Family Business Review - September 2009
The goal of this paper is to supplement the paper entitled The Family Point of View, Family Social Capital, and Firm Performance: An Exploratory Test.
Based on the paper, my assumption is the Family Point of View is a reality but its presence in family business is a function of the families' ability to nurture and create an environment that supports its development. Below, I provide insights from a practitioner's perspective about developing the family point of view, which often does not come easily and requires some changes in the way families communicate.
In over 30 plus years of working with families and family businesses, my experience is that there are few collaborative discussions that directly focus on conscience, ethics, norms and the creation of a family point of view. In my experience, the culture of the family business and the creation of the family point of view are frequently established by the father in his influential role in the family as the leader of the business. In order to achieve a more collaborative dialog for the creation of the family point of view the family must engage in activities that allow for the emergence of the family point of view through discussion of events that occur in the family and the family business.
In the discussion that follows, I provide a description and examples of what I do to promote the kind of dialog that develops the family point of view, which includes the following key ingredients:
- A focus on the Soul of Family Business
- The emergence and sharing of family values
- The creation of and nurturance of a Common Family Vision based on the notion of building the emotional equity of the family
- Family kything and reciprocal commitment to each others' success
- Introduction of a model for collaborative communication
- Regular and periodic family meeting to promote dialog
- Solidification of moral infrastructure
- Ethical norms-based on the family's soul
The discussion that follows is not meant to be an academic explication, but a description of how I see the guidelines provided above applied in family business.
The soul of family business.
The most perplexing question in the context of family businesses has to do with the nature of soul. From my perspective, soul is what drives all of what happens in family businesses, and it is the indefinable essence of a family's spirit and being. Soul is not something that can be measured or quantified, but it is easily recognizable by both its presence and absence. The soul of the family business is not easily defined. The following attempts to reflect its nature.
David Whyte (1994) in The Heart Aroused
, quotes James Hillman and his definition of soul saying, "Its meaning is best given by its context ... words long associated with the soul amplify it further: mind, spirit, heart, life, warmth, humanness, personality, individuality, intentionality, essence, innermost purpose, emotion, quality, virtue, morality, sin, wisdom, death" (p.14). The soul, according to David Whyte, "has been imaged as ... given by God and thus, divine" (p. 14). The result ... it is important for families to be vigilent and receptive when the soul comes knocking with its implied sense of virtue and conscience.
It is important to understand that the soul will emerge, but families must be receptive, vigilent and accommodating when the soul cautiously presents itself. The recognition of the soul is not an automatic process - it requires the family to quiet itself so as to be able to recognize the soul when it emerges.
Clearly the soul is shy and reticent and easily spooked. At the same time, it is persevering and can be relentless with its message. What we need to understand is creating an environment where the soul's message can be savored and brought into the presence of family consciousness. The soul's presence, according to David Whyte (1994:15) is "... the palpable presence of some sacred otherness in our labors ...." It is does not make any difference if you call that otherness God, the universe, destiny, life or love. For me it is the source of moral consciousness that creates the family point of view.
The manifestation of the soul in family business comes, from my perspective, as a result of the emergence and discussion of family values
. These values are those that the family wants to see perpetuated in the company and become the rich source of family creativity, ethics and the family's moral point of view. In my experience and in the process we use the family is asked what are the family values it would like to see perpetuated in the company. As a result of this question a rich family discussion occurs where family values are discussed and prioritized. The discussion is often enlightening for family members as they begin to verbalize and emotionally connect in a consensus way around their common family values. For me, these values are utilized in the creation of what I describe as a Common Family Vision
which becomes the moral compass for a family as it creates the ethical climate for its family business and the foundation for the evolution of the family point of view.
The Common Family Vision in the context of our work with family owned businesses is a vision that comes out of the family's values. It is used as a superordinate goal to unite the family around its values and its soulfulness. The purpose of the common vision, while uniting the family, is also to inspire family members to both collectively and individually be able to manifest the vision in all aspect of their work and personal lives.
In order for the Common Family Vision to have a significant impact on the evolution of the family's conscience and the creation of the family point of view it is something that, in my experience, needs to be nurtured and recited on a daily basis. The benefit of the Common Family Vision and its value to the family may be accomplished as a group or by an individual family member. The individual or family can measure their performance and whether or not they are behaving consistently with their common vision. The daily recitation and repetitive nature embodies the spirit of the common vision and its values. The repetition is similar to that of high performance athletes or artists who are able to have their work become second nature due to the multiple repetitions they exhibit in their craft. The same is true in families, where they are able to recite the common vision so that it becomes an embodiment of their soul.
Two examples illustrate the creation of a common vision. First, the Danz family (fictitious name), a family consisting of a father, two sons and a mother who all worked in a small family business. The older son and father, although working side-by-side, had not spoken to each other in four years. At their initial family meeting they were able to put aside their differences and made a contribution to the common good, and participated with other members of the family to create their Common Family Vision:
In our family and business, we promote respect, honesty and fairness and encourage an environment that is loyal and unified. At the heart of our vision is our commitment to generosity, quality and an appreciation of each other's gifts. As a hardworking and dedicated family, we communicate and we celebrate our spirituality.
As a conservative and traditional Catholic family, the Danz family's vision represents their soulfulness in coming together as a family to begin the dialog where their family point of view will emerge.
Another example is the Sweeney Family Common Vision. The Sweeney family, again a fictitious name, is a family of two parents with four adult children who owned a family business. Only the oldest son and the father worked in the business. The son and his father were having difficulties in terms of his emerging role as a leader. In addition, the parents were concerned that the financial blessings that were coming the way of the adult children would in fact corrupt their adult children and possibly have a negative impact on the grandchildren. The Sweeney Family's common vision is:
Our family circle is an unbreakable bond of support, belief in each other and unconditional love. It inspires us to live our lives with humility, integrity and philanthropy. We manifest this through our families, our foundation and our business.
Again, the soulfulness of the family emerges in their common vision and becomes an inspiration for them as to how to lead their lives as a family, as well as their business and community involvement.
Another aspect of the common vision and building the emotional equity of the family is the Prayer for Loving Kindness. The ritual that we create for our families includes the recitation of the common vision, as well as the family Prayer for Loving Kindness. The prayer is:
May our family be filled with loving kindness
May our family be well
May our family be peaceful and at ease
May our family be happy
The goal of the prayer for loving kindness is to assist the family in beginning to program their subconscious about what they want. Again, the idea is to recite the prayer on a daily basis so that it becomes a continuum or embodiment of the family's soulfulness and virtues. It becomes an inspiration to use the common vision as a resource to unite the family.
In my experience with family businesses, families are always trying to create unity in their families. The traditional methods and forms for creating unity include "compromise and giving things up." I encourage families to set aside the notion of compromise and giving things up. When people do that, they end up being frustrated and unhappy. I encourage them to understand that no individual in a family is always going to get 100% of what they want. Instead, family members should focus on doing what they can to make a contribution to the common good. Hopefully the contribution will come out of their love, generosity, and their sense of abundance and the trust that if they make a contribution now, other family members will do the same thing they are called upon to do so. A family member's understanding that they are furthering the common good makes it easier for them to make a contribution as opposed to compromising and giving up things.
Another facet of the common vision that supports the development and nurturance of soul, family businesses, and subsequently, the family point of view, is the concept of the B.O.S.S. The B.O.S.S. is an acronym developed by Sherod Miller (1994, 2005) for his work, Collaborative Team Skills
, which is a communication and management of differences program that assists families in business create a dialog that allows their family point of view to emerge. I will discuss the B.O.S.S. concept in more detail later in this paper.
Basically, my interpretation of the B.O.S.S. concept is defined as follows:
B - Stands for the business and what is it that the business needs in order to continue to be successful.
O - What do you want for the other about what they want for themselves?
(For me, the O is the most important part of the concept. Each member of the family needs to understand that there is a commitment for the whole family to help each other achieve what they want for themselves. This is critical concept in family owned businesses where it is not unusual for the family members to think that no one cares about what they want. Dads are prone to secretly hide resentment and bitterness towards their adult children and operate under a false assumption that "the kids just don't care about what I want." By the same token, the adult children often mistakenly believe that their parents are not committed to their dreams of running the company.
Only through a process of discovery where family members share what they want for themselves and for the family is each member of the family able to understand for the first time what others want.
S - The first S is what do you want for your Self?
From my perspective it is important to articulate what it is that you want for yourself, but you can't have a team or a family business if people only think about what they want for /themselves. As a result, the expression of what you want for yourself needs to be done in the context of a superordinate goal or what I call a common family vision.
(It is in the context of the Common Family Vision that individual wants for the self are expressed. It is also done with a commitment to win-win where the family synergistically creates a new solution that centralizes the best of all their ideas).
S - The last S is what you want for the other stakeholders, which I define as the family has a whole, the employees, customers, vendors, board, and sometimes the community.
The goal of the B.O.S.S. concept is to create win-win solutions that honor the family's common vision to help promote the emergence of a common family point of view.
Another aspect of the creation of the cohesive team that allows for emergence of the family point of view is a synonym for the O part of the B.O.S.S., which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1997) refers to as psychic energy. He develops the concept of the Autotelic Personality, which he subsequently entitled flow. In his book, Finding Flow
, Csikszentmihalyi investigates and develops an understanding about what gives people meaning in their lives. He indicates that there are three things that create meaning in people's lives - work, active leisure time and relationships. When he talks about relationships he refers to family relationships - regular families, not families or business or wealth which are much more at risk to the hazards of business and money. When Csikszentmihalyi talked about family relationships he was not talking about families or business of families of wealth. He was referring to typical families and the need to build their emotional equity. In families of business and wealth, there is a greater risk, I believe, due to the fact that business and financial differences often erode family relationships. What he had to say supports the notion of a reciprocal commitment to each other's success, which is the O part of the B.O.S.S. Csikszentmihalyi (1997) said that "A group of people is kept together by two kinds of energy - material energy provided by food, warmth, physical care, and money; and the psychic energy of people investing attention in each other's goals" (p. 110). Essentially, Csikszentmihalyi supports the notion that it is critical to invest in the emotional equity of the family by paying attention to each other's goals and investing what he terms psychic energy into the family. At the same time he says, "Now that the integrity of the family has become a matter of personal choice, it cannot survive except for the regular infusion of psychic energy" (p. 111). Finally, Csikszentmihalyi writes about the idea of a joint goal, or what I would call a common family vision, when he says "Only when there is harmony between the goals of the participants, when everyone is investing psychic energy into a joint goal does being together become enjoyable" (p. 113). Basically, psychic energy is just another way of understanding the reciprocal commitment to each other's success - when you put psychic energy into the development of relationships in family businesses, as well as the family as a whole, it promotes the common good, the emergence of the family point of view through the promotion and embodiment of the common family vision.
The third form of the promotion of the reciprocal commitment has to do with the concept of kything - a term discussed by Gail Straub (2000) in her book Rhythm of Compassion
- is another synonym for psychic energy and the O part of the B.O.S.S. Kything is a Scottish word that means connecting at a spiritual level. Kything is not psychological, it is spiritual - to kyth is to present your soul to another. The idea is that kything happens through communion - the evolutionary step in making the communion conscious or purposeful.
In the Danz family, mentioned above, each member of the family has an individual vision so that each becomes a vision-driven person as opposed to problem-focused. The idea is to put your spiritual energy into the well being of another. M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled
(1978) called this concept love. The idea is for each family member to realize the other are putting energy into their success. Each person recites, on a daily basis, their own individual vision for what they are committed to and for what they are trying to do in their lives - both in and out of the family business. In addition, each person kyths to the other members of the family that which they want.
In the Danz family example, described above, you can see the individual visions of the other members of the family who participated in the project. The dad kything to his wife, Violet; his son, Saul, his daughter-in-law, Joan, and his oldest son, Jon, that which they want. The idea is to kyth that which they want and as a member of the family, you know that the other members of the group are making a tremendous commitment to your success; they are putting psychic energy or kything or implementing the O part of the B.O.S.S., whichever you prefer, into success of the other.
The Common Family Vision is the embodiment of the soul of the family business, as well as the prayer for loving kindness, the individual vision and kything prepare the soil, the seeds or the dialog that takes place in family meetings to continue the garden metaphor, it is the preparation of the soil that allows the seeds - the spiritual seeds - the family's soul, to emerge in the concept of dialog and the formation of the family point of view.
For dialogue to emerge, I encourage family members to develop Collaborative Team Skills
(Miller, 1994, 2005), which consists of four components: talking skills; listening skills; communication styles; and mapping an issue or problem-solving map. Families sometimes resist implementing these fundamental skills, but I suggest to them that even the New York Yankees go to spring training every year to brush up on the fundamentals. The talking and listening skills and communication styles are easily understandable and become a rich resource to the family in their ongoing dialog. This applies both to the family and the family business as they sort out the various issues. The benefit using the same Collaborative Team Skills is having the whole family be on an even playing field - all having the same model for communication and dialog, as well as the ground rules that will guide them to an effective discussion of the issues. The program is in a simple format that makes it easy to introduce to a family business.
The Collaborative Team Skills' application not only supports the development of effective dialog within the family business, but also supports the cross-cultural notions of Angeles Arrien (1993) in her work collected in The Four-Fold Way
. The third of Arrien's concepts - the way of visionary - is to be able to speak your truth without judgment, criticism or blame. The idea is being able to talk about reality and being able to "say it is so." In her seminars on The Four-Fold Way™, Arrien discusses the three cross-cultural rules that allow families to avoid conflict. They include:
Say what you mean
Do what you say, and
Say it is so when it is so.
When it comes to saying it is so when it is so, Arrien operates on the "Rule of Three." The first rule is to say it within 24 hours, and if this is not possible, three days, and at the absolute maximum, no more than one week.
Basically, the Collaborative Team Skills allows families to have the kind of dialog necessary to create their family point of view. The purpose of Rule 3 is to not let issues linger - it is not unusual in the context of families and family businesses for family members to avoid talking about something because they are fearful that if they do, it will upset family relationships. In public presentations, I often refer to this dynamic as "Hubler's Speck of Dust Theory" - a famous theory taught in all of the business schools across the country. Unfortunately, no one has heard of the theory, but the rule operates where family members are reluctant to talk about a business or financial issue in their family business because if they do it will upset the family getting together for a holiday, e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. As a result, they create the very thing that they are trying to avoid - an unhappy family. Utilizing Rule 3 makes it possible for family members to discuss issues in a timely and current fashion.
The final aspect of the process is having regular or periodic family meetings to create a forum for dialog. Family meetings, in the context of family businesses, have many potential functions, but one of the main functions is to create a format so that family members can get together and have the kind of dialog that would allow for the emergence of the moral infrastructure and the ethical norms. The nurturance of the soul and the common vision, as well as the reciprocal commitment to each other's success creates an environment that allows the family to constructively dialog about the important aspects of the their lives and their sense of being. It is in the context of these discussions that the family point of view emerges and their unique family resources develop to create the leverage and business advantage that allows family businesses to be successful. It is their "secret sauce" - a unique set of spiritual principles that formulate the family's edge and give them their specialness that affects their performance in the marketplace. Family businesses that continue to develop their soulfulness and who are committed not only to the development of the emotional equity of the family, but of each other, can anticipate strong dialog and family resources that will abundantly positively affect their firm performance. We can help you identify and foster the soul of your family business with our exclusive Vision for Successtm and Wealth Care Managementsm. Contact us today by Email, call us at 612.375.0640, or fill out our contact form.
Arrien, A. Four-Fold Way™ Program
. Retrieved October 31, 2008 from http://www.angelesarrien.com/four-fol.htm
Arrien, A. (1993). The Four-Fold Way: Walking the paths of the warrior, teacher, healer and visionary
. San Francisco: HarperOne.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The psychology of engagement within everyday life.
New York: Basic Books, a divison of HarperCollins Publishers
Miller, S., Ph.D. (1994, 2005). Collaborative Team Skills
(2nd ed.) USA: Interpersonal Communication Programs, Inc.
Peck, S.M. (1978). The Road Less Traveled.
New York: Simon & Schuster.
Straub G. (2000) Rhythm of Compassion: Caring for Self, Connecting with Society
. Boston: Tuttle Publishing
Whyte, D. (1994). The Heart Aroused.
New York: Currency, a division of Bantum Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.