Communication in Family Governance - Susan Schoenfeld

“We all know the three rules in real estate: location, location, location.

“I think that the three rules for wealth creators, at least around their wealth, are control, control, control.

“But instead, I like to turn that idea on its head and think about the three rules of family governance which, for me are communication, communication, communication.”

I spoke more on the importance of communication in family governance at the Family Office and Private Wealth Management Forum West. Watch or read my thoughts below.

“George Bernard Shaw, the Irish writer and poet had a wonderful quote that I love on this topic which is, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” When I think about governance, it’s all about communication within the family. However, it’s not just about the wealth creators looking down the generations and communicating their vision, their mission, their values, but rather it’s a multi-directional communication that takes place over the course of time.

“That is a big part of what family meeting work is. That is a big part of what family governance is all about, and let’s face it, governance is simply just a fancy word for decision-making. It covers issues such as ‘how do we as a family make decisions together?’

“A good governance structure can help address and ameliorate the family dynamics issues that are going to come down the road, as long as, and this is the important part, the family governance structure is not one and done. As long as it’s not the family constitution that we finish and stick in the drawer so it gathers dust and we look at only when we want to use it to club somebody over the head with. Rather, it’s a living and breathing organic structure that gets reviewed and updated as new members join the family, as the succeeding / rising generations succeed into the leadership of the family. It is also constantly reevaluated in terms of ‘who are we as a family’, ‘what do we stand for as a family’, ‘how do we want to be thought of?’

“It is also the story that we want to tell the young ones, because kids love bedtime stories and they love hearing their own story. It means crafting that story in a way that’s thoughtful, intentional and consistent. I don’t care whether the story is, for example, ‘grandma and grandpa came over on a boat and started a corner store and today it is Whole Foods’ or ‘they came over and bought a couple of acres here in Napa and now we have the biggest vineyard in the valley.’ Whatever the story happens to be, crafting that story intentionally and thoughtfully and telling it consistently so it becomes part of the family’s core identity is critical.”

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