m saying it has better odds of succeeding.

You cannot expect that this process will all happen quickly or without any bumps along the way either, that’s also true.

But how important is this to your family, after all?

If you fail to integrate those for whom you are planning into the exercise of that planning, you can expect the wealth to disintegrate.

 

For years now we’ve been hearing about the huge multi-trillion dollar “wealth transfer” that’s occurring thanks to the demographics of the Western world.

As baby boomers age, there’s no escaping the new realities that this huge demographic shift is causing.  But hopefully, we can escape some of the negatives that might accompany it.

I believe that when we think about how a family’s wealth should move from one generation to the next, we shouldn’t be thinking about a transfer, we should be thinking about a transition instead.

 

 

Is It Just Semantics?

I’ll leave it to interested readers to Google these words in an attempt to parse all of their differences, and will instead concentrate on some simple and observable comparisons and contrasts.

The most fundamental aspect to consider is the time that something takes, from start to finish.

When I was a kid, one of my friends moved away because his Dad was transferred.  One day he was working in Montreal, then suddenly, he was transferred to Toronto.

He finished work on Friday in one place and started up his new job 500 kilometres away on Monday.

 

Wire The Funds

If you’ve ever wired funds somewhere you know that one day the money is in your account, and then the next it is not.

Somewhere during the day (usually at around 2 PM for some reason) the funds instantaneously go from one account to another.

They have been transferred. Boom.  Here one minute, gone the next. A single event has happened and is now complete.

When a family’s wealth, including the financial wealth and everything that comes with it, is transferred as a one-shot event, it can be a real shock to the system.

The word “shock” is rarely used as a positive in the area of family business or family wealth.

 

Arrow on wall

 

Slower, Smoother Transition

So what do I mean when I say “everything that comes with it”?

I actually wrote about a few of these details back in 2015, in Transition Planning: No Day at the Beach.

In that blog, I wrote about the transitions of management, leadership, and ownership.

Strictly speaking, a transfer typically deals with the ownership of the wealth.  When someone suddenly owns something, they are then usually expected to also manage it as well.

 

Ownership Is the Big One

One of the problems that can arise with intergenerational wealth is that the ownership sometimes goes from one individual to a group, who are often siblings.

This is where the questions surrounding management and leadership come in.

When more than one person now owns the wealth, how they will manage it, and who will take the lead are also questions that get put on the table.

If the word “governance” is suddenly coming to mind, congratulations, because that’s certainly where my mind is heading too.

 

Respect My Authority

Another related concept that doesn’t necessarily get discussed enough is that of authority.

With ownership of any asset comes certain authority, but it can depend on so many details.

And when you talk about authority, there is of course explicit authority and implicit authority, which do not always go hand in hand.  (Note to self: there’s a whole blog right there!)

Numbers and pie charts

Interdependent Wealth

The distinction between transfer and transition came up for me recently as I continue to make progress on my next book.

My working title is “Interdependent Wealth”, with a secondary title as follows:

How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions

That’s nine words in a secondary title, which feels like a lot, but I can assure you that a great deal of thought went into each and every choice that I made, right down to the final one, Transitions.

 

A Gradual Handover

It was during the choices I was making about these words that the whole transfer thing really hit me.

On a macro level, society is certainly witnessing a huge transfer of wealth.

But what’s more important to any family is what occurs on a micro level, and families should be concentrating on their wealth transition.

 

Event Versus Process

Bottom line, a transfer is more of an event, or one of many components or things that need to happen.  It is a tactic.

A transition is a process, it is the overall strategy required to make the right things happen, in the right way.

Focus on the whole transition, not just the transfer.

Caring, Mattering and Meaning in Family Business

This week I’m going to stay with my recent philosophical slant and write about three related subjects I’ve come across, that all deal with the human aspect of business families.

 

I Don’t Care How Much You Know 

I have some “go to” expressions that I’ve picked up over the years and I sometimes have a tendency to think that they’re universally known.

Then when I pull one out in conversation, I get a reaction that makes me realize how useful it really is.

I used one recently regarding the way experts are sometimes dismissed by their target clients as being too much of a “know-it-all”.

The expression I love for that is:

“They don’t care how much you know
 until they know how much you care”

 

Stakeholder Lives Matter

A few weeks later, I was reading the weekly newsletter of the Family Firm Institute, The Practitioner, which featured a piece aimed at trustees who serve on boards of directors, by Patricia Annino.

The following quote jumped out at me:

“Human nature tells us that if you can’t matter in a positive way, you will matter in a negative way because what is most important is to matter”.

I’m not sure that I ever heard it put that way before, but it really struck me.

The next sentence is also worth quoting, because I don’t think I could paraphrase it any better:

Human nature also tells us that most people strive for recognition. Having voices heard and questions answered are critical to the ongoing dynamic.”

 

Part of the “One Big Happy Family”

Being part of a business family can be tricky at times.

There’s a group of people, with a common family bond, each with different interests, talents and abilities.

There are also lots of roles to play, in the business, in the family, and for some people, in both.

And at the end of the day, every single one of them

wants to, and even needs to, matter, in some way.

 

Purpose and Meaning

A few weeks ago I heard Kevin McCarthy, author of a number of books about “Purpose”, speak at a conference about family wealth.

He had a great quote right off the top of his presentation that struck me too. Here it is:

“The Enemy of Wealth is Meaninglessness”

Wow.

For some reason another expression that came to mind immediately was this one:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy”

 

“Frenemies”?

I don’t know that I fully agree with the word “enemy” in McCarthy’s quote, but I know what he was getting at.

And that’s the fact that people without meaning will quickly destroy wealth, if they have access to it. So in that sense I guess “enemy” works.

But if we look at some opposites, would that make “meaningfulness” the “friend of wealth”?

I’m not sure I’d want to have to make the case for the correlation between meaning and wealth.

 

Wealth OR Meaning?

What happens if we look at the question of which one people would choose, if offered a meaningful life without wealth or a life of wealth without meaning.

I’m tempted to guess that many would quickly opt for the wealth without giving the question much thought.

I’m also inclined to think that many people who made that choice would soon regret it.

 

And For Your Offspring?

Sometimes things can be clearer to us if we remove ourselves from the equation, and instead ask what we would choose for our children instead.

So if you could offer your children a life with lots of meaning, or one with lots of financial wealth, which would you choose for them?

Of course, most people would hope that their kids would end up with both, but I think that too many people likely believe that if you have the financial wealth, the rest will take care of itself.

 

Not So Fast

I know for a fact that there are many members of families that are very comfortable financially who do not feel like they have a lot of meaning in their lives.

Those same people likely also don’t feel like they matter that much to their family.

And if that family has advisers who are great at their specialty, those family members likely don’t care how much they know.

Financial capital is always the biggest focus, but families should worry much more about their human capital.

Questions of Discernment in Family Business

 

Discernment: Noun

  1. The ability to judge well
  2. Perception in the absence of judgement with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding (in Christian contexts)

This week’s blog is sponsored by the word “Discernment”.

Okay, so that’s not literally true, as there are no sponsors of this blog. Maybe I just had a little Sesame Street flashback, and should have said that it’s “Brought to you by the letter D”.

I keep a file of blog ideas and every couple of months I put together a calendar of topics. This is the first time that I’ve noted my subject idea with a single word, i.e. discernment.

 

Bowen Family Systems, Spring Conference 2017 

Discernment first popped onto my radar screen over a year ago, in Washington DC at the Spring Conference of the Bowen Center.

Murray Bowen’s theory has eight concepts, but the one he called “Differentiation of Self” is both the “biggest” one, and one that people have the most trouble truly understanding.

Some Bowen fans, myself included, tend to explain it to newcomers as “emotional maturity”.

At this conference though, some speakers proffered the word “discernment” instead.

Hmmmm, maybe they were on to something. But I also wonder if most people “get” discernment right off the bat.

(See: A Systematic Business Family? for my blog on that event.)

 

Definitions

I began this post with the definition that I got when I Googled “discernment” and found it both sufficient and interesting.

“The ability to judge well” is a great start to understanding what I’m getting at, and I feel like it fits with the “emotional maturity” part too.

Number 2, “Perception in the absence of judgement” almost threw me off at first, but then it made me flash back to my post “Judgement, Not Judgement” from back in 2016.

The take-home message there was that having good judgement is laudable, but being “judgemental” is not.

The spiritual and Christian angles also intrigued me.

 

Questions to Help Understand Discernment

In order to get a handle on discernment and how it applies to business families, let’s look at some basic questions and examine them from a discernment angle.

I’ll start with questions requiring low levels of discernment, and then move along to those that call for higher and higher levels.

 

– “WHAT” Questions

Asking about “What business are we in?” or “What markets should we look to enter?” are simple and relatively straightforward for any business.

They are also necessary to consider from time to time.

They require good business sense, but don’t necessarily require much in the way of discernment.

 

– “WHO” Questions

Then there are questions about people, like “Who should we hire?” and eventually “Who should take over when Dad retires?”

Now the need for discernment gets ratcheted up a bit.

And in some sort of “meta” way, we are looking at judging people about their judgement!

Once you get into questions about people, things usually get a bit trickier, and emotional maturity is often called for to make the right choices.

 

– “WHEN” Questions

Those “Who” questions can be tough, but so can those around timing, like “When should we start working on succession?” and “When should we start having family meetings?”

Regular readers will quickly recognize my bias around these topics, and that’s okay too.

As long as we’re on the topic of my biases, let me be clear that my preferred answers to those questions is always sooner rather than later.

There’s a certain maturity required to start tasks that have been kicked down the road long enough.

Combining “Who” and “When” questions, well, now we are getting into the area of “How”.

 

– “HOW” Questions

To me the types of questions that require the most discernment are about “How”, like “How do we make sure we include everyone?” and “How de we make sure we follow through on all our plans?”

I’m reminded of the expression “Ideas are a dime a dozen”, which is all about simple “What” questions.

Execution and implementation are the key to making any idea work, and that’s where you need people with discernment.

A “good sense of judgement” requires plenty of maturity and wisdom around the all of the “Who”, “When” and “How” questions that are part of getting things done.

 

Whose Discernment Are You Counting On?

If you’re a family business leader, and you’re hoping for your family and business to be successful in the long run, finding people high on the discernment scale should be a priority.

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

This week’s post is one that I’ve been looking forward to writing for a few weeks now, ever since I had lunch with a colleague and relayed this story to her.

It was her reaction that made me realize how simple and yet how powerful it really is.

Considering that I’ve been writing this weekly blog for over five years now, I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this yet.

 

Credit Where It’s Due 

Before telling the story, I should note that I would love to give credit to the person who told the story when I first heard it, but I really have no clue who it was.

It would not surprise me to learn that it was during one of the weekly teleconferences of the Purposeful Planning Institute, because those calls have inspired many of these blogs.

In any event, it’s one of those stories that has probably been played out in various versions hundreds of times, all over the world.

So my version isn’t a true, “verbatim” recounting, but more like a parable.

 

I Worked Hard for All of This

A successful businessman is meeting with one of his trusted advisors, as he begins to think about how he’s going to deal with the considerable wealth he has built up.

He mentions how hard he’s had to work for what he now has, and then adds,

“And I don’t want my kids to screw it all up”.

This part of the story likely sounds pretty familiar to many professionals who work with clients who’ve built up large amounts of wealth.

It’s not unnatural for anyone to be concerned that the fruits of their labour might be squandered.

 

The Other Side of the Coin

Later in the discussion, likely in response to a question posed by the wise advisor, the man has a bit of an awakening, and says,

“But I don’t want all my wealth to screw up my kids, either”.

If you’ve read even a few of my blogs, you already know that this was the true “A-Ha” moment of the story for me.

 

The Bad News First

The bad news is that so many professionals who work for such wealthy clients are really only specialists in solving the first part of the problem.

Finding ways to create bulletproof structures to preserve wealth is nothing new for many specialists who pride themselves on how they can minimize taxes, and restrict how the wealth will be used by its intended beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, too many clients are too short-sighted to see that this will also produce many unwanted side effects for their family down the road.

 

Now the Good News  

The good news is that there are now more and more people who understand that only worrying about preparing the assets for the heirs leads to sub-optimal results.

And not only that but people are now also realizing that this is not a question of either worrying about preserving the wealth OR preserving the family and their relationships, it’s actually possible to do both.

 

It’s Not Either/Or, It’s Both/And

In fact, by concentrating on the second part, and making sure that the offspring will be prepared to receive the wealth, you will increase the chances that the family will be able to maintain and even grow the wealth in future generations.

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a few years ago, Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?

It contains the profound quote,

“Plans that are about us, but don’t include us, are not for us”.

That is a verbatim quote, from a different context, but it fits perfectly here too.

 

FOR the Family, BY the Family

It starts with someone recognizing the importance of this. That could be a member of the family, or it could be a wise advisor.

Long-term planning at it’s best is truly long-term, i.e. inter-generational.

If that wealth is to serve multiple generations of a family, the sooner the members of the following generations get involved, the more likely they will be successful.

 

Efficient or Effective?

You could simply worry about the preservation of the wealth, and create rigid structures that are tax efficient and ensure that some wealth will be available for future generations.

That would certainly be more efficient.

But if you want your plan to be effective, get the

younger generation involved as early as you can.

You won’t regret it, and neither will they.