Are You an Influential Voice Within Your Family?

Would you like to have more influence, or would you like to see some of the less powerful members be listened to a little more?

According to an April, 2014 PWC research paper , the senior generation tends to overestimate their talent and capabilities, while underestimating those of the successor generation. “This sort of impasse can slow down decision-making, and lead to the phenomenon of the ‘sticky baton’, where the older generation hands over management of the firm in theory, but in practice retains complete control over everything that really matters,” the paper concluded.

Even when a family member isn’t the true patriarch or matriarch, members of the senior generation can still influence a discussion without meaning to because of the depth of their experience and the respect they command in the family. This is another example of the ‘sticky baton’. The influencer can impact decisions and their acceptance into the family and business without even having to say anything. Body language can shut down a new idea just as fast as a questioning remark, or more blatant subterfuge.
There are several ways of managing this influencing voice without making the person leave the room every time a discussion gets started.

In order to include the whole family in decisions, the decision process itself may need to be handled a bit differently. Changing the decision making process to encourage more styles can greatly improve the overall contribution of the family and increase the number of voices contributing to the discussion; and create a stronger, more unified collective voice. This increased voices lead to greater overall credibility of the family in the influencer’s eyes, and increases the buy-in on the decision. Many families pride themselves on their quick decision-making, but this can backfire as the family gets bigger.

An influencer may have become so because they are fast thinkers, and others may hold back because they need more time to think about the different angles of a decision. Slowing down the decision-making process allows different types of thinkers to participate in the discussion. For example, if a decision is broken down into steps, it creates space between information, decision and action. Introducing a topic over e-mail, creating a task force to research the topic, sharing the research with the family over e-mail and through a webinar, soliciting feedback through e-mail, holding conference calls or one-on-one conversations, gathering all feedback and incorporating it into a final recommendation—all of these steps prepare the family for a decision that incorporates as many voices as possible. Then the decision can be approved by the whole family either at a meeting or over email.
A slower, more methodical decision-making process may drive the family’s quick decision-makers crazy, but they will soon relax when they realize that involvement and healthy debate has gone way up in the family.

Some families find that slowing down the decision-making process actually increases the family’s overall efficiency. It becomes easier to make decisions without needing to have great debates on the smallest topics.

Another way to make decisions easy is to have a set of guiding principles, or values, upon which the whole family can agree. These values can be used as a measuring stick for every decision. The family should also have a stated mission – why they are working together for a common goal. This helps remind everyone when decision-making does get tough, that there is a reason to stick it out and see the decision to its final end. Also, the family needs to have an agreed upon vision. Any decision can be easily approved if it is shown to support the overall vision of the family and carries out the values.

Don’t forget–it’s critical that the influencer fully endorses whatever decision or change you are trying to implement in the family. In one family I work with, the family council chair checks in with 3 people before any major decision or implementation. They are all influencers (who often don’t agree with one another) and the chair needs to make sure that they are all on board, understand the history and background of the decision, and the recommended course of action before anything goes out to the family. This may seem like preferential treatment, but following this model has made it possible to implement change where before there was impasse. Some of the influencers in that family require weekly calls; others are ok with periodic emails or phone updates. This is the kind of commitment it takes to ensure that all of the influencers and the rest of the family are working together for the desired outcome.

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